What on earth happened to us in 2020 and where does it leave us now? All at once, we’re suffering Zoom fatigue, wondering whether to upgrade our temporary home office space, and dreaming of having a coffee and chat with colleagues. Has ‘working from anywhere’ become a blueprint for how you want your organisation to function in 2021, or not?
Working remotely gives workers more choice over where they live and the geography becomes bigger as job seekers seek roles further afield. However, concerns persist about the impact of remote working. Research by Buffer has shown that whilst 98% want to continue working remotely for at least sometime for the rest of their career, the top downsides are poorer collaboration, communication and loneliness. We have all had to become more intentional about our choices and employers have had to manage the trade-offs.
Discussions were varied and fruitful and surfaced five current themes where there are differing perspectives on ‘what next’ between workers and employers. If you haven’t yet thoughts about these themes for you personally or for your organisation, you may want to ponder on them when you have a moment:
Staying connected with people. As the way we can connect with people has changed, so has our reach to those people. The ‘organic’ chats at the ‘watercooler’ have been displaced by more structured calls online. As a result, we stay in touch with our immediate circle of contacts, but no longer see those people with whom we have no specific need to call. Self-care is very much needed to counter that fight-flight response to the crisis and to the ongoing Zoom fatigue. A lack of organic social connection can be bad for business too. It is often these unscheduled chats between workers that spark both creativity and innovation. How can employers maintain the social capital in their workforce that keeps ideas coming and people enthused?
Infrastructure that enables As the likelihood of working from home increases in the medium term, people are reflecting on ‘moving beyond camping’ to more permanent equipment and space. Broadband connectivity, hardware and a little technology savvy helps people adapt better to remote working. However, this begs the question around the need for fuller risk assessments of the ‘kitchen table’ – is it ergonomically sound for the longer term? There is a grey area about who is responsible for the extra cost for assessment and home equipment; employers may fear a large bill if they encourage anything other than office-based contracts.
Visibility There is much happening that we simply can’t see. It’s difficult for our brains to process the significance of what is happening offline. There are significantly different experiences for people who have been unrelentingly spread thinly over the last year compared with those who have more capacity to invest in their professional lives. How can employers handle this range of experiences? It is likely that managers are going to need more guidance on how to tell if people are really ok or rethink what constitutes a fair employee appraisal. Coinbase, whose CEO has promised that ‘there are no explicit or implicit disadvantages to working from any location’, ensures that everyone dials into video meetings from their laptop at their desk, even if they are in the office. They believe this creates a more consistent experience for everyone.
Managing expectations For workers, managing expectations can mean that we need to be more articulate around our achievements and the challenges we are facing – be this home-schooling, loneliness or, sadly, grief for people we have lost. As we reflect on our performance targets and goals, the expectations placed on people may now seem divergent and unrealistic. Difficult conversations around people not meeting their performance targets are replacing the ‘do what you can’ mantra that supported people getting through periods of crisis. Business reality is starting to bite back as all the important things that had to be dropped are starting to have an impact. Yet for some, it’s been a hugely productive year. We really have all experienced different journeys getting to today. Given the medium-term constraints, are we still able to meet our obligations? Employers will find they are having to prepare for difficult conversations around changes they need to implement.
Competition for talent. Workers have started to question whether they can actually be based anywhere and work for the same organisation. This detachment from physical location also opens up new horizons for who they could work for. ‘Could I live in a remote cottage and get paid a London salary?’ This also raises a question about the need for a policy around fairness – should people be paid equally regardless of where they live or paid fairly for their location? Employers too are starting to see the possibilities. More and more talented people from further afield are applying for positions.
We recommend you take some time to think about each of these five areas for your own work situation. You could draw yourself a simple forcefield chart identifying reasons for making change happen and what might constrain you. You could even do this as an exercise with your colleagues to generate a discussion around people’s differing experiences and views.