One of the more appealing results of the still-ongoing pandemic appears to be the mainstream acceptance of hybrid and remote work. Is the world really prepared for it, though?
As the pandemic began to spread across the world in early 2020, remote working arrangements – along with things like distance learning, virtual meetings, and more – were forced on societies by sheer necessity. By some point the following year, while the pandemic was still raging, the consensus that “remote work is here to stay” had already begun to emerge.
Increasingly, as the immediacy of the crisis fades and restrictions are relaxed, businesses will now be faced with choosing where employees do their work — now with a new set of tools, expectations, and experiences. Employees are also feeling empowered to have a say, as well, leading to what has been called “The Great Resignation” in a number of countries, as people seek to find a better balance between work and life – and a job that will accommodate that balance.
For some, the move to hybrid working can be difficult, both physically and emotionally. Workers basically have to maintain two work environments (office and home) and the lines between where work ends and life begins often shifts from “blurred” to “nonexistent.” You’re almost never truly OFF from work.
Yet still, every indication is that while hybrid working may not become wholly ubiquitous – traditional offices aren’t all going to disappear – the concept as one option for businesses is definitely here to stay. As published by Future, author Marc Andreessen wrote that we are undergoing “a permanent civilizational shift” where we can divorce “physical location from economic opportunity.” In the long term, that assessment is likely so, but are we prepared to fully embrace it now? Today? A few signs point to that being highly questionable.
We now have hybrid work, but we really don’t yet have the culture or management in place yet to support it.
Though they can put on a brave front and muddle their way through, the simple truth is that most companies remain culturally unprepared for the realities of being a hybrid workplace – an organisation where some employees work remotely, some are in the office all week, and others pop in and out, depending on which day of the week it is or what the changing needs of the business are.
These new work practices call for new ways to manage people, new ways to evaluate job performance, and new ways to approach basic business concepts like meetings, objectives, team building, hiring, disciplinary action, promotion, and more. Right now, in many businesses, these elements are left to chance, or punted over to individual managers and leaders to figure out on their own. Clearly, this isn’t a long-term strategy for success.
A lot of our current business tools are not necessarily hybrid-friendly.
One goal of a successful implementation of hybrid working is not to have remote employees who are all using different tools, but to get the whole team using the same tools – ideally those which are designed for remote work – and using communication channels and workflows that are consistent across the company.
Understandably, this mandates a new level of commitment to computerisation, cloud services and applications, digital communication systems, and a range of mobile devices and services. For many companies, a new (ore renewed) emphasis on cyber security will be necessary. Many companies simply don’t have the infrastructure in place for that now, and two years of economic devastation have not made it any easier to implement such costly paradigm-shifting strategies.
Major tech companies which make the products enabling remote work are not demonstrating faith in their own products.
File this one under “Things that make you go ‘hmmmm’….” According to reports, most of the largest technology companies are reluctant to let their own employees work remotely full-time, all while trying to seem like they’re advocating it – only just for other companies.
As reported by Computer World, in just one example, “Google announced that 20% of its 135,000 employees will be required to work in the office, another 20% will be allowed to be fully remote, and a whopping 60% will be allowed to work remotely for a maximum of two days per week. (Apple is eyeing something similar.)”
This is a bizarre proclamation, given that it’s companies like Google who actually create and sell the tools and services that make hybrid and remote work possible in the first place!
While many leaders at these tech companies strongly advocate full-time remote work, they’re nevertheless hedging their bets and keeping their options open by allowing some remote days, but not really embracing the shift with real enthusiasm. One reason for that might just be that old habits die hard. Another, however, is that they really just don’t want their employees wandering off in droves.
Digital nomads are still eyed with scepticism by many companies.
As what they apparently feel is a short-term compromise, some businesses are saying that part-time remote work is okay, but they’re very much not keen to move to full-time remote work. Why? It’s pretty straightforward: The part-time remote work model still keeps employees tethered to location. Even if they go in to the office once a week, they still must remain within commuting distance from the office.
Full-time remote workers, on the other hand, can move anywhere with an internet connection, whether it’s an island off the coast of Sabah, a distant commune in China, a small town in Italy (where apparently houses are being sold by the hundreds for just €1 each) — or they can go full-on digital nomad and never stop moving. So by limiting full-time remote work, and mandating at least a weekly appearance at the office, companies keep open the option to change their mind without major disruption.
So while it’s true that a global pandemic has ushered in a new era of remote and hybrid work opportunities, the notion that we are actually ready for it is still a bit premature. As is so often the case, people are left playing catch-up with the forced realities of life!
Information from Future, ComputerWorld, and BBC contributed to this article.
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