When COVID was in its infancy, and we were all just starting to understand its scope, longevity and impact on the world, the hope of most businesses was to be able to continue to conduct business with minimum challenges and interruptions.
Most businesses moved to a virtual model smoother than they expected, and in the beginning, many, perhaps most, found the virtual model surprisingly effective. In fact, as I wrote in my blog on June 17th “Will you lead or lag the virtual revolution?” many companies started to see that in many ways working virtually is even more productive and effective than the way they worked before when everyone was working from the office.
However, like any dramatic change, the pendulum that swung one way has started to return the other way. Recently we began to hear new tunes in the media, for example, the Wall Street Journal article on July 24th titled: “Companies start to think that remote work isn’t so great after all” in which the sub-title concludes that: “This is not going to be sustainable.”
I hear similar things directly from clients who are getting fed up of working at home. As to be expected, they miss their daily personal interactions, which were making them feel more connected and collaborative.
Virtual work was initially viewed as a temporary measure; a response and reaction to COVID. But, given all the virtues companies are discovering in virtual work, perhaps it shouldn’t be.
It seems that the issue is not “office” or “home”. There is enough evidence that suggests that we can be productive in either/both modes of work, or be unproductive in either mode of work. I see many teams that are dysfunctional and unproductive, even when all team members work in one office space.
Years of office work has generated an abundance of management, motivation and productivity-related practices that are deeply rooted in most organization’s culture. Many management books have been published on these topics, and people are used to working in particular ways.
However, even with all the collective experience of working in the office, leaders still have to invest time and effort to motivate their teams and drive productivity in order to avoid ineffectiveness.
It would be unrealistic to expect that companies could effectively shift from office-work to home-work at a blink of an eye. At the same time, it would be a mistake to ignore and discard all the golden takeaways from having worked at home.
It’s not ‘one or the other’, but rather companies should find a new way to balance and integrate working in the office and at home.
Google recently announced that it plans to keep its employees working from home until summer 2021. Other companies have also taken similar long-haul stands about virtual work. Why? First and foremost, to guard the safety of their employees.
However, companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Cisco and others know that people can be productive and happy working from home if they are managed appropriately. Just like they had to invest in management structures and practices to keep their workforce productive and happy in the office, they will have to invent new ways to do the same for a workforce working from home.
The practices may vary but the need to continue to manage, motivate, develop and hold to account remains an essential aspect of the success of any company whether its employees work in the office or from home.
Look out for the coming wave of management books written about how to keep your employees happy and productive working from home.