The COVID-19 crisis has forced a majority of us to work from home, whether we wanted or were ready... Not everyone, of course, as millions of people have lost their jobs and or have been forced to put their livelihoods on hold. For those that are working from home, however, it is a steep learning curve. Not because of the tech tools— those are easy to handle— but because of the stressful quarantine context. It is work from home, mixed with online schooling for kids, in the middle of a pandemic in which we can’t go out freely. Tensions and anxieties are high, and we have to deal with them in very closed quarters.
Yet, we are turning to online tools with a renewed need for connection. Now we actually want to hang out with our friends and family online, we want to talk with co-workers and get our work done as efficiently as possible. We are embracing technology as it allows us to communicate with others.
The same will happen with remote work. We will embrace it eventually as a way in which we can maintain a healthier, more flexible balance between our work life and our (real) life.
Here’s why I think remote work will become huge after the quarantine is over.
1. IT’S SO CONVENIENT
This is obvious, but worth stating. Working online removes most frictions. There’s no commute (and that in itself is a deal changer for most people); no waiting in empty conferences rooms; no eating lunch in your office. Working remotely enables a kind of flexibility that was never before possible. You can take meetings while your child is next to you doing her homework; you can choose to work from your garden or balcony; and if really stressed, you can review that presentation with a glass of wine. This type of flexibility will convince millions of people to push for a remote policy at their jobs when the COVID-19 crisis is over.
2. IT’S NOT ONLY ABOUT MEETINGS
Working online is not only about videoconferencing. It’s now possible for teams to be entirely distributed and work with the same ease as if they were sharing an office. Most importantly, there are now a myriad tools that enable open-ended collaboration between teams. Think of Google Docs, Slack, Asana, Notion— even Microsoft Office now has a Live feature. With these tools you can create and edit documents, manage projects, assign responsibilities to team members, and keep everyone collaborating. All online and in real time.
3. PROVIDES ACCESS TO THE BEST
We've all had a favorite teacher or instructor who quickly filled out his classes. Now, we don't have to fret about making the cut. We can learn from, or work with, world-class instructors from every industry from the comfort of our home.
This will be huge for adjacent industries like fitness, education, coaching and even psychotherapy. Why have 20 average teachers, when you can have a true expert explaining his or her area of expertise. This is already happening in China. Additionally, the rise of online services like telehealth and distance learning, will provide access to workers with a particular expertise to people in rural or remote communities where it’s difficult to get.
4. THE TECHNOLOGY IS IMPROVING
Zoom, now a household name, had its daily active users jump from 10 million to 200 million in just three months. Houseparty— an app that allows for spontaneous video calls— has had 50 million downloads just last month. This kind of growth is unprecedented. And tech companies are realizing the size of the opportunity (in times of COVID-19, and after).
They are launching new, more specialized apps like Run the World (specifically designed for online events), Tandem (for language learning), Clubhouse (audio chat, invite only), or Loom (pre-recorded videos), that want to make communication easier online. And with coming technologies like AR or VR, our future online will be even more immersive and interactive.
What Happens Next
The rise (and stay) of remote work will happen because of a mindset change. People will realize that through robust online tools, they can work as efficiently from home (or from anywhere, really), while being able to plan their work around their life and not the other way around. This is a huge change in perspective.
The interesting part comes next. The reality is we’ve just scratched the surface of what’s possible to do online. What happens when technology enables a kind of work that cannot be done in a traditional office? How would that work look like?
Let’s think of some second or third order effects of remote work going mainstream:
People will go back to suburbia and rural areas. As people become more comfortable working from their laptops, they might move to smaller cities or even go back to suburbia (gasp!) as they want more space, cheaper rent, or just be closer to their family.
The 9-to-5 schedule will gradually disappear. People, in turn, will manage how and when they work throughout the day. Flexible schedules will be the norm: working moms might prefer to work really early in the morning to have the majority of the day with their children; night owls might decide to work at night, when they’re most most efficient, etc.
Distributed teams will become the new normal. Like I stated in my previous post, access to new jobs will be based more on skill than credentials or geography. If companies can have a remote team, they will choose the best people for the job, not the ones from a 20 mile radius.
New networks of people and interests will sprout. People from opposite corners of the world will start talking and collaborating now that geography is not a limiting factor. This is already happening with certain communities on Twitter.
Some people will want to make a living through the internet. People might choose to migrate their business online. Industries like digital marketing, affiliate sales, content creation, online courses, etc. will become huge, and several new industries will pop up to service the online economy.
Silicon Valley will become a mindset, more than a physical place. Y Combinator— the famous Silicon Valley incubator— just announced that their next cohort will be entirely remote. This is part of a growing trend of the decentralization of Sillicon Valley as companies, founders and VCs migrate to other cities, or decide to operate primarily online. The ideas are still now produced and read primarily online (on Twitter mostly) and will influence millions of people not living in Silicon Valley or even in the United States.
I’m probably missing a ton… What other consequences do you think remote work will bring?
As always, thanks for reading.
I’ve been a freelance consultant working remotely for the past three years, so I’ve already drank the remote work KoolAid. I do understand there are issues and learning curves with remote work, but am convinced the positives outweigh the negatives by a long shot.
If you want to level up your career, or redefine your work life, visit form.consulting and schedule a 30-min free consultation with me.