Remote work is not a new concept. Nearly 5 million U.S. employees work from home at least half a week. Owl Labs’ State of Remote Work for 2019 report claims that 62% of the American workforce is familiar with this concept and works remotely at least occasionally.
Right now, though, remote work seems to take over the entire world. It’s a social/work experiment that no company would ever undertake in normal circumstances. Before COVID-19, remote work was a matter of choice or consent. Now, in most cases, it’s the only reasonable option.
Over the years, you’ve probably seen tons of headlines saying that remote work is not for everyone. That it’s hard to maintain the work-life balance while working from the comfort of your home. Remote workers struggle with loneliness and have communication issues. Well, for the first time in history, we’re going to see if it checks out on such a big scale.
It’s unclear when we’ll be able to get back to normal (maybe we never will), but one is certain: when it happens, nothing will be the same. Including the way we work.
Is Remote Work The Big Bad Wolf Of Employment?
It’s been two weeks since COVID-19 has hit Poland big time. Numerous employers all over the world have switched to remote work even before that. I realize that times are different, and we’re basically stuck at our homes, but…
Somehow, it all still works.
Before COVID-19, I knew plenty of employers who assumed that the entire home office concept is simply undoable. They didn’t trust their teams would still get the job done or thought their types of business can’t be run from anywhere but the office. Or that their employees don’t have the right equipment at their homes. Some were concerned about the data breach. Others thought they couldn’t function if their teams aren’t right there in the next room.
A lot of my close ones (and myself) have experienced this. A part of them has adopted this approach and still thinks that you can maybe do 10% of your job remotely.
Right now, nearly all of these people have switched to the home office and, as far as I know, everything is fine. Again, I’m not saying this situation is normal. But it may be eye-opening.
Remote Work Gives Your Precious Time Back
When I first heard that MPC is switching to the home office, I wasn’t happy. I never planned for my home to become a workspace. I’m a firm believer that home is for being home-y, and the office is for being office-y. Needless to say, I had no choice but to accept this.
Two weeks ago, my inner clock woke me up around the time I usually set my alarm to on days when I work from the office. I jumped out of bed before my brain got time to think about whether it wants more sleep or not. I brushed my teeth, set up my morning coffee, and proceeded with the rest of my morning routine as if auto-piloted. It all worked fine until I sat down to do my makeup and realized I don’t need to put it on. I don’t need to do a bunch of other things either, and my commute time has now been reduced to, like, 10 seconds tops if I happen to be at the other end of my flat.
Suddenly, I had all the time to spare in the morning. If I were a jogger, I’d probably go for a run or something. Instead, I’ve started reading a couple of pages of a book before getting out of bed. The day seemed so much brighter thanks to that. Would I be able to do the same on a regular going-to-the-office day? Probably, if I woke up earlier. But then I’d be too sleepy to actually read anything, so...
I’m lucky to live quite close to the office, but plenty of my colleagues face a much longer commute. For some of them, getting to and from work eats up two or even three hours every day. Where I feel a small difference, they see the world-changing one. And when I cringe a tiny bit thinking about coming back to the office, they probably weep over all the hours they’ll lose again. Studies show that even if you work from home half the time, you save a total of 11 days a year by cutting the commute time!
With so much time given back to us, remote workers do wonders. Some may enjoy coffee in bed; some may go for a jog (again, not me); others may finally have the time to tackle some projects they’ve been putting away for weeks (I’m looking at you, my filthy fridge). But it’s not only their free time habits that change.
Speaking of reducing the commute, The Ford European Commuter Survey found out that commuters in Europe’s major cities are more stressed because of their commute than their actual work. Telecommuters find their stress levels lower than in-house teams and believe that remote work improves general health by allowing for more exercise, a better diet, and a healthier lifestyle in general.
Flexible Hours: A Chance For All
Call it what you want, but being at an office makes us behave differently than working remotely. And I’m not thinking about the unspoken rule of being showered and wearing anything but your P.J.s (although that’s a good point too). It’s rather how we organize our workday when we’re at the office. We do our best to at least seem busy for the eight hours, even if we actually struggle to get something done. Don’t feel judged - everyone has bad days. Jobs that leverage creativity are particularly at risk here.
While staying at home, we tend to be more flexible with our schedule. In fact, 40% of the American workforce admits that it’s #1 reason they like the home office model. Feeling that post-lunch slump and the bed is literally right there? Go ahead, have a nap, wake up refreshed, and catch up on your tasks an hour later. Found a terrific daytime T.V. show you’d hate to miss? Watch it. You’ll probably feel less guilty than if you did the same at the office. You wouldn’t scroll your Facebook feed for two hours straight while your colleagues watch, would you?
This situation is also a chance for those of you who find it hard to wake up in the morning. The flexibility of remote work means you can work when your brain is actually alive. And for all the parents - it’s arguably the best solution for those who need to look after the kids until your partner gets home (virtually or literally). After that second shift gets in, you can catch up on your work.
Busting The Myth Of Lounging Around
While at that: don’t you feel like you’re actually doing your job faster? Sure thing, the home office can be distracting (laundry to fold, lunch to cook, teeny-tiny spot to clean asap… you name it), but don’t tell me an actual office isn’t at least equally messy. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t see so many people wearing headphones and trying to block out the distractions of a shared environment. It’s way easier to separate yourself from people’ just saying hi’ or ‘just popping in to ask’ at home. Overall office noise is annoying to 60% of employees. And, even though it sounds super lonely, there’s hardly anyone you can go and have a coffee with. Even my husband, a hardcore office lover, admits that he’d do his job three times faster if it weren’t for his chatty colleagues.
Tackling concept work, complicated projects, and creative challenges are definitely more manageable when there are not a hundred people around you. Atlassian proves that 76% of employees would prefer to avoid the office when in need of deep focus. 77% say they’re more productive when working from home. Could it be that the concept of ‘brainstorming alone’ is the future? Will we see a difference in how we perceive specific workspaces?
I’m not saying you should put headphones on and not talk to anyone until you’re done with your workday. That’d be crazy (and definitely not healthy for anyone). But I genuinely believe we function at different capacities while working remotely. When a reminder announces it’s time for our daily team call, I can’t wait for that dose of off-topic, goofiness, and dad jokes. But if I sit down at my desk in the morning and know precisely when it’s time to blow off some steam, I can schedule my workday much better.
‘Now we’ll see how many of these meetings could really have been emails”, someone said the day most businesses switched to the office. While no data is proving that telecommuters take part in fewer meetings than in-house employees, one is certain: the current situation has decreased the number of impromptu sessions.
Will We Ever Look At Our Office The Same Way?
With all that in mind, I honestly don’t think we’ll be the same employees when we get back to our offices. The first few days will undoubtedly be refreshing and exciting, but then, some ‘nostalgia’ may kick in. Knowing how we functioned back home and how it affected our productivity, we may not be as eager to visit the office every day as we used to.
Owl Labs report states that, in general, people feel happier and more trusted if able to work remotely. A vast majority also agrees that this model would help them manage their work-life conflict. They also feel less stressed, can spend more time with their close ones (have you heard that long commutes can increase the chance of a divorce?! Mind-blowing!) and are less likely to part ways with their employers. I find it very hard to imagine we’ll all throw these benefits away.
The new reality will be a challenge for business owners and managers as well. During the quarantine, they worked with different tools and learned to expect certain behaviors and results. For some of them, this might have been a positive surprise. They may have discovered that remote work is actually highly collaborative, increases communication, promotes employee engagement, and lights a way to more effective reporting. Maybe they’ve decided it’s not nearly as bad as they thought it’d be.
They’ve learned how to leverage the latest technologies or perhaps found out that the ones used at the offices work perfectly fine for telecommuting as well. After all, big companies with multiple departments and huge office spaces have probably used Slack, Skype, Microsoft Teams, or other communication apps way before the quarantine. Whether we’re five meters or fifty kilometers away from each other, we’ll most likely use the same techniques to share files and stay in touch. At MPC, we’d practiced remote work before, so this experience wasn’t as groundbreaking as it is for other companies. Still, I think we’ve learned a lot already.
Are We Ready For The New Face of Remote Work?
So, do you think the world is ready for the new face of the home office? Will it become a requirement rather than an incentive? Will the managers feel the pressure of their teams to allow for more remote work? Or perhaps will they decide it’s worthwhile themselves?
COVID-19 has already changed the world in many ways. If it turns the job market as well, we’re in for more than it looks like. So, will more co-working spaces open up in the near future? Will more offices go through radical changes to meet their teams’ new expectations? Will little local cafes get more traffic (we know they need it badly!) from more telecommuters? Or, let’s step away to see the even bigger picture here: will more people move away from city centers because they’ll be able to spend more time working remotely? Will the offices reduce their square space? Will financing the home Internet by employers become an actual thing?
I honestly can’t wait to see how this all works out!
P.S. I could calculate the average time I spend writing an article like this one at the office and then compare it to doing the same at home. But that wouldn’t be productive, now, would it? Anyways, I don’t need hard data to tell you that I wrote this one (and a few others) faster than I would ever do it at my office desk!
Co-author: Weronika Szałkowska