The Story of remote work is a story of tradeoffs. Many of us in the workforce had to deal with a sudden jerk and reinvent our processes on the fly in March of 2020. While it gave us the impetus, it did not give us an intentionality about our moves.
For many of us, one thing that moving to a home office meant that we didn’t have the commute. That wasn’t a big deal for me since I literally live less than a mile from my office. My normal commute has two stop signs. But for my wife that lack of commute meant that she gained the time back. She used to leave the house before seven and get back about 6:20 if she left work on time.
There are two big problems with this on a personal level though. I think we saw a larger trend that people were worried about being perceived as not working when working from home, so they over-compensated. I know my wife took a lot of that time she gained in not commuting and turned that into work time. By not having that commute, the time that was work and the time that was not work bleeds together. The home office was also a problem for people who didn’t have the space or childcare so that instead of having a dedicated place for work, the home office and the kitchen table merged into the same thing. My house had the room for the merger, but not all houses do.
There are tradeoffs on a business level. My company wasn’t prepared with the technology to go full time work from home. We have a weird setup where you can run a virtual machine from a remote location to see what your desktop looks like, but ideally it would all be hosted on the server. We also had a number of people without dedicated home offices, since a lot of people don’t have home laptops or desktops, so we had to lend out these old laptops to people working remote.
For people who were already at the company when we went remote, we made the adjustments as best as we could with the office staff. We had a lot of frontline workers we tried to support with having the best available protective equipment. There was a distance and alienation and a lack of team building because one of the things I really noticed is that I only really talked to people in a formal manner. What I really missed was those spontaneous, informal conversations that build trust and rapport and which help out for when you need to ask something of someone.
On the flip side, going remote does give organizations flexibility. The people who worked in the office but didn’t need to be in the office didn’t have to make the commute to have their butt in the chair at a certain time. One of my coworkers was able to volunteer with a youth soccer program that met after school. I was able to see my wife more as I just went upstairs to say hello. It’s also given us flexibility “post”-pandemic as well. We had someone on our team come to us and say she had an offer on her house and she wanted to sell it and keep working even as she moved out of state to be close to her kids. Four years ago, that would never have been thought of as a possibility (she was also helped by the current hiring environment, where it benefits the organization to be flexible).