In recent weeks there have been a myriad of articles and opinion pieces written about COVID-19 and its long-term impact on office culture and our changing attitudes towards remote working. While people’s work and household circumstances are different, with some more challenged than others as a result of isolation, we’ve all witnessed first hand how remote working can be achieved and with many (including me) embracing it wholeheartedly.
Now a new piece of research from technology platform Zoho reveals that 50% of Australia’s small businesses intend to make remote work their new ‘normal’ even after COVID-19 restrictions end. That is a huge vote of confidence for the future of remote working.
Closer to home, myprosperity Founder Peter McCarthy, was recently interviewed on Sydney 2GB radio station by morning host Michael McLaren about how myprosperity, and the vast adviser community that it serves, was coping with the sudden change in work habits brought about by COVID-19. In Pete’s words, “myprosperity literally overnight went from a few team members working remotely to the entire business having to isolate from the office”.
The fact is the entire business world had to do the same and so began a social experiment, the likes of which we have never witnessed before. Like many other businesses, the myprosperity experience has been largely positive. In fact, Peter claims that productivity has not diminished at all and some employees are claiming that they are more productive in the home setting. That’s a very real and encouraging proof point that we simply can’t ignore.
I recently spoke with a number of staff in another technology company about how they were coping during this time away from the office. During the discussion, one of the employees made an interesting point that when working previously in a large company prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, if you ever needed to work from home you often had this feeling of guilt that drove you to constantly prove to ‘the boss’ that you were actually working. That feeling of guilt suggests a hidden bias towards a clock-in and clock-out mentality that I personally have never been a fan of. However, with forced remote working, we’ve proven we can keep a business running without staff being in the office. Importantly, we’ve smashed the old-fashioned perception that time in the office equals value to the company and something that is necessary in order to satisfy the boss. That’s a huge win in my view and that leads me to think things will never be the same.
From a lifestyle standpoint, it almost feels to me like we are back in the 70’s, but with loads of cool tech. If you are my vintage, born in the late 60’s, you probably have recollections of afternoons after school or work, and indeed weekends, where people were out and about. Walking dogs, jogging, riding bikes, flying kites. There is a nostalgic sense right now that the clock has been wound back and we are seeing a return to a more simple life. Many of my friends and colleagues talk about the joy of spending more time with family and outdoors, rather than being stuck in traffic with long commutes to and from work. Add to that picture the incredible choice of technology such as Teams, Zoom, Slack, and so on, the ability to stay connected, to collaborate and get stuff done whilst enjoying the freedom that comes with being out of the office brings a work-life integration that could be a new reality.
OK, so it’s not all upside. If you are in a small apartment with limited space to get away from the dishwasher being unpacked or the young child home-schooling, remote working can be tough. For me, the social interaction of a coffee meeting in a cafe or the famous myprosperity Friday team lunches which I used to love are just not possible. Equally, the value in participating in a casual conversation in the kitchen or the immediacy of a random chat by the watercooler (or in the case of a modern tech company, the coffee espresso machine) doesn’t happen in this new normal.
The bottomline though is that we are all now reassessing how we are working and what changes we can and should make once we ease our way out of isolation. For me, it’s about spending more time on simple things, having quality time with the family and choosing to get down the coast where I can work perhaps more productively as I would in an office. For others it might be spending less time in traffic or working hours that better suits their lifestyle or choosing the convenience of an online meeting. As Peter McCarthy said, there are unintended consequences of this shutdown and one of the big ones is proving that working remotely at scale whilst maintaining productivity has passed the real life test with flying colours.