Oliver Roick

Working Remotely

Thoughts on how COVID-19 impacts businesses' and workers' perception of remote work.

Now there is no choice. Everybody is working remotely. A few weeks ago it was the dream of a few millennials – now it is the default.

Gone are all the reservations. It doesn’t matter whether managers trust their employees to do productive work at home, whether the processes are in place or whether a business can afford to equip their people with the hardware and software they need to get their job done from home. Within days, organisations that were strictly in-office got ready to have their employees work from home. Some organisations even did it after the fact: They sent their people home first and then figured out what they needed to get work done.

A few weeks in, we all pride ourselves on how seamless this transition was. Social media is swamped with cute little videos and screenshots showing how much fun video calls at work can be. And marketing departments produce blog posts explaining how to best work from home: Structure your day. Get up at the same time every day, shower, dress as if you go to work. Take breaks, separate your workspace from your private life, socialise with friends and family. Everybody is happy about the progress we have made in such a short time.

Yet, hardly any organisation has built a real remote culture.

Remote culture means we appreciate asynchronous communication over an endless stream of video calls and know how to communicate effectively in written form. Remote culture means we start documenting every process, every decision and proactively share the documents so anyone can follow up on their own time. It involves that we know how to build and maintain relationships with co-workers without seeing or speaking to them every day. Remote culture means we have a clearly defined way to hire and onboard – especially onboard – new people.

Building a remote culture is hard work. Every organisation and team is different. Buying everyone a laptop and setting up a VPN is not enough. Reading and sharing a bunch of generic blog posts won’t cut it. It takes constant review and refinement. It doesn’t happen within a few weeks – organisations that mastered remote work spent years on defining their culture.

Organisations that make a conscious effort to create a remote culture now will have a massive advantage in the future. People don’t want to go back to nine-to-five in-office routines after experiencing how much time there is in a day when you don’t have to commute. When they notice how rewarding uninterrupted, deep work can be. Organisations will have to offer flexible working arrangements (beyond “it’s ok to come in late if you have a doctor’s appointment”) to attract and retain talent in the future.

For workers, on the other hand, these days are a fantastic opportunity to show that work gets done despite not being in the office at 9 am. To show that we don’t need an open-plan office to collaborate. To demonstrate that time spent alone, time spent thinking, and time spent doing focussed work has a positive impact on creativity and productivity.

“Never waste a good crisis,” Winston Churchill said. Let’s use this time to implement a new default way of working.