As anyone who’s followed my blogs in the past knows, I’ve long been a supporter of remote working or “smarter working” as it was called over the years.  Study after study has proven that people allowed to work from home (where applicable) are generally happier and more productive.  Organizations that have supported it have saved money, been able to recruit the best and brightest from a larger geographic area, and at the same time have helped the environment.

With the onslaught of the coronavirus, the clear ability for knowledge workers to work remotely can no longer be questioned.  However, what is in question is how companies that either never tried remote working or just dabbled with it are getting along as they found themselves suddenly thrust into a 100 percent work from home model.

Apparently, the answer is, surprisingly well.  I recently moderated a webcast with representatives from firms such as Google, Morgan Stanley, Poly, SwissRE, Verizon and other firms, and asked their technology and collaboration managers how they were managing.

David Danto webcast

I was expecting the comments to be about issues with technology and other 20-20 hindsight, but the panelists honestly didn’t have many complaints.  Some of the key points to come out of the meeting were:

  • A lot of enterprise companies had already enabled remote work and/or cloud collaboration tools, so the transition was not a complete shock.
  • Many were thankful for having begun their journey to cloud collaboration, as these products have been one of the keys to enabling remote workforces.
  • The pandemic has “humanized” the video meetings, with visits from children and pets becoming accepted as more commonplace, and employers allowing the increased flexibility to take care of loved ones.
  • Past accepted processes of rolling out technology gradually over time have by necessity gave way to rapid, comprehensive roll-outs, with amazingly little or no issues as a result of the speed.

While not very many of the participants were willing to try to predict the future, there were some interesting and thought-provoking observations:

  • Clearly working from home is going to grow beyond its pre-COVID-19 norms. While many will be happy to return to an office, some will not want to go back again once they’ve experienced the increased productivity and flexibility.
  • The ones that do go back will not be very appreciative of the recent office “densification” that has been led by corporate real estate teams over the last decade or so. People will not want to have to sit in open pens very close to each other for the foreseeable future.
  • Also in jeopardy are the offices that went to a “hoteling” model. The idea of sitting at a workstation that someone else used the day before – and sharing the keyboard and the telephone – just isn’t going to fly anymore.
  • Business continuity planning will have to expand to include the ‘everybody flush at the same time’ test in the future. Will most knowledge workers have enough tools and internet bandwidth at home to support extended remote working?  Will they have enough internet service to support two working parents and kids doing distanced learning all at the same time?  And, if this becomes a requirement, will employers pay for it / provide reimbursements going forward?

As the pandemic continues we don’t know what strains on public broadband or corporate infrastructure will occur, and how the hit to the global economy will effect working environments, but we do now that what could have been a disastrous transition for the world’s knowledge workers has actually turned out to be functional model so far.

I’m looking forward to gathering the participants again in a few weeks to find out if any of their thinking has changed.


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