EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re writing a series of posts exploring recent trends that are challenging workplace norms and causing companies to rethink long-standing policies. Read our posts on the 4-day workweek, remote work, and flex work.
Right now, we’re seeing the most rapid workplace transformation of our lifetimes as companies force employees to work from home in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. Working outside the office is no longer an option, a perk, or a once-a-week benefit, it’s mandatory.
When the dust settles and life returns to “normal,” it’d be naive to think that companies will go back to how it used to be. I believe current events will change how we work forever. Even for the companies who stick to their rigid in-office work policies, I’d expect a decline in open-office environments, which increase the transmission of colds, flus, etc.
So what will the new-normal work environment actually look like? How will it function? We already have a glimpse.
Halfway Between Office And Remote Work
This may sound like a scene from a sci-fi movie, but I can assure you that this is real.
We have a client headquartered in Oklahoma City that has a development team spread across the U.S. The team consists of data engineers and software developers, and they work on a data platform for the oil & gas industry.
In their office, they have a real-life dev room that is full of monitors pointed at each other with the faces of each employee on the screens. So it’s an office with employees sitting in their home offices staring at each other (or their monitors) and communicating through an interactive video interface.
This lands somewhere between remote work and office work, and it probably functions best with small, close-knit teams. Giving employees the perception of working together in an office, but allowing them to be remote, may be the new wave of work. It’s one step further than a Google Hangout or Zoom conference, where you interact with colleagues only during predetermined times.
Imagine constant remote contact with coworkers independent of scheduled meetings. Depending on your role, this could be helpful or annoying.
Making Virtual Work Frictionless
Companies like Austin-based Lifesize, StartLeaf, Pexip and others are innovating around video conference technology to minimize the gap between remote work and in-person office environments. Separately, there are tools like Microsoft Whiteboard that allow teams to interact and collaborate in real-time in ways that were not possible 5-10 years ago.
Buffer, which has been distributed since 2012, shares their essential tools for a remote work environment here.
Distributed teams have grown significantly in the past decade. I believe this trend will only accelerate as companies respond to not only the Coronavirus, but also to talent shortages in certain geographies. Also, companies will look to lower overhead on office space if they observe remote workers’ productivity holding steady (or improving) during these turbulent times.
Given this reality, it’s natural to wonder what other technologies will develop over the next 3-5 years. The benefits of in-person work are the impromptu conversations, the nuances and non-verbal cues that facilitate communication, and the camaraderie of being around colleagues. An enormous amount of value would be created if these human elements were able to be replicated virtually (at least to some degree).
This is where work is headed, and there is no turning back.
Are you introducing any new and innovative workplace policies? Email us at email@example.com and we’ll highlight any cool ideas in a subsequent blog post.