The good, the bad, the ugly and the future.
Let’s be honest: Working remotely offers lots of positive side effects for both employees and employers. However, there are downsides of remote working as well. Let’s take a closer look at them to get a fuller picture.
In the last few months during lock down, many of us have become familiar with working from home on a daily basis. While the situation has been quite clear during the lockdown phase, the current situation seems to bring up many questions: Will we just go back to the previous “normal”? What may a “new normal” look like? As several tech companies like Facebook and Twitter announced, they are ready to let their employees continue working from home, even after the crisis. Are we ready for such change? Should we even make working from home an institutional right in order to reduce unfairness and inequality in the workforce? Just like many companies out there, COBE is confronted with these open questions, and as official guidelines and recommendations for companies to organise their teams are slowly phasing out, we need to find answers for ourselves.
Let’s be honest: Working remotely offers lots of positive side effects for both employees and employers.
Employees, for example, can make more out of their day, as they are able to manage their own time and not having to commute to work. The freedom to decide how to organise our everyday life a little more flexibly leaves us with great opportunities to improve our work-life balance, and, consequently, even enhance our life quality. Working from home may also give us more comfort on a bad day, hiding our feel-good-sweatpants and wool socks below our desk, while the pressure of socializing, putting a smile on our faces, and being socially present is reduced to the number of video calls we have in a day. On low-energy days, this allows us to focus our energy on work and devote ourselves to recovering. But even on days, when we do not feel under the weather, we are in our safe space, which fosters focus and productivity.
Employers, too, benefit from letting their teams work remotely, even after the crisis. Not only do they signal that they care for their employees’ work-life balance. They also show that they trust their teams instead of feeling the need to control them, while at the same time proving that they are open to flexible organisational models. This makes the company more attractive for potential applicants — and clients. And there are even more ways in which companies benefit from allowing their employees to work remotely, in post-crisis times: One of the most profound benefits for companies arises from the opportunity of being able to hire people from all over the world (or, at least, from the same of similar time zones), without being restricted to their location. This might make a company more attractive to people who would otherwise not be willing to move to the location of that company.
There are many more advantages that everyone may discover for themselves. However, there are downsides of remote working as well. Let’s take a closer look at them to get a fuller picture.
Not in all cases, remote working improves our work-life balance. As several studies show, working from home can sometimes cause us to work much longer, letting the boundaries between our work life and private life vanish. We catch ourselves sitting in front of our laptops on evenings and weekends, unable to disconnect from work matters — even after we switched off the computer. Turning our personal environment into our office makes it harder for us to draw a clear line between our work and our personal life. The consequences? An increase in mental stress and an unhealthy work-life balance.
One of the most important arguments against sticking to remote working is the fact that the social aspect of working in an office (or whatever your workplace may be) is neglected. Having no personal interaction with your colleagues, not sharing informal or personal conversations might have negative effects on the team spirit and the team cohesion — but also on the individual: Talking about your hobbies or your weekend plans can be very refreshing, uplifting and inspiring.
However, while most of the previous thoughts have been elaborated on in the media already, many others haven’t. The questions we have only rarely addressed concern edge cases and inconvenient truths about the professional and personal situation of many among us: When everybody is working from home, how can we ensure that colleagues who have no safe space at home have a comfortable working environment? How can we ensure that teammates who experience loneliness or anxiety are not left alone when it was their office life that gave them stability? The same applies to people who live under circumstances which do not offer a safe, peaceful, quiet, and technically well-equipped working environment.
Yet, it is not only the personal, but also the professional situation of many people which might cause certain social groups to get left behind when remote working becomes a real thing. Service workers, healthcare workers and many others can, due to the nature of their job, not benefit from the potential work-life balance wins that working remotely offers. This brings up the two last questions of this section: Is the right to work from home really inclusive? Or does it sharpen inequality?
As this shows, the effects of the perks and perils of a remote working culture strongly depend on the kind of work we are doing, our personal situation, and our personality. Therefore, it is crucial to establish a concept of remote working from which everyone can benefit.
At COBE, we are always driven by the wish to improve ourselves and improve our company. To be able to do so, everybody has to bring in their ideas, and we need to try and test a lot of things. This is why we work with almost no hierarchy, following the organisational model of Holacracy. In this, each individual needs to be more responsible, and much more motivated than in strongly hierarchical organisations. For us, this is the first pillar of the foundation of a new way of working, which is predominantly based on flexibility and trust.
Our culture is very important for us. It marks the second pillar of our foundation, while at the same time being a major challenge in defining how we want to work post-crisis. For us, this means that we have to find a way to combine the advantages of an office-based culture, which used to strongly benefit from personal interaction, with the advantages of working remotely. Building on the strong team spirit we have established in the past, we use our culture to make sure that everyone feels as an equal part of the team — whether working from home or from the office. Our culture, not our office, is the safe space in which no one gets left behind.
To maintain this culture, measures must be taken to promote cohesion. The interpersonal component, which used to be a strong part of our culture, must not be neglected either. For this reason, we established a series of events that allows everyone to take part — from anywhere: We came up with an office yoga class, which could be joined via live stream. We also have daily remote coffee meetings for informal conversations and checking in on each other.
Yet, it might be difficult for team members who only work remotely and never join the team physically to experience (and shape!) the corporate culture. From what we learned, team members who work remotely most of the time strongly benefit from joining the team in the office every once in a while.
Establishing a healthy, inclusive and effective remote working culture requires a strong base that allows everybody to be part of the team — no matter their physical location. Most likely, it will become a given for employees to choose their own workspace, which will have negative consequences for employers who are not willing to let their teams work remotely.
But let’s think a little bit further. Due to the rapid digitalization of every aspect of our lives and due to the fast pace of social change we experience in our day and age, being agile becomes increasingly important. Therefore, we should maybe ask questions such as the following: Is it going to be necessary to even have an office space? Is the idea of an office space outdated? Or will it be more efficient to just rent meeting rooms that we’ll use when needed? Or should we keep offices as we know them, but sublet them flexibly to other companies? Will we be able to even create environmental benefits from sharing our office spaces?
We are heading towards a world in which working, for many of us, will be different from what we have known until now. It makes sense for every company to deal with this topic in order to meet the expectations of the current and the future workforce: Not only working from home, but working from wherever we want to may become the norm in the future.
We should not only prepare ourselves for this near future, but actively pave the way for it by figuring out how a flexible working culture can work best, without friction and losses. The process of figuring this out may be frustrating at times, as there are no easy answers at hand. However, as uncertainty lays ahead of us, the future invites us to go on an adventure and leave behind old norms and beliefs. So let’s embark on this journey, share ideas, discuss options, fight our fears — and move forward.