Why I believe remote working will not be the ‘new normal’
Published 6th April 2020
I’ve been watching with interest the various commentators asking the question, “does Covid-19 herald the dawn of a new age of homeworking?” I am going to go out on a limb and explain why I don’t believe it does; fully prepared that with hindsight this may make me look very foolish!
Important to state from the outset, I don’t have a commercial agenda in holding this viewpoint, in fact, as a business Amito benefits from increased home working. More home working means more usage of IT infrastructure, data centres and communications; all things that our business provides.
If I think of the Amito way of working (under normal circumstances), all of our team come into the office regularly. Whilst we absolutely embrace the need for flexible working and have a good number of staff who work from home occasionally or are on a part time/flexi hours model, we don’t have anyone on the team who is a permanent home worker. Naturally we currently have >90% of the team working from home full time and were able to make that happen pretty much overnight. However, logistics aside, there are competing pressures for working from home. On the one hand we believe it’s a core part of team happiness to minimise commuting time and have a good work/life balance, yet on the other hand we think that happiness from work partly comes from building meaningful relationships with colleagues, and that human connection enables people to work more effectively and with a more positive mindset.
My current perspective on both our team and other friends and acquaintances that have made a rapid switch to work from home is that there is an energy and excitement that these changes have brought. Whilst it undoubtedly comes with challenges and has been fairly daunting for many, especially those with children at home, things are new and different, and people are invigorated by this change. However, I don’t think this will last – the excitement will wear off pretty quickly.
My fundamental belief is that people need face to face contact in person, and technology is years away from giving a truly authentic experience of this. Video conferencing and calling is just not the same as seeing people in person. When you’re in the office, you have a background noise of communication that is difficult to replicate with video conferencing. Being able to walk over to someone’s desk for a brief chat is very different to ‘dropping in’ with a video call or instant messenger. The incidental conversations that happen by the coffee machine all help build and maintain relationships. People like people – we are social animals, and need plentiful, high-quality communication to fulfil these desires. At the moment, homeworking doesn’t give the same ‘shot’ that being in a common workspace does. For the naysayers, let me ask it a different way. Given the choice, would you want your kids to go to an online-only school? Or would you enjoy meeting a bunch of friends online as much as in a restaurant or bar? If you are not ready for a virtual school or virtual bar, why is a wholly virtual workplace different?
For many businesses this emergency measure of homeworking has proved that their business can in fact support a more flexible working model, which is undoubtedly going to do wonders for those employees campaigning for part time and flexible hours. And one thing is certain: Company culture, leadership, employee experience and the whole digital workplace experience are now being put to the test like never before. It’s not impossible that a virtual working model will never be our new normal, but I believe technology has as long way to go before that becomes the case.
Ed Butler, CEO