The Great Remote Working Experiment – Is WFH here to stay?
Its a massive understatement to say that the last few months have been a testing time for most of us across the globe. As businesses of all sizes and workers at all levels have adapted and adjusted to the new reality, videoconferencing and collaboration tools that have so long declared “remote working is the way of the future!” have suddenly been thrust into the public consciousness and squarely into the UC strategies of enterprises rapidly moving to support their entire workforce working remotely.
From what I’ve seen first-hand, most IT departments, platforms and support services have risen to the challenge admirably. Yes there have been some service blips due to the unprecedented demand, yes there have been some high profile security stories but in general, the videoconferencing and collaboration platforms have kept us all working, talking and collaborating with our colleagues.
Some forward looking companies were already leveraging the cost savings, flexibility and other benefits remote working brings, but even amongst them lingered some “old fashioned” attitudes and mistrust of remote working.
Many things about the current situation are uncertain, but it seems likely that the world won’t quite be the same again. This has been the great home working experiment, but what have we learnt and how might it change working norms once the world returns to normal?
One big change in attitudes with IT departments may be the realisation that how users interact with the tools provided plays a huge part in their success or failure. And this is in a world where all company investments were already scrutinised and evaluated to ensure a good return on their investment.
With software deployments, this can be hard to demonstrate when the workforce are given a new tool, but one thing that is sure to undermine it is when they find it unfamiliar, difficult to use or unreliable and usage drops. Shadow IT springs up and before long the CTO is explaining to the board why they’ve invested so much budget into something no one is using.
Understanding your user’s competency and familiarity with types of software is key to a successful deployment. Where there are gaps, proper training and support are needed to get users comfortable with a new platform.
I predict this will be higher in the list of considerations IT leaders have when choosing platforms going forward. With the working from home, a lot of users have had to manage their own devices, giving them a lot more freedom to pick and choose the platforms they use and a lot of headaches for IT departments trying to keep everyone connected, secure and able to work.
Bums in seats
One of the big barriers to remote working being embraced has been old fashioned attitudes to working practices. 9-5, half hour at lunch. Who really works (well) like that?
Some businesses still 'measure' productivity not by output, but by whether their workers are online 9-5 and sat at their desk. But we know more about working psychology now. Happy workers are more productive. I think most people see now that motivation comes from feeling valued, supported and encouraged.
I think its fair to say most people working at home right now are actually doing more work than usual, trying to help their organisations through a difficult time, supporting their teams and covering for furloughed colleagues.
A bigger problem for most is finding the time to complete everything and switching off in the evening. Most professionals have responsibilities far outside the 9-5. We are always online, we are always communicating, we are always having ideas. Our standard working day are stop-start with constant meetings, calls and checking of, and responding to emails or IM’s. Most workers either come into the office early to get a hour or two of peace, stay late or take their laptop home to finish off an important project.
Additionally, in this new working world, a lot of people are having to balance work with looking after their family. If a person is working an 11 hour day, it’s a bit churlish to reprimand them for being away from their computer for 20 minutes to get the kids lunches during the day.
The 9-5 paradigm should be an antiquated thing of the past. By being flexible with workers time, businesses will get flexibility in return. There will always be people who need to be online or at their desk at certain times due to their responsibilities, but I predict that the newfound flexibility managers are having to adopt during the crisis will persist.
Now as a disclaimer, I have to admit to a certain bias here but hear me out..
Videoconferencing has been a godsend during these times. We’ve used it to keep in touch with our family and loved ones, we’ve used it to have parties with friends, see live music shows and generally it has kept us sane, raised our spirits and in a small way, helped carry us through this crisis.
As a result, many who were uncomfortable being on video have had to overcome their shyness. Many who avoided video chats at work due to being unfamiliar with the software or how to set up a meeting have had to learn and realised its an easy to thing to master and that modern platforms make it very easy to setup and get going.
So firstly, I think user adoption and familiarity has increased near universally. Secondly, I think its really driving home to businesses just how crucial video and collaboration tools are to their strategy and digital workplace.
Even when restrictions are lifted, social distancing will be in place for some time to come and I predict that video will become the new standard for meetings. The cost and environmental savings alone make a strong case for it, but organisations are getting used to the quick and flexible responses it offers.
I think its trite of me to say that the world won’t be the same after this crisis. That’s a fact not lost on anyone.
But I find it interesting and exciting to look forward to the possibilities and new ways of working that will come about as a result. I think a lot of old processes and ways of thinking are being challenged right now and smarter ways of working and utilising technology and communication platforms will become the norm.