I’ve been working from home for nearly two weeks now. It’s taken some getting used to but the more I settle into it the more I realise working life could be changed forever by the disruption caused by Covid-19. We’ve talked about virtual offices, remote working and connecting with people wherever they are in the world for some time, but only a few companies have taken the plunge. Now we are witnessing the results of this enforced experiment firsthand. Productivity and efficiency have increased, less time is being wasted, and the focus on the work has been heightened. A more fluid, collaborative environment has emerged.
It’s not as if we didn’t know this already, or at least believe it to be true. Time and again research has proven that remote working increases productivity and efficiency. Gallup has found that employees who spend three or four days a week working remotely produce better results than their traditional counterparts. They are also substantially more engaged in their jobs and perform better thanks to the autonomy and flexibility they are afforded. Gallup has also found that the most talented employees desire policies that embrace flexibility and adaptability.
The technology to make this a reality is already in place, as we know. Zoom, Slack, Trello, Drive and Microsoft Teams have in effect made traditional agency offices an almost outdated concept. Entrepreneurs and freelance creatives have already shown us that location no longer matters, and that a good wi-fi connection is all you need to work efficiently and effectively from anywhere in the world. Now companies are learning this on a network-wide scale. They are seeing for themselves that creativity can flourish when the shackles of constraint are removed.
In the past, many of us have struggled with the concept of remote working and the freedom to operate outside of a traditional office environment. Just as others have struggled with the concept of offshoring or hubs. How would it work? What would it mean for company cohesion and culture? Could we trust our employees? All of these questions have now been answered. Not because we took a gamble, but because we had no other choice than to embrace distance and connectivity.
Maybe one of the defining business lessons of Covid-19 will be that the rigidity and formality of office life was unnecessary. That we got it wrong all along. Because the past few weeks have ushered in a remarkable period of collaboration and creativity. A period of teamwork and partnership that has been incredible to behold. So much so that I don’t see how we can go back to the way we used to work. Not entirely anyway. Not after all that has happened.
At the same time, something’s missing. Something fundamental. And that something is human interaction. The exchange of ideas, the humour, the banter, the camaraderie. I feel almost nostalgic for the days when I could go into the office. Not because I’m a corporate automaton, but because I genuinely miss people. Therefore a balance has to be struck. One between remote working and a centralised location where we can all gather together to hone our ideas. A hybrid model, if you will. Because our lifeblood is culture, and it’s impossible to imagine how culture can be cultivated when we continue to be scattered to the four winds, unable to interact on a human level.
Maybe after all of this is over we’ll come together in parks and in coffee shops rather than in meeting rooms and office canteens. Because if nothing else, we should take this opportunity to ask what kind of companies we want to be. Do we want to be traditionalists who believe 100 per cent in the sanctity of bricks and mortar? In the rigidity of corporate culture and the hierarchy that that entails? Or do we believe in agility, in the freedom of location, and adapting to our people rather than the other way around? Whatever the answer, there’s a sweet spot somewhere. One where we can draw on a much larger pool of talent, increase efficiency, and forge an even greater company culture.