What will a post-Corona world look like? By the looks of it, not very bright. At least for a while.
A colossal loss of life will be followed by massive loss of jobs, a sliding economy and a world wary of handshakes. But, that’s not nearly all. A post-Corona world will be a world where remote-living will become the order of the day. From the way we learn and work, to the way we socialize and entertain –
we will create digital ecosystems to live in.
Take remote work, for instance. While the past month has seen an unprecedented push, the truth is that the concept is far from new. One of the earliest adopters of remote work was IBM, which installed remote-terminals in employees’ homes in the 1980s. By 2009, when the great recession hit, 40% of IBM’s global employees were working from home.
IBM may have been ahead of its time, but 2009 was really the time when many companies seemed to wake up to the concept. Faced with economic distress, most organizations were forced to cut costs. This was when the idea of having a remote workforce, and saving on office space became alluring (IBM states that by reducing its office the company saved somewhere around about $100 million annually). Just as the Second World War led to seismic shifts in consumer behaviors (thus leading to the Golden Age of Capitalism), the Great Recession kick started remote work.
Fast forward to 2020. COVID 19 arrives and forces the hands of those who didn’t embrace remote work earlier. Companies, world over, go into a huddle and set up remote systems for their employees. One of the reasons why this was possible to do was because technologically we were there already – the platforms existed, so it was a matter of implementation. Also, lessons could be learned from organizations that have walked that path and succeeded. One of them is WordPress, which was founded with the very premise that it would employ a remote workforce. It’s something they were proud of, and they really showed the way on how remote working could work.
Unsurprisingly, in the past two months, platforms like Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams have seen a sharp rise in usage. In Italy, for instance, Microsoft Teams has seen a 775% rise. According to a report by App Annie, video conferencing apps “topped 62 million downloads across iOS and Google Play during the week of March 14-21, 2020 worldwide”. The figure is a sign of the times, and things to come – the way we work is transforming every day.
That said, remote work is not without its challenges. Also, the nature of a company’s business, its size and technical bandwidth matters significantly in getting remote work to be a success. Some businesses lend themselves better to the model than others. While larger companies like Twitter, Apple, Google and Automattic (parent company of WordPress) would be able to address the challenges, it may not be that easy for, say, an automobile company, or a smaller organization that doesn’t have the capacity to buy equipment and train employees to enable them to work from home.
But, today it’s not an option anymore – now it’s about survival. Like it or not, afford it or not, organizations simply have to adjust to the idea – even in a post-Corona, world chances are remote work will be a reality for many companies.
While companies are, en masse, setting up remote work systems, they are facing myriad challenges – from technical to human. And while the former are proving easy to fix, the latter is something not many are equipped at handling – fixing a technical glitch is way easier than ensuring employees stay productive and motivated while working from home. And that’s really going to be the differentiating factor – the organizations that are able to crack the human code are the ones that will see success.
One of the primary challenges facing managers today is communication. In a remote environment, this becomes critical. Managers will have to learn the art of communicating clearly and walking the fine line between keeping teams productive, motivated and disciplined. It’s not going to be an easy task. Also, they’ll have to start with the basics first – not everyone has a stable internet connection and rooms to themselves – in most cases, chances are, their children will be taking online classes and their wives too will be working from home from confined spaces.
The idea of working from home is great for most people. Till, it’s not. The challenge is that once the novelty of not travelling to work and working in your pajamas dies down (and experts suggest you must work in work clothes), people would want to return to physical workplace – office banter with colleagues is uplifting, while pounding away at a keyboard sitting at home can be lonely. How will businesses address this?
The next few months force businesses to address these issues. Those who are able to survive the COVID-19 Tsunami, will change the way they work and communicate forever. And while successful solutions will be tried and worked out, and organizations may come out stronger and more innovative – the casualty will be the office water cooler. And that’s going to be an unfortunate loss.