The future of work

As we begin to (hopefully) get the upper hand over the virus and restrictions are gradually relaxed, businesses will be asking themselves what is the future of the workplace. Some will be asking themselves whether remote working is the future, while others will already have decided that it definitely is not.

I have been a remote worker for a decade, so have perhaps had longer to examine the promise, challenges and pitfalls of this way of working than most. One promise, that it enables a better work-life-balance is almost certainly untrue. 

The reality is that you often end up working longer hours, and never really switch off. You don’t rush to leave the office promptly, because you have no commute ahead of you, so you just plod on. That additional productivity is undoubtedly beneficial to your employers in the short term, but longer term will lead to burnout and all its associated costs.

Remote working is certainly not for everyone. You have to be self-motivated and self-disciplined. It probably also helps if you’re an introvert, and perhaps a creative who thrives on just getting your work done, rather than spending a long time talking about it.

I think where some people have struggled is in importing office culture straight into a remote environment. So where office culture involved endless meetings — perplexing to those of us who must enact whatever is agreed in those meetings — diaries have been stuffed back-to-back with more endless meetings. The consequence of this is easy to see: managers and colleagues dispatch emails at 10:30 at night, or at 3.15 on a Sunday afternoon. 

Remote working is great for a role like mine, where you’re required to spend long hours actually focusing on completing and delivering work. It affords us time to concentrate, uninterrupted, to produce great end-results. Departments and companies that focus on computing and technology will likely embrace remote working wholesale.

But I know it is not for everyone. Some people need the discipline of working in an office environment with a manager close at hand to ensure that they are doing their work and are not just surfing the web or taking a power-nap. Without self-discipline and self-motivation, remote working simply will not work — we have learnt this much from the mass remote schooling experiment we’ve all just involuntarily participated in.

There is much to be said about remote working, but for now a final note will suffice: a word on the presumed environmental benefits of this way of working and its impact on our carbon emissions goals. 

Yes, it is true: less car journeys is a good thing, helping us to reduce local air pollution. But if we continue down the path of endless meetings and video-calls, we risk merely shifting our carbon footprint to the energy-sapping data centres instead. An evaluation of the green benefits of remote working must consider all facets of our new ways of working.

A hybrid approach is much more likely the future, over one in which we find ourselves permanently plugged into the matrix from home, agonising backache and all.

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