Remote Work After Coronavirus

I've seen a lot of people on Twitter saying they think we'll see a boom in remote work after we're done dealing with the coronavirus.

On the surface it seems obvious. The necessary step to make as many people as possible go remote will make companies realize that it's not so bad to have everybody work from home.

However, I think that reasoning overlooks some of the realities of remote work.

I actually think less people are going to work remotely after all this is done.

Cultural Change is Necessary

Having a whole work-force be remote requires a cultural shift because virtual communication is just different from how people have been wired to communicate and socially network.

For example, we can't rely as much on non-verbal cues.

Even with webcams on, most of the time we can only see a person's face. Short moments of lag happen all the time in video-conferencing, and it can make it much harder to read facial cues.

Another difference is in how we spread and receive information.

Informal hallway conversation is a natural way people communicate. It's so natural we don't even think about it most of the time.

What happens to all that information exchange when the hallways are gone? I don't know, but I'm willing to bet it will make a lot of us uncomfortable and lonely in a way we can't understand because we've never had that taken from us before.

To make remote-work work, companies need to change the culture around communication to make up for the change in communication.

Distraction is Too High Right Now

People right now are worried.

We are worried about getting sick. We are worried about loved ones getting sick.

Maybe we can work remote, and maybe our employer can stay open during the crisis, but maybe our loved ones aren't so lucky.

Maybe we've contributed to our 401k and now we're seeing it dwindle.

Working with this level of distraction is hard, and now our work environment has just been changed completely.

The habitual cues that come with driving into the office, setting down our stuff, going to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, and settling in for the next couple of hours before lunch aren't there anymore. We need to create new habits around getting mentally prepared to work.

With all there is to worry about, and the broken habits that would normally prepare us to stay focused while working, we're more distracted than ever.

It's Not Clear-Cut

Given that most of us aren't used to working remotely, and we are more distracted than ever, I think we're going to see a huge loss in productivity.

The question is, how will management at these businesses react?

I think it's likely most managers and executives will see the loss in productivity as a result of remote-work itself, instead of just as a sign that culture needs to change and people are distracted.

And let's not forget, these are people too.

They probably aren't gonna be used to working from home. They are going to have all the same problems we're all having.

When it comes down to making a decision about letting people work from home, they are going to have a negative association with it.

Who knows, maybe we'll have that negative association ourselves.

Don't get me wrong, I love having days where I work from home. I think there are a lot of benefits that come with it.

I just don't think it's a guarantee the labor market will turn remote because of this.