There have been many lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent lock downs and government-enforced social distancing, and for software/IT companies, one of those lessons has been that, yes, your entire staff can function fully and work successfully from home.
“It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”
Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species
It hasn’t really been a lesson, as such, it’s been more of a realization that remote working really works, adaption as necessity, and then acceptance of this.
The recent abrupt move from office to home, for most, has been fairly effortless, and well-lubricated by the fact that most software/IT workers were already working remotely. The “work” of an open plan full of developers sitting side-by-side at desks, fingers to their keyboards, eyes to their monitors takes place, for want of better, in a connected cyberspace (it’s not like they’re all in the same room building a physical thing together). That shared space can be accessed from literally anywhere. They were only in the same room because that’s long been the default way to set up an office/business. In this time of Corona, the impersonal open plan has smoothly transformed into a network of separate personal rooms, and the work happily continues.
And we shouldn’t forget that this has only been a successful transformation due to the level of technology we have today, and of which most of us now possess at home. Had this pandemic struck back in 2000, the transformation would not have been smooth. Remember dial-up?
We have the technology, and we are seizing the day. In fact, the technology we have today facilitates an inter-connectivity that could only have been dreamed of 20 years ago. Morning stand-ups, SCRUMs, 1:1s, group meetings, even full staff town halls continue seamlessly thanks to MS Teams, Zoom, and alike, shared screens and all.
One of the few things current technology doesn’t allow for are those informal, casual “meetings” that take place every day in a real-world office: The after meeting; the off-the-cuff, but relevant, conversations that sometimes take place directly after a meeting has concluded. The chats over coffee in the lunchroom. The passing in the hallway: “Hi, Jane. Oh, by the way…” It’s a layer of office social inter-connectivity that software doesn’t yet truly facilitate. Attention technology, there ISN’T an app for that!
I won’t list all the pros and cons of working from home, aside from the salient ones. Pros: Better work-life balance, flexibility, zero commute time (which saves time and money (and the environment)). Cons: Distractions. If the worker has a lack of a good work space, and/or equipment. It’s been my experience that working from home is almost all pro. Other people’s mileage may vary, but I’ve heard few complaints.
The one thing about working from home that seldom gets mentioned in any article of this type, but is perhaps one of its most important aspects is honesty and accountability: Your boss can’t see if you’re sitting at your desk and doing your job. Back in the late 1990s, I took a position at a publishing company as a writer/researcher/editor. I was allowed to work from home. On my first day, my boss said to me, words to this effect: It’s all about trust.
Yes. You have to have that honesty and accountability.
A prediction of the future…
I’m a technical writer for a software company, I’m not a futurist or a soothsayer, but I’ve worked in offices long enough to see the changes and subtle shifts in dynamics, the evolution of the work space, so I’ll make an educated stab at what the future might bring.
I see the software/IT office becoming a central hub. A cost-effective meeting space (as opposed to the large, expensive-to-rent acreages for desks we currently have). There will be offices for senior management, and even they won’t be present Monday-Friday. There will be meeting rooms for when real-world, face-to-face meetings are needed, e.g., really important, or highly confidential meetings, job interviews, training, etc. There will be a server room: Everyone (at home) will log into their own virtual desktop within the company servers. And there will be a small lunch room with a coffee machine.
This prediction is based on the technology we now have and world we now live in. The Corona virus is still with us, for who knows how long, and who knows what’s coming after that. And because things change. The “office” we knew three months ago is nothing like the offices of 20, 30, 40 years ago. The offices of Lloyd’s of London had its origin (17th Century) as a coffee house.
Consider this. Before I went to university, straight out of high school, I had a couple of years working in a bank. There were 30 people working in that bank branch, about the size of a small apartment, and there was only ONE computer. The guy sitting next to me smoked at his desk and addressed women staff by their bra cup-size (I imagine he’s now living out his days grazing in some Jurassic park retirement village). Everyday, a herd of people would come and go from that office: to get cash, bank cash and checks, get a bank balance, pick up a new check book, and so on. It was a busy place to work.
Today, about 5 people work in that bank branch; each one has a computer on his/her desk and they perform most of their day-to-day tasks on it. They lead quiet lives. Next to nobody uses a check book anymore, more people use cards than cash, those who prefer cash get it from an ATM, and most people use their phone to do their banking. In ten years time, there will most likely be only one person working in that office (and it’ll probably be a robot).
©2020 Stephen Ross, All Rights Reserved
Photo credit: Alex Kotliarskyi / Unsplash