May 6, 2020
Remote working – the new normal?
Here at Finn Partners we have all been working remotely for several weeks now. Before COVID-19, I regularly worked from home one day a week and have the luxury of a home office, so I was pretty well set up for the practicalities, such as having a decent desk big enough to accommodate my love for paper notes, large screen for my aged eyes, and copious amounts of coffee. I also am used to discussions on Skype vs in-person. With many international clients and teams, I was already a regular Zoom user.
Right now, I also have my partner and a pre-schooler at home which is less than ideal, but has – interestingly – proven to be an excellent exercise in bonding with worldwide colleagues I didn’t know so well, clients and other contacts. It seems many working parents are at pains to pretend they don’t have families, who might get in the way of work. Now, it’s pretty much impossible to hide a four-year old, even when you’ve got an office in the garden with a door that locks! And that’s OK. So many of us are in the same boat. And, if it’s not a child, it’s a barking dog, or a neighbour taking the opportunity in lockdown to use the loudest power tool possible to cut down anything in sight.
For some, working from home is a new experience and the current climate means it has not been the best introduction. See comments regarding four-year olds above. It has, however, demonstrated that for many, remote working is perfectly viable. Figures from the Institute of Directors suggest the coronavirus lockdown is set to cause lasting changes to the way UK companies operate. In a survey of hundreds of business leaders, four out of ten said their organisation had made adjustments that they intend to keep in place after lockdown. Increased working from home and a greater focus on digital services were common actions directors expected to continue in the long term.
The boss of Barclays, meanwhile, is apparently rethinking the company’s location strategy with tens of thousands of the bank’s employees currently working from home. Even industries that traditionally may have shunned remote work are reconsidering the need for large, expensive offices.
There has been lots of talk about the future of work in light of advances in artificial intelligence. Automation and digital transformation could transform our futures, but in the here and now, simple solutions like cloud file storage and collaboration tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc., allow many of us in office-based jobs to work effectively from home, or indeed anywhere with a decent internet connection.
In the UK, it is expected that offices could remain closed, at least partially, for weeks or months more. I can’t wait until I can regain sole control of my home office and am looking forward to seeing colleagues in person, chatting over a coffee in the kitchen, and having rowdy team meetings, but we’ve all learned that we can actually work remotely. Within the next few weeks, I am sure I’ll have reached Zoom overload; if it’s not scavenger hunts with the pre-schoolers, it’s family birthdays, yoga, virtual drinks, and the occasional client call thrown in for good measure. But when we return to something nearer normality, it will be hard to deny that it is perfectly possible to get stuff done and work effectively in teams without being in the same room.