I remember when I still worked as a support worker in an IT department, doing the typical 9 to 5 in a cubicle. One of my dreams was being able to work from a home office, or at least choose my own work location. Whether that be a coffee shop, the beach, or your own home office, it's hard to argue that the prospect of choosing your own working environment is better than being forced into a cubicle for 8 hours a day.
While the pandemic has had devastating results all around the world, the silver lining is that it also sped up the adoption of the work from home, or as some as calling it, "work anywhere" culture by a decade or more. Many companies who refused to consider remote work opportunities in the past are now forced to adapt, and this has been an ongoing situation for over a year, with no end in sight. But what are some of the long term impacts of working from home? Here I'll take a look at some tech-related things that have changed and will continue to change going into the future.
A different type of management
One of the major arguments against working from home that employers would bring up in the past is how difficult it is to manage a workforce if they aren't physically present in the office. While it's true that walking up to someone's desk and talking to them directly has definite advantages, it's quite clear now that effective management can be done in a virtual workplace, but it does require some adjustments.
The concept of management is about making sure that work is getting done, and that the results are what the company needs them to be. Managers often try to manage employees as if the employees themselves are children whose time should be carefully scheduled, when in fact the important part should instead be the work. Work, and the result of that work, is what needs to be managed, and that is definitively a lot easier to do thanks to technology.
For example, if your goal is to make sure that a particular worker spends from 9 AM to 5 PM working, with no distraction, and no slacking off in a virtual work place, that's going to be a difficult prospect. There are tools to do it, such as mandatory camera surveillance, invasive screen recording software, and so on, but at the end of the day if you cannot walk up to an employee and visually see what they are doing, then it's a fool's errant. For these types of managers, working from home is the enemy.
However, if your concern is with results, then it becomes a lot easier to manage. For example, managers can use tools like Jira or other task management software to assign tasks to people, and by using an agile workplace, they can easily ensure that the tasks get done in an efficient manner. Built-in dashboards allow you to easily see what everyone is working on, how long the tasks have been in progress, if there are any blockers, and so on. At the end of the week, you're certain that the work has been done and validated by the proper stakeholders. Sure, one worker may have been working on their task at 10 PM one day while they spent all morning sleeping in, but that's the key difference when it comes to managing work versus managing employees. The key concept is that the work gets done in the required timeline, and there are lots of tools that allow you to do this.
A bigger focus on worker comfort
A company that has a fully virtual workforce is able to save a tremendous amount of money and resources. If you expect workers to come back to the office after a month, that may not exactly be true. But if you consider that this is the new normal, and that your employees will be working from home for the foreseeable future, then maybe you don't need to retain that catering service anymore. Maybe you don't need those vast offices. Travel costs may also be down as people don't need to travel for business anymore.
This isn't to say that there aren't new costs that should be considered, however. Some of these savings should be spent wisely on worker comfort. Many people didn't have a proper home office setup before the pandemic. Offering to pay for your workers to have a decent home setup is something any employer should consider. Another important factor is the human contact. Mental health has become an especially big concern with people being stuck indoors all day. Tools like Microsoft Teams or Zoom allow you to keep face to face contact and should be utilized properly. Having regular one on one meetings can be very useful, even if they are virtual.
While there may be less opportunities for in-person events, such as conferences, seminars or parties, there are still many ways to do group events online, either over voice chat or using online learning or conferencing tools.
Investing in the future
More and more people are realizing that this is the new normal, and many of us think that it has many more positives than negatives for all parties involved. Companies can save a lot of money with a fully virtual workforce, while employees are able to work in a much more comfortable environment while potentially saving a lot of money by living in a lower cost area.
But if you agree that this is the new normal, that may require changing your way of thinking about certain things. If you were late on adopting the cloud, this should be all the reason you need to move your workload to the digital world. If you get rid of your offices since your employees are virtual, there's no reason why you should still have a server room for your data when it's even easier to move digital bits to the cloud and get rid of those physical servers as well.
There's no question that the world is going more and more virtual, and seeing your bosses and workers through a virtual screen rather than in person most of the time is just the next stage in evolution. This situation can be made to be a big win for everyone, but it does require using the right tools and putting the right processes in place.