“I really hope that COVID-19 is instrumental in changing
the feasibility and appetite for remote working.”*
Everyone has experienced COVID-19 lockdown differently. But one thing is clear from a recent survey* of Australian workplace leaders; people want to keep working from home, at least some of the time. The majority opinion was to work some days in the office with a mix of at least one day per week at home, if not more.
The past arguments regarding OH&S, security, privacy and trust in people to actually work while they’re at home have been put to the test and the COVID experience has shown that working remotely is possible when there’s the will and the necessity to make it work. The figures speak for themselves: prior to COVID-19 restrictions surveyed business leaders reported around 20% of their workforce worked remotely compared with nearly 80% working from home during the height of the pandemic*. While internet connectivity and isolation proved key challenges, for the most part everyone got on with the task at hand, delivering great work and, in many cases, deepening trust and getting to know each other at a more personal level.
However, all this feel-good experience is at risk of being eroded as restrictions ease and people physically return to their places of work. The question is: does it matter? How much it matters greatly depends on what you value and how you experienced working from home.
The COVID-19 Workplace Leadership Survey cites numerous pros and cons to remote working:
- The advantages: less interruption, greater flexibility, less time and money spent commuting and travelling, wear what you like, shower when you like, grow a beard, be make-up free, take breaks when you need, better work-home balance, less stress, more peace and possibly more accessible.
- The disadvantages: increased workload, limited accessibility, challenge in delivering performance conversations, onboarding new staff, greater uncertainty and fear, longer hours, social isolation, some things taking longer and more effort, the blurring of home and work, restricted oversight, limited ability to read the social cues and difficulty in bouncing ideas around.
- The environmental value: lesser footprint due to decrease in emissions for travel and large office utilities, less reliance on paper-based processes and documentation, cleaner air due to less vehicles on the road and decreased production and consumption.
It’s important to note that there is more to working flexibly than working from home. It is the broader willingness to interact remotely regardless of location. It could be a meeting that enables the participants to dial in from their offices from different floors or different office locations. Imagine saving the half hour trek to and from a meeting that’s just down the road. While getting out of the office is a good thing, rushing to navigate traffic, buildings, front desk and lifts can be harrowing. Better to use the spare half hour to stand in the sun and breathe, clear your head and dial into the next meeting refreshed.
Also, there is something greater than the observable changes – it seems that our attitudes shifted dramatically during COVID lockdown. People were more collaborative, more willing to work across divisions, more tolerant of challenges and mistakes and more accepting of doing things differently and at times, less perfectly.
So if we are serious about holding onto more flexible ways of working, it will take a commitment to both physical and psychological behavioural change. And it will require the buy-in at all levels of business from senior executives to the frontline workers.
“COVID-19 has profoundly changed the organisation I work in, and I’m
looking forward to see what learnings we can take from this time into
the future and what it means for the workplace of the future.”*