For information technology COVID has been the push into the swimming pool. Sink or swim. Mostly, we have swum. The number of us working remotely has massively and rapidly increased. IT has mostly been up to the challenge. Many, many of us have discovered, if we didn’t already know, that we can work from home.
When COVID is over (IF IT IS EVER OVER!) many of us who didn’t work from home will choose to continue to do so. We will order more stuff online. We will travel less, particularly for business. We will commute less.
Working from home…works
There are five reasons we know the future of remote work is both doable, and in many cases, preferable:
1. We have learned how to work from home. It wasn’t easy, and all the problems aren’t solved, but we can do it.
2. We have installed the systems to make it possible. The issue is no longer whether large numbers of us can work at home but whether we can do it securely and resiliently. Meanwhile the new extended network will continue to exist.
3. Employers have learned that their employees can adapt. We have managed. Perhaps it takes us more hours, but employers don’t pay for that. We don’t just do housework; we’ve been productive. Perhaps it’s stressful, but generally people have been performing. A sizeable group prefers it, and it beats losing your job.
4. Employers have learned that it can save them money. Big companies are consolidating buildings. Small companies are wondering whether they really need an office at all. Companies are saving on illness-related risk. After all, social distancing, masks, and the rest don’t just protect against COVID. You also don’t get as many cold and flu illnesses.
5. The technologies we’ve hurriedly put in place are now available to do more. Not all that many people liked their VPNs, so now we’ve either fixed them or moved on to something better. More has moved to the cloud. It means not only that people can continue to work at home but that other activities can take place remotely. Lots of them. All this new available technology will be a basis for competition.
So, after COVID, we will be more remote and more digital, indefinitely. Is that all?
Maybe not. A word has become popular for something we should achieve: cohesion. It’s about the engagement of remote workers, but it’s also about health precautions, inventory management, assembly line shut downs and product pricing. As Salesforce President Gavin Patterson recently wrote, “It is now clear that lockdowns in multiple territories and industrial sectors have strained cohesion in everything from supply chains to customer relationships.”
Patterson continues, “Yet just as commercial cohesion has been strained, so has cohesion within wider society. The pandemic has illuminated inequalities across our society and laid bare the need for a new, more resilient and inclusive economy.”
One of the things that happened in India during the lockdown was that the polluted Ganges River cleared up. You may also have noticed that air pollution was reduced (except, of course, where there are fires). Some animals seemed to return.
“There have been similar environmental “miracles” in other parts of the world since the pandemic began – proof positive that clearer air, cleaner water, and healthier ecosystems are not only possible, but probable if we act now,” Punit Renjen, the Global CEO of Deloitte, has written. “Now, it’s on us – all of us – to make sure we never go back to the way things were. Anything short of that would be a missed opportunity and, quite frankly, a failure.”
When we look at the future after COVID, then, it’s not just about prediction. It’s about choice. As we create the institutions to rebuild the economy, and as we use the new technologies we’ve put in place, we can choose to build a more sustainable economy and society.
Will we? At least COVID gave us a push into the pool.