Almost a year ago, I knew that a paradigm shift would take place at the workplace just by reading news on how China coped with the coronavirus disruption. Remote working is nothing new in my line of work. Plenty of us have been doing it for years for at least a few days a week. How much of the workforce changed in the past 10 months and what would now become permanent? The pandemic forced everyone to rethink how we work and where we work from. I got to monitor some trends from the Wired Gear crew who brought conversations of the CES (formerly an abbreviation for consumer electronics show), an annual trade show which went virtual this year. One conversation was titled “The Virtual Workforce: The Shifting Paradigm of What It Means to Go to the Office” with Brett Taylor, president and chief operating officer at Salesforce, and Stewart Butterfield, chief executive and co-founder of Slack.
Taylor shared the big question among chief executives on the habits developed in this pandemic and what they would retain. “I think about flexible work. I think about employees who would take advantage of the fact that we’ve all learned how to effectively work from home. To maybe have a more flexible work environment for themselves.”
Butterfield thinks the form of business evolved today: “The amount of business travel before seems kind of preposterous now. Now we know that we are able to do this from home. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t wish the pandemic would end and we can physically get together.”
The capability has been there before because companies were able to turn around in a week and continued over the course of the year productively regardless of their industry. Exceptions are businesses directly affected by the pandemic. What changed over the past year is an acceleration of long-term trends.
Remote work would be a key factor for enterprises in 2021, according to R. Dallon Adams in the Future of remote work: IT leader survey focuses on telecommuting, productivity and more published at Tech Republic:
“Although it was essential for business continuity in 2020, it would evolve in the new year.
Many organizations have adopted remote work policies this year to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. While some companies have started to bring employees back on site, others have made long-term commitments to remote work in the years ahead.”
But remote work needs to evolve. According to a Pew survey in December 2020, some 57 percent of remote workers felt less connected to co-workers. A survey in Brett’s company in the middle of the pandemic showed that a vast majority wanted to work remotely. Today, 72 percent want to return to the workplace because ofthe fatigue of the pandemic. How does one develop the culture in the all-digital work and how would flexible hybrid work look like now?
A Human Resource executive I interviewed agrees that flexible work arrangements are here to stay. Such arrangement involves a flexible hybrid of working in the office twice a week and working remotely three times a week as the now normal. Their company realized that people are productive and could even be more productive if you provide them the tools for remote work. Tools include providing the budget for laptop and mobile broadband. A friend working in an Insurance company says their manager thinks it would be a hybrid of working at home for three days and going to the office two days in a week.
The business model has changed. Accelerating the digitization of the economy and speeding up the digitization of the workplace are some meaningful trends Taylor predicts.
“So, the real way you work together is the digital way. And now you could augment that with in-person meetings. Again, of course, once the vaccine is more widespread, and the pandemic subsides,” Taylor adds.
There needs to be a balance if remote work continues on. Even though the real headquarters is digital, we could find the best of both worlds in a flexible hybrid work arrangement.