Has the era of remote work finally arrived? It’s received more interest to be sure. But remote work is not “the new normal” for companies and workers that have been suddenly pushed into it due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of us stuck at home are living through a forced experiment in remote work. The results will be fascinating and inform the future of work. But nothing about this situation is “normal.”
For over a decade pundits, vendors, and advocates of all stripes have championed a new remote work style. But this sudden remote work environment is only a distorted reflection of what it was supposed to look like.
Here are four reasons why the current remote work situation is abnormal and will not continue as-is past the crisis:
It was unplanned. HR, process, software, device, information security, and internet policies did not have time to be implemented using best practices. A proper remote work roadmap might take 6-18 months. So I would expect a substandard employee experience when it was done in 1 week. I expect those in charge of remote work to revisit those best practices once time allows.
Workers don’t think this is how work will be from now on. In the absence of signals that this is permanent (such as selling the office buildings) no one involved – the workers, their management, or IT -sees this as more than a temporary inconvenience. So workers have not adjusted their work styles and communication methods as deeply as they would if they thought this was a permanent situation.
The nature of the the work has changed. Depending on the industry and role, the work itself may now be COVID-impacted. There may be a mad scramble in one part of the business; a near-total shutdown in another. There may be new daily meetings, while formerly scheduled meetings were cancelled. The result feels more like being on a special project than doing the same job as before but at home.
Co-workers are behaving differently. Workers may be scared, sick, or confused. The news is a constant distraction. And workers may have more concerns about their family and friends then ever before. This is a stressful and panic-stricken environment. Once this is over how will leaders signal closure? How will they drain the stress from their workforce so everyone can get back to a normal life? Psychologically returning workers to their “safe space” may require returning them to their old offices, where they remember their only worries being the stress of the job. If I am quarantined in my basement bedroom for 2 weeks, coming out just to be told to go back – that’s now I will now be working – may not sit well with me.
The truth is there are too many unknowns here: how long COVID-19 will last (or recur), how companies will react afterwards, how the economy will recover, and how people (I purposely don’t say “workers” since I mean us and those around us as humans and not just task workers) will respond. But when you add all this up, I think the likelihood of the future of work looking like the remote workforce of this time period are slim to none.