After having worked mostly remotely for more than 15 months, some more experience has been gained on this issue than in April 2020.
It looks like conservative organizations still have a hard time getting used to this concept and instead insist that they are this rare special exception that absolutely needs to be in the office.
Usually privately owned companies are more innovative and small companies are more innovative. But I have observed the contrary… Some small companies are very conservative and really reject adopting technology and processes that allow to work remotely efficiently. And some relatively big, state owned companies manage to do this really well.
In the end it depends on the people. If the company does not bully away good people and gives them some freedom, they can organize good stuff, just for the love of technology (and of course they get paid). If a small company has a really good business idea and implemented this idea really well, it can afford to be a bit less efficient in some usually minor areas.
Now for Covid19 countries had to make different choices. One strategy was to shutdown as much as possible, to get Covid19 down to zero, which is what Australia, New Zealand and China tried. And which implies, if this strategy is retained, keeping the borders closed for several years in almost iron curtain style. Most countries have followed a strategy of just keeping the numbers at a level that can be dealt with, for example Sweden and Switzerland. And some countries have tried to get vaccinations very early and very fast… Now it was the question, if the people or the companies have stronger influence on the government. In Sweden and Switzerland companies where very strongly urged to let their people work remotely, whenever possible, but they never imposed restrictions the constrained basic human rights, like France in the first time of Covid or Germany recently. Anyway, responsible companies made remote work possible, where it is reasonable to at least reduce the density in the office and not to forget to reduce the density in the trains an public transport for the commute. For our American friends: In modern countries, a lot of people come to work by train, by bus and by bicycle. Which they do in the US as well in the Bay Area and in New York.
So now, what are the pros and cons of remote work? What can we learn from it?
After a year or so, people got used to working remotely. The technology works. Meetings work. So it has become a real option for many tasks.
- You do not have to spend time on the commute.
- You can eat lunch at home
- You do not get distracted by working in a loud office
- You can have a nap after work
- If remote work from abroad is allowed and you can afford it: you can work from really cool places
- When living alone most of us really miss meeting people after some time…
- Some (actually not so many) meetings are more efficient when in person
- You get a clean separation between work and free time when working in the office
So what are the right answers:
I think it is good to let people choose if and how much they work from home. The point is: if there is a task that can be done really better in the office, it is good to come to the office… If there is a task that can be done better from home, it is good to be able to just tell this to the team and do it from home. In the end of the day, some people will like to work 100% in the office, some will like to work almost 100% remotely and many will work some „mix“. Of course it is good to make sure the commute is not so long or at least not so unpleasant. Going by train allows to make use of the time much better than driving. Or commuting by bicycle has the side effect of being free exercise and for that reason being the only mode of transport that increases life expectancy. I am writing this blog post on my laptop in a train. My advice: If you like to work at home and are allowed to choose, I recommend going to the office a few times a month, like once a week or like a few adjacent days, depending on the distance.
A challenge will be: When nine people sit in the office and have a meeting and the tenth is participating from remote via a Jabra device, it requires a lot of discipline not to lose the remote guy. Those who have experienced it, know what I am talking about.
So in the end of the day: We can all profit from what we have learned from the pandemia and use our experience to apply remote work even when there is no virus and no government that forces this on us.