It’s November 2020 and the last 8 months have seen an unprecedented shift to remote working all over the world. Businesses that were on a 3-5 year trajectory to digitally transform their workforces, have pretty much achieved it in months, some in weeks. A year ago we couldn’t have even imagined where we are today and while a lot of it is unpleasant, there are always positives if you dig deep.
For the first time ever, remote workers don’t feel at a disadvantage to those physically in the office. Those who have worked remotely for years have historically talked about missing out on the water cooler moments, the side-bar conversations in meetings or decisions made after the phone was hung up. The worst of all was being completely forgotten about in a meeting where you were the only one on the line. In those times, you really needed someone physically in the room to advocate on your behalf, to be your eyes and ears on the ground as it were, to overcome some of these limitations.
But now, there is a new balance. Nearly everyone is remote and there are no corridor conversations, no sidebar conversations. For the first time in a long time, everyone is on a level footing. Everyone feels visible and heard! In some unique areas and little ways, COVID-19 has been a great leveler. (Of course, it has become a big divider too in other ways; a conversation for another day)
In little ways, COVID-19 has been a great leveler.
A similar situation is happening outside of the workplace with young families who live abroad. They’ve always felt at a loss when grandkids only get to speak with grandparents, and cousins with cousins, across a video line. Families abroad felt unfairly disconnected and unable to compete with other siblings living at home, physically near to parents and grandparents. This has leveled out also. In our current 5km restriction with over 70’s cocooning, most of us cannot physically visit parents/grandparents so it doesn’t matter whether you live in Australia or 10km away, it’s a video call at best for all. And when everyone joins together and gets creative about the conversation, it can be a real fun and engaging experience.
But of course, this situation is not going to last. When COVID-19 restrictions become a thing of the past, and they will, people will return to the offices in great numbers. But nothing near like they were before the pandemic, so we will most likely move forward with a hybrid situation. This is going to be more difficult to navigate and manage.
The good news is that we will have learned a lot about work, about ourselves and about what’s important, to ensure we work more empathetically, with greater consideration for the needs of others, and greater understanding of our own needs. While we will never return exactly to the pre-COVID work experience, one thing is for sure, there will be enough people “on the line” to ensure one never forgets those on the phone. In so many ways, the future of work has arrived.