Remote work came under the spotlight when COVID-19 turned into a pandemic earlier this year. But is it here to stay? Will our homes become our offices forever?
Not too long ago, the idea of remote work seemed like a faraway dream for most knowledge workers. All but a few companies—Automattic, Basecamp, Gitlab, Buffer come to mind—already operated in a fully-remote fashion.
But as Matt Wullenbeg said: "change happens slowly, then all at once" *. Within a few weeks of the lockdown around the world, most companies shifted to remote work and Zoom became the new household name. Necessity can be a huge catalyst for change.
This is probably old news for you. But with more companies making a full transition to remote work and a lot of us reminiscing about our office days, filled with nice coffee breaks and chats with colleagues, the big question remains: What is the future of remote work?
Some say they'll never go back to the office. Others can't wait to return. I'm somewhere in between.
On one side the advantages of face-to-face interactions can't be denied. Call it “serendipity" or just availability, working in the same physical space as your coworkers can motivate you more and foster collaboration. So much so that in the past Yahoo banned remote work, and Netflix CEO thinks "there are no positives" to remote work. Plus all the perks most tech-workers grew used to and now miss: free barista coffee, catered lunches (and dinners), happy hours, dinner parties, etc.
On the other hand, there are things like long commutes, less flexibility, and constant interruptions. It used to take me ~35 minutes to drive to my office, don't miss it at all!
In my own remote work adventure, I've noticed that it is way easier for me to concentrate at home so I can squeeze a "normal" 8-hour day into 4-5 really focused hours. This leaves a lot of time for me to recharge, explore other things, do more research, read, and workout. All things I couldn't do before because one is expected to be physically present for ~8 hours even when one has no work to do. This highlights the incongruence that we still use principles from hourly work to measure the productivity of knowledge workers. But also, working from home requires more discipline to set boundaries between work and play. Otherwise, we risk working longer than usual.
So, what is the future of remote work? While I'm not one for making predictions here's what it seems it will be like: a hybrid system, we'll have the best of both worlds.
We'll be able to work from home whenever we want and we'll have offices and/or co-working spaces that we can use whenever we need to have face to face interactions. Some will just go back to their old Monday-Friday 9-5 routine, but for a lot of us, the flexibility to work from anywhere that we gained during these months (ironic, I know) has been such a game-changer that going back to normal doesn't feel completely right. In the end, all we need is a computer and fast Internet.