Corona the catalyst for change?

I wasn’t sure about posting on the topic, who needs another coronavirus blog post, especially from another unqualified pontificator? But, this has been kicking around my head for a few days and I had to get it down.

Corona is dangerous and will kill people, but what’s next, past whatever health and economic woes the next few months will bring? 

Looking forward, maybe this could change how we work and live forever. It will accelerate the adoption of remote working, long been seen as the future of work and away from our habits from the industrial age. 

Then, when work changes, what impact will this have on our society, beyond how much time we spend in each meeting getting the remote meeting software to work? 

After I published this article, I saw this tweet and had to insert it here, so true:

Millions of people liberated from their desks

We have a society built around the commute; having large concentrations of working people in one place and home, family, and social lives predominantly focused around the 9-5. Despite the impression you get from the social media loud minority, who have been “crushing it” working from home for years, liberation from their desk has not been an option for the many office-based regular Joes.

To my mind, this will be significant, comparable to how the last world war changed our culture by bringing women into the workforce. Before the need to have women making munitions and working the farms, women could always work, but the culture was only changed when the world needed them to. Women in the workplace not only changed work but made a broader societal impact that we are still grappling with today. 

Not to suggest that someone in the payroll department liberated from their desk, the 9-5, the commute, the lunch line, and who will get to see their family before 7 pm is as significant as women’s suffrage, but hopefully, you know what I mean. 2020 could irrevocably change how we work and live because we have to, and this could have a lasting effect. 

Although I don’t know much about culture change in societies, if you want to transform a business, you focus on the people, processes, and systems to bring about change, then hope everyone adopts it, embedding it in the company culture. 

People, process and the 21/90 rule

Let’s start with the people; psychologists say that it takes 21 days of doing something to become a habit and 90 days for it to stick and become a lifestyle (like in this post). From my own experience of changing my diet and exercising, this sounds about right. It seems we are in this for the medium to the long haul and will easily hit this 21/90 point and that how we work today will become the new normal.

In that 21/90 day timeframe, not only will lifestyles change, but the processes around us will adapt, at home, and work. At work, we’ll figure how to get shit done without physical meetings and at home, the processes of who does childcare, cooking, putting the bins out, the times we shop, walk the dog,  etc. etc. will become a habit. A lifestyle we probably won’t want to change. 

The tech for change

In business, sometimes we look to tech to make the change, but often the problem you are trying to solve is in the people and processes. In remote working, the tech was already here. Still, it has required IT and their overlords that decide policies and procedures to get a nudge, and organizations are now proactively removing the technical and security impediments to remote working.

For example, I was chatting to a chum, and his company is auditing their employee’s equipment to make sure they can work out of the office. IT teams are upgrading their remote security. A guy that runs IT for one of my old employers updated LinkedIn with a post about how many hundreds of laptops his team was shipping, and we’ve seen reports about the pressure on the tools for remote working like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Skype for Business.

Where possible, all businesses are transforming themselves to enable remote working, and their suppliers are strengthening the tools that will allow these policies. And possibly, more importantly, their employees are now experiencing it.

Would you want to go back?

I have experienced going from mainly working from home to a job that required me to be at my desk, 9-5.30, Monday to Friday, and a ball ache of a commute to the wrong side of London from where I am. It was a horrible shock.

While I am sure we will all rejoice at the end of being isolated, will everyone want to get back onto that treadmill? And will any organization be able to enforce an office-centric work culture, once their people have experienced this new world? Pandora’s box is open. 

Therefore all the ingredients are there for cultural change, we have people changing behavior, the technology to enable it, and adoption of the change.

The commuter marketplace 

If this change happens, it will impact the broader society that is so structured around the 9-5. The obvious thing is the whole infrastructure and market around people traveling to an office and then lots of people being in that office needing things.

While our overstretched ground transportation infrastructure could probably use the break, what about the little coffee shop at the station, the sandwich place and the pub by the office? I don’t mean today or the next however many weeks for this thing to pass, but if we change our work culture, going forward after that, the economy around the commuter marketplace will have shrunk. 

Rejuvenation of local?

Will this commuter economic activity shift? If more of us work remotely, will this be a boom for the local coffee shops, bars, and restaurants?

Right now I meet people in London because that’s where the people are, in this new future of work, if I am meeting someone for lunch, why not meet at their local restaurant?

Plus, most remote workers I know, like to split time between their home office, a local coffee shop, or some other shared space, just to be amongst people, even if they are working on their own.

If more of us change our behavior,  it could be a shot in the arm for our beleaguered high streets. Not just financially, but socially as we would be spending more time drinking coffee and socializing in the proximity of our neighbors, rather than colleagues or strangers as we stop hustling for a pre-work latte or a post-work pint near the office we will spend less time at.

We are social animals, and I presume communities of remote workers would form, and instead of us just sleeping in our commuter towns, we would start to spend more time engaged, shopping locally, and all that good stuff. 

That’s tomorrow, not today.

Of course, this post refers to remote working in the context of not having a desk in an office. But right now, with the restrictions that the authorities are bringing in to slow coronavirus, what we are experiencing is a hardcore form; enforced isolated remote working and this is different.

I’m hoping this doesn’t put people off. I once did a Myers-Briggs test that told me I was an introvert, but I get my energy from people, and it’s a cruel combination! So while I love working FROM home and I am fortunate to have a separate home office, the prospect of working for a prolonged period exclusively AT home, without the work/social is something I need to figure out. 

Anyway…

Thanks for reading my little contribution to the reams and reams of copy on this topic. These will be interesting times if we embrace the opportunity of remote working and the effect it could have on our quality of life, relationships with family, community, and the pollution we produce once we get through this.

But, for now, stay safe and sane.