Will Remote Work Become the ‘New Normal?’

I’ve been “working from home” since 2002. Forced into it initially, and opposed out of sheer unfamiliarity, I didn’t like the isolation. But after acclimating and optimizing, I became more productive, happier, and healthier than in any previous office job.  Now, 18 years later, I may never go back.

One question I’ve pondered over the past week is will that same realization sink into the broader corporate ranks being forced by outside factors to #WFH? And could that be one of the silver linings we examined yesterday for new perspectives? In forced to try new things, will we make valuable discoveries?

New Light

Those discoveries for me over the past two decades have included things like sidestepping office distractions. Anyone who says people are more “effective from the office” ignores the finite share of the day spent doing actual work. The rest is filled with the status meetings and water cooler talk of typical office environments.

Back to the “happy & healthy” part, I’ve channeled pent-up social energy from being isolated into productive directions. That includes going to the gym (or at-home TRX) for 90-minutes per day for the last 10 years. I’m in the best shape of my life and could live longer due to years of daily cardio and weight/suspension training.

Mental health is also a factor. Not having to commute has been one of the great mental releases of the last 20 years. I’m more at ease and thus productive. And the 52 minutes of commute time per day for the average American has been redeployed in getting more work done… and the aforementioned fitness routine.

But that’s just me… we can extrapolate the enterprise benefits that could come to light in a corresponding “forced realization.” Those include reducing fixed-costs like physical locations for everyone to work in at once. Less square footage can be leased for streamlined operations or alternate occupancy.

Targeted Approach

Companies likely won’t suddenly go fully virtual after Covid-19 recedes. But they could rethink the traditional paradigm of everyone coming in at once M-F. We could all realize that this was mostly habit and repetitive motion. Rethinking the model ground-up for today could yield something more streamlined.

Reducing or alternating days in the office in a targeted way could also have an environmental impact. Benefits are already evident in clear skies and we’ll likely get more empirical data when this is all over. Also, consider fewer traffic accidents and the term “rush hour” could end up being a colloquialism of the past.

All of the above is admittedly speculative and from the biased position of a born-again #WFH advocate. The real benefits will be evaluated individually. But the point is that people will get to decide, given new data. And it’s something they wouldn’t see if not forced into it. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.

Meanwhile, there’s already momentum in remote work’s gradual rise. Barriers include command and control management attitudes that require lording over a building full of employees from a corner office. But that’s slowly eroding, especially in tech, exemplified by companies like Git Lab with 1,200 remote employees.

Individual Choice

Of course, #WFH isn’t for everyone. It’s best for corporate work, especially individual pursuits like writing or programming. But more collaborative roles are increasingly supported by software like Zoom and Slack. Immersive tech like VR collaboration and AR remote assistance could also get their chance to shine.

There will still be holdouts though. Lots of people are eager to get back to their commutes and water cooler talk. Consider Charter Communications. So entrenched in the ideology that work only gets done under management’s physical watch, it initially went as far as overruling health & safety consensus.

Whether my biased position of that of Charter is correct, the point is that we’ll all get to see for ourselves. We’ll all get the chance — and not by choice — for a new perspective that may force discoveries we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. It could be one of the silver linings sometimes gained from misfortune.

Some may discover they’re more productive. Companies may find it’s more economical and streamlined to shed overhead like square footage. With people off the roads, less transit-stressed and maybe even exercising more, they may — like me in 2002 — never go back. And we could all be better off.

What About SMBs?

SMBs could likewise innovate and lean into the new reality. After this crisis recedes and they open their doors, forced new perspective may reveal opportune and auxiliary service models. Depending on the business, that could include drive-up, delivery, eCommerce and other TAM-boosting measures.

That bottom-up innovation could have a top-down counterpart. In other words, SMB SaaS players could begin to innovate the enabling tools for such auxiliary service models. Existing software players that democratize things like SMB e-commerce could also position themselves to thrive in the new reality.

There will be lots of new perspectives gained out of necessity, and lots of innovation that results on the back end. That’s one of the many silver linings we can potentially look forward to in this otherwise challenging time for the world of small businesses. We’ll keep a close eye on this as it unfolds.

Here’s more from our recent analyst roundtable on the topic…

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