With the current global virus worries, there’s been a dramatic shift in people’s approaches to work, shopping and education. Now I’m not going to comment on the virus itself, because everyone in the world seems to have already commented and these range from everything from good, preventative measures to mass fear and panic.
However, the net result is that many people are now working from home. Over the past few years, businesses have tried this for some of their staff and shifted their opinion and approaches back and forth depending on who’s running something and how much control they need over their employees. One place I worked, the director there was so paranoid about people potentially not doing things, there was no way anyone could work from home, ever. He would rather have (and did have) countless people sitting in the office chatting and doing nothing, than the fear of letting someone work remotely and get the job done in half or even a quarter of the time.
Now admittedly not everyone can work from home, nor should they work from home in many roles. However, there are many people who can and the office these days for many is just a luxury, indulgence, or historic relic of working days past. If you have any sort of administrative role, tech-role or anything which can be done via a phone, video or computer, then the ability to work remotely makes perfect sense and can save a lot of time, energy and pointless expense.
If I look at some of the work I do when organising a program, it’s 95% able to be done remotely. When I run a program, I need to be there in person throughout. However, let’s look at the other side and the things which can be done from anywhere and anytime. Whilst I’ve been doing a lot in person, setting up lots of meetings and travelling a lot, these meetings can often not have a great purpose other than building relationships, an aspect which is also very important. However, once you’ve built a number of relationships, there’s no pressing need to have regular meetings in person and much of what can be achieved in an hour-long face to face meeting, could be done in a 5min phone call.
Whilst this isn’t anything new, I’ve found that due to the sudden change of work recently, my commute has been reduced from about 1.5 hours a day to nothing. This gives me another 1.5 hours to either do something constructive or go for a run or do something more interesting than sitting in traffic and getting frustrated with slow drivers. The sudden departure of tens of thousands of people from our cities was notable the other day when I was driving out of Sydney during peak hour and not getting stuck in traffic at all.
Now the downside is that there are many businesses relying on the passing traffic for coffee, lunches and retail trade, but this sudden shift in work patterns, could help re-shape much of the workforce into a more remote pattern. Other businesses would adjust to this and be able to build sustainable revenues from this too. We’d reduce the amount of traffic and pollution and possibly improve people’s social time and lives due to the reduction of stress and the hustle and bustle of getting to the office.
The world will continue to virtualise many more offices and roles, of which this massive dislocation has given us a glimpse. Whilst we don’t want to create societies and workplaces without social interaction, what this sudden change has shown us, is that there’s another way of working and this is increasingly likely to be the case into the future. With that virtual work, it can be just as, if not more effective and productive, than the traditional, ‘go to the office’ style of work-life to which so many people are used. It does rely on trust on both sides of the equation, but once you’ve been able to step over the precipice and see that it works, you’ll wonder why you didn’t try this years ago. For me, I find I’m far more efficient when working remotely and get about 5-10 times more things achieved than if I were at work in person. Whilst I have a great time at work catching up with people, it’s not very productive.
Being able to plan and work virtually, as well as occasionally in person, is a great way to be predictive and effective in what you do and getting back at least 7.5 hours of commute time a week is a welcome benefit to achieve. This is much needed time for all those hours of waiting in queues to panic-buy pointless crap that you don’t need for an apocalypse that isn’t going to come! Remember, wash your hands and keep a good social distance from others. If you’re sick, then self-isolate and get yourself checked out.