Working From Home Probably Won’t Become Our New Normal

Will work from home become more common? That’s the question many workers are asking as the Covid-19 pandemic, or what is being called The Great Disruption, change how we work. Don’t get your hopes up though, like I explained on The Justin Brady Show, it’s more likely things will return to normal, but I do see a community work model developing.

guy working from office. type says "will work from home become more common?"

From the surface it does seem like perhaps the great disruption will spark a wave of work from home (WFH) sympathizers. From mid March to the end of March, the amount of Americans working from home doubled, and despite the ongoing fears of the the great disruption, 6 in 10 Americans seem to like working from home.

Given that there are a lot of positives that come with adopting a WFH like lower congestion, lower emissions, and lower commute times, what could go wrong from WFH advocates?

Justin Brady Show Clip: The Data on people working from home.

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Work from home difficulties are numerous

Despite the clear upsides, there are quite a few downsides that are only now becoming apparent as the great disruption and WFH experiment launches. The most obvious reasons are the distractions that come from converting a home into an office.

Technology stinks

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

The WFH transition has been made possible by widely available internet, video conferences, and technology, but these tools come with their share of distractions. According to Bain & Company, distractions like background noise, incoming emails, parcel deliveries or only the beginning. Communication barriers like audio delays, buffering, bad lines, muted mics, or bad phone etiquette makes focus difficult. Even if these can be overcome, collaborating digitally is still inefficient.

Physical movement or eye contact that typically helps a group maintain focus doesn’t work in digital scenarios, and making WFH even more difficult is the near-complete removal of 90% of your true communication power.

Communication stinks

From the report, “Psychologist Albert Mehrabian found that nonverbal messages conveyed more than 90% of feelings and attitudes. In virtual collaboration, the body language we use to read the room, correct course and build energy (the nodding heads, the folded arms, the restlessness) are gone. Making do with a stamp-sized image of a colleague on a computer screen can leave us feeling exposed.” Consider how much communication data is non-verbal.

You may be thinking non-verbals are limited to obvious body language, but facial expression, intonation, pacing, and visible excitement, anger or frustration communicate a large amount of data even without a single word.

By simply contorting my face as if I’m tasting something sour, and exhaling could communicate my disagreement. ಠ_ಠ It’s for this reason researchers believe we have turned to emoticons, and I’d add GIFs, as a way to supplement communication lost.

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Tools are poor and will likely stay that way.

Consider how often many teams still rely on tools like printed paper, whiteboards, and marking up reports with highlighters sticky notes, etc. To truly replicate this in a work from home scenario would actually be quite expensive and almost require a complete studio. Even product or marketing companies still rely on real models and physical product, print proofs, markup, prototypes and materials.

It’s likely that our work from home tools will get better, but even when that happens, according to the Bain & Co.’s report, there will be a learning curve for both facilitators and participants with these new virtual, collaborative tools and technologies. And let’s not forget about updates that always like to install themselves 5 minutes before our next meeting. When was the last time your notebook, and coworkers needed a software update?

Will work from home become more common? No, but perhaps a hybrid model will result.

Keep in mind a WFH model is still very much an experiment and due to it’s novelty status I’d expect to see the Gallup’s aforementioned change. Many WFH survivors will tell you that while it’s refreshing at first, but over time things change. In a great piece by Larry Alton, many begin to suffer from loneliness, depression or detachment from reality. (I admit I went a little nuts.) It’s for this reason, I think a hybrid model is more likely than a WFH model. Even after bragging about their work from home model, IBM decided to bring employees back to the office.

Consider we could get the same benefits of lower congestion, lower commute times, and lower emissions by simply spreading out corporate campuses into the communities in which their employees live.

Justin Brady Show Clip: Why working from home won’t last.

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Instead of driving 30-45 minutes to get to work, you could bike or walk to your nearest location within 5 miles of your home. Instead of building massive expensive buildings in high-priced real estate markets, companies could simply buy up local real estate and do a quick conversion. Possibly, even using local coworking spaces, further connecting to their local business community.

Consider the benefits to this approach: it would satisfy the collaboration element, give employees a way to connect with others, energize neighborhood economies, work to eliminate run-down areas, and obviously lower congestion. If people needed to meet with team members, they could simply commute to those locations when necessary instead of every day.

Will work from home become more common? No. But perhaps work from your community or neighborhood will.

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