It was almost 3 years ago when remote work entered companies abruptly with the pandemic. The speed of transformation and lack of options led to poorly thought-out changes. They started to implement from zoom meetings to virtual “happy hours”.
With the reopening of society many companies have not yet decided between remote, face-to-face and have created hybrid models that are neither meat nor fish. Remote work requires integrated tools, culture change, and much more management by objectives, but few companies have dedicated the necessary resources. Things as simple as good internet speed and people who haven’t understood that they can’t be in the backlight are still part of everyday life. The very difference between remote and flex time is not clear. All these things are necessary for good remote operation and good productivity and to date companies are complaining that productivity has reduced.
Viewing it from the employees’ perspective, many rejoiced at the remote option. Better quality of life, less commuting time, more time with family or working at the beach. But it requires discipline. Many want virtual work not for increased productivity, but for comfort. And no doubt in the short term the advantages seem clear. But in the medium/long term it may not be so good. To begin with, the competition for jobs goes from local to global. Imagine a local bakery, most people don’t go to the other side of town to buy bread, so the bakery only has to be the best in the neighborhood and the price is not so critical. Now imagine that the bread is delivered in 15 minutes by uber eats at no cost from anywhere in the city. In that case the bakery already needs to be the best in the whole city. The same happens with work, if it is remote, the competition becomes global. Someone who was good in Lisbon now competes with people from all over the world (in English, for example). And if companies can hire in another country someone who is cheaper, works 6 days a week/12 hours a day and to whom they don’t have to pay social security, why hire in Lisbon? Working conditions can get worse for many people.
The topic of socializing in the office is important too. For young startups for example, culture building and mentoring is key, and very hard to do remotely. Sporadic meetings by the coffee machine bring great results (which is why Apple has invested $6 billion in making a round building for people to cross paths). Depression levels seem to be on the rise as well, and isolation is a cause for consideration.
These two perspectives of productivity vs. comfort create a mismatch of interests between employees and employers that makes the decision lie with whoever has more power at the moment. In the last period with low unemployment and difficulty in recruiting, many companies were afraid to impose a return to the office because they couldn’t hire or retain. But with a crisis that has already caused many layoffs (Meta, Amazon, Twitter among many others and with more to come) the power is shifting to the companies again and the back to the office is starting to be forced.
There are great advantages to both parties in remote work, more flexibility, and new tools, but we are still at an early stage, and much will still change in the coming years. But if virtual work is going to work, there need to be a much deeper commitment from everyone.