Future of remote work

A lot of hypothesis is going around on the future of remote work .

Prior to the pandemic and lockdowns, remote work was considered a taboo in many circles. It was a generally accepted idea that the day of work from home would have reduced productivity, and not a lot of organisations were in favour of having the leniency of working from home. The pandemic changed this overnight.

The below is my hypothesis of how the future would unfold.

a) For few roles, such as development, remote working would become the norm, with limited number of connect days in office or offsite.

b) For few other roles, such as sales, hybrid approach would follow with few days in office and other remote.

c) The other roles, which require physical presence will continue as it used to prior to the pandemic.

The digital native generation

The upcoming generation is digitally native. The users are savvy navigators of using Facebook, Instagram etc. for connections. These users are able to communicate easily using chat and messengers, empathise and enjoy conversations over phone call. We are on the brink of a major change. The generation that was not born into the digital era, is comfortable with physical presence and communication, because that is what they have been doing since childhood. The newer generation will be able to solve this through digital medium as they have been doing it since their childhood.

Upcoming Research work

The communication happens in the following path :

Thought -> Translated to word (written or verbal) -> Medium (Air or digital) -> Reverse translation -> Understanding.

A lot of emphasis and studies were done on the translation and medium (body language, word emphasis etc.) while using a face to face interaction. A lot of research has now started happening on the written and digital medium. These research would allow a better understanding of the communication itself.

It is said that communication is 90% body language and 10% words. In the digital medium there is a loss of this 90%. Still a lot of information exists in other forms. The communication of 90% body language was because we became adept at seeing things and then inferring the meaning. Our sense of sight played a larger role. Similar to how other senses develop in absence of a loss of one sense, here the sense of hearing would take adapt. Today, while doing video calls and voice calls, more attention is being paid to understand what is happening with the other person. How is he handling the feedback, how is he feeling. This is similar to how these feedbacks were assimilated by reading body language. Now, the other senses would work at a higher level to compensate for the missing arena.

Technological innovations

A lot of innovation is happening around virtual offices. Many other such innovations such as having a device that could virtually emulate the presence would help drive the transformation.

Benefits to organisation and self

This would happen because remote work provides benefits to both organisation and to the person. Lets see the benefits to an organisation

a) Hire anywhere — For roles that can be done from anywhere, there is no longer a location barrier. This now opens up a new arena where you have access to talent no matter the physical location, thereby improving innovation and better solutions.

b) Merit based sales — Physical travel for a sales pitch is costly both in terms of time and money. Having a digital sale call reduces the time taken to close the sale as well. Sales is influenced by social bonding. Having a digital move, would reduce the social aspect and bring the meritocracy on the forefront. Products that are meritocratic would receive precedence over knowing people. Though the social contract would continue to play a role, but its power would diminish. This would reduce the barrier for entry for new entrants, increasing competition and improving the offerings.

c) Reduced costs — With remote work, the need of an office space reduces. Along with it, there is a reduction in the stationary and associated costs. This would help new organisations to start at a lower cost, and have savings for larger organisations. The internet connectivity has come a long way, with almost all area having a good and stable network connection. This would only continue to improve. This will push an era where people can stay and work from Tier 2, Tier 3 cities, where they have a lower cost of living, and organisations being able to hire from anywhere would be at an advantage.

d) Improved organisation goals — When the physical presence cannot be taken as a proxy anymore of results, this would push the organisations to have a measurable output based goals. This would not only improve the understanding of the roles and its outcomes, but also have a clearer execution and help organisation grow.

e) Improved hiring of cultural fit people — The risk of having a wrong hire would increase. This would force an era where more and more cultural fit people would be hired, thereby increasing coherence and better results.

Self

a) Saved travelling time — A lot of time, around 8–10% per week is spent travelling to and from office. This savings in the time has had a profound impact. People have now been able to spend this time in fulfilling their hobbies, learning and growing. This would also help push in an era where learning becomes a new norm. A lot of travelling time for pitching new ideas and brainstorming would become digital, thereby increasing efficiency of people to do more in the same amount of time.

b) Improved trust — The biggest hindrance to remote work was lack of trust. It was also true because when a remote work was done for say 1 day in a month, there were a lot of distractions for the person to successfully complete the work for the day. With all days being remote work days, the distractions have now smoothened out, and people have adapted to this new way of life. Almost all people say that they have seen increased productivity in remote work. This has since led to trust in the people, and this will only continue with better cultural fit people working.

c) Reduced cost — The savings of travelling, living in a big city, and other expenses is substantial.

d) Quality time with friends and family — The remote work provides a way to live and spend time with friends, family, relatives. Today, a lot of people are living with their families, taking care of their parents which they were unable to do so when they were living in a different city. This has increased the bond between the people, improving the societal structure, and reduced pressure and tension. This would have a healthy impact by people being able to be more focussed, more relaxed and able to handle far more pressure than they did previously

e) Recharge — You can now dream of working from any holiday place, while still staying there for a longer period. Blackberry changed the way how people worked when it was launched. People were expected to check and revert on emails throughout the day. This change of remote work would bring another expectation, where people can now recharge and work both while enjoying a beautiful holiday. Who could have dreamt of staying in a beach, or hills for 1–2 months? This would also improve creativity, well nature is the best inspiration, and being connected as well as disconnected to work at the same time would only fuel the brain.

Challenges

Making change is difficult. A year or two spent working differently may not be sufficient to make the change permanent. We would need to have solid base to make this happen permanent. A lot of organisations have started going back, as it was comfortable, and no one wants to have one more problem to solve.

Creativity, spontaneous conversations and the intimacy of physical touch cannot be replaced by remote work. There is a reason why its said, humans are social animals. We love to be in presence of other people. No matter the benefits, remote work at some point may start to seem like a jail. And hence put pressure on the reverse migration to working from office.

Conclusion

We are the worst people at predicting the future. We take the current norms to be a proxy of the future. With all of the above information, the inference is that remote work should become the new future, yet, knowing our limited capabilities, we should watch out for we could be witnessing a new world unfolding. Maybe, we could see a jump in freelancers or we could see a new model where people work few days from a different location.

All of the above is my personal opinion that I have formed, including discussions on the topic at various forums.

I am passionate about designing and developing complex systems that impact people’s life. A avid reader and a believer of multi-disciplinary teaching.