A Glimpse Into The Future
Welcome to the brave new world. The civilized world is going through its first major pandemic since the advent of the information age. Around the Earth, nations have enacted policies that are crippling their economies in the hope of slowing the spread of an extraordinarily virulent disease. Huge swaths of those economies have been forced closed, but unlike how this might have played out fifty years ago, many are still open.
“Telework”, as the American Families First Coronavirus Response Act terms it, is more widely known as “work from home”, or frequently abbreviated to WFH. While many workers who need specialized, immobile equipment or who interact in-person with the public are unable to take advantage of teleworking, the vast majority of clerical work, and the vast majority of computer-based technical work, can be done from home with existing gear. A great deal of ink has been spilled over the relative efficiencies of working from home versus working from an office where all the people are co-located, but the fact we had the ability to send a double-digit percentage of people home on almost no notice, and were able to keep them being productive at any fraction of their normal capability is an ability that we, as a species, have not had in any previous pandemic of this scale.
After being forced to try telecommuting, a number of companies are likely going to find that it works better than they expect. With office space at a premium in so many cities, many firms are going to need to take a hard look at whether they really need all the space they currently are occupying.
Furthermore, solutions like Zoom, Chime, and Hangouts are finding new utilization for personal use. People who never used their webcams before are suddenly using them every day, and the level of comfort they’re acquiring is going to make the possibility of remote work less daunting. In a very real sense, a telecommunications solution just has to feel easy enough to make you forget it’s there. At that point, it becomes “the new normal.”
The Stay-At-Home orders are giving us a brief glimpse into the future of the workplace. A synthesis of work and home life beyond anything that anyone would have imagined ten years ago. Although offices will open again, I don’t think the norms are going to bounce all the way back. COVID-19 will leave its print on the workplace, and it’s going to be in the way we think and feel about telework moving forward. Welcome folks to the new normal.