I’ve worked at home for around 18 years. Admittedly, I’ve had the opportunity to get out and about from time to time. I’ve travelled a lot – across the UK and internationally. But now, of course, I just work from home. Travel is not really an option when international travel is curtailed or banned.
Working from home, when working at home is the only option, will be as novel for me as it will be for the millions of others around the world who have been effectively told to go work at home. Admittedly, I’ve the tech and have honed some home working processes. I’ve also got a rather lovely office. But bear in mind that most of us who might call ourselves ‘knowledge workers’ of one type or another, have based our working life on the premise that we work between events. Working is, in effect, event focused.
Let me explain. Prior to Covid-19-imposed-home-working-exile the typical home worker worked towards a series of objectives that were, to all intents and purposes, events. In my case these events may have been one or several of the following: a meeting with a client company in location x; a workshop focused on subject y in location z; a team meeting in HQ where we discussed achievements during the last month or quarter; a conference; a briefing; a networking gig.
These tended to be physical events requiring preparation, planning, travel, logistics and people getting together face-to-face. And the arguments made in favour of this approach were well honed: relationships with people require face-to-face contact.
Now, of course, face-to-face contact, we’re told, could be fatal – to us or to our elderly relatives. So, we’ll work at home and we’ll try to replicate the physical with the virtual: remote working tools, collaborative tools, video and audio conferencing. These are the things we’ve been aware of and have used in the past, but they’ve played second fiddle to physical mixers and “getting business done” meetings.
Some are saying that the new-normal exile may result in these tech-driven solutions revolutionising how business is done. Perhaps they’ll cause businesses to run better and result in vastly reduced costs of doing business. Perhaps businesses will even reconsider whether they really need offices and HQs – and whether nations need all the infrastructure to support business travel – when business can be done so much more effectively remotely and with a distributed workforce armed to the teeth with collaborative gadgets and connectivity.
Time will tell. And I’m hoping that the Covid-19 crisis will be short-lived and that business (and nations) will bounce back quickly. But I suspect that while the home working tools may teach us that there are other ways of doing things, and may make us ask ourselves whether jumping on a plane (when we can again) is the best way to build a relationship, ultimately we’ll revert back to what is tried and trusted: people getting together and sparking ideas, doing business and having a pint down the pub.
The exile period will allow us to take stock and question our respective roles. It will allow us to be families and remind us just how important they are. It will require us to focus on the oldest and most fragile in our society and the wisdom and humour that they bring to us all.
After 9-11 many who lived and worked in New York claimed that they were chastened by the experience. Many were of the view that the city would shake off its reputation as one of America’s most ‘me-focused’ cities and would become much more community spirited. Perhaps that happened, perhaps it didn’t. Perhaps it was short-lived. But, then again, perhaps New York recalibrated in ways we’ll never know because of the pain and the collective horror. On the surface it may be back to the way it was – but just a bit better and more controlled.
At the heart of this pandemic derived crisis I’m convinced that we’ll come out of the experience as different people. Some of us will suffer loss – the loss of a loved one, the loss of income, the loss of understanding of what we stand for. But most of us will probably just have time to take stock. Perhaps we’ll use the new-found tools and processes to get to know our co-workers and customers a bit more. Perhaps it will be the excuse we need to focus on our collective humanity and get some priorities in order. And when we emerge from the tunnel, perhaps we’ll be just a little bit better in one way or another. And our first pint in the pub, with others, will taste just so good.