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  • Jude Mahony

The rise of COVID-19: is it the step-change we need to actually understand that remote working, work

Attitudes towards remote working reminds me of the onset of ATM’s – until we were forced to use them, we didn’t want to… but where would you be now if you had to wait until 10am on a weekday for the bank to open so you could get some cash? Very annoyed – that’s where you would be.

Like any change, remote working is resisted. Fear is what drives most change resistance.

What does that mean for me? What will I lose?

For many leaders the fear of losing control by not being able to physically see or touch (not literally we hope!) their employees can be confronting. Presentee-ism is real. It is generational, but also has an underlying behavioural / psychological piece. “I know I’m in control and my people are productive when I can see my team are here in front of me”.

How much data is there that shows remote workers are more productive, more engaged and (usually!) working longer hours than their counterparts who are sitting at a desk from 9 till 5? Truckloads! Don’t believe me? Google “are remote workers more productive” and you will be drowned in articles and research reports on productivity and engagement that support the remote and flexible working scenarios.

And yet there are still a large number of organisations that don’t support remote work. Or they do, but only in emergencies… Well guess what? COVID-19 is an emergency not seen in this capacity, this industrial revolution, this scale, this environment before and it is going to push many businesses and individuals to test their long-held beliefs. It will FORCE remote working and, I hope, create the step-change in our culture that is needed.

I am a firm believer that many, if not most, work activities can be done from anywhere given the right tools and behaviours. There are clearly activities that need to be location-specific (it's a bit hard for me to get my daily coffee from a virtual assistant… but then... they can order it for me via UberEats... someone still needs to make it if I’m not going to do that myself and the delivery driver / rider clearly can’t be virtual!) Coffee aside, in most organisations there are activities that are not location-dependent and can be done from anywhere.

Let's look at Italy who are in complete lock-down. There are clearly tasks that cannot be undertaken during that lockdown, but there are also many businesses that are still working through this challenge and will continue to work through via other means - virtual meetings, remote access to name a couple.

This won’t be the last lockdown that occurs – it may not be a whole country again, but it will certainly (and is already) specific regions, towns and businesses.

What are you doing as an organisation to prepare for this?

Reviewing the work of your teams, understanding your value propositions (what do you need to deliver to your customer!) and how that value proposition is undertaken (what the experts call “Value Chain Mapping”) is a great first step in identifying the work that is actually required to deliver your products or services to your customers. From there you can understand the activities or work-tasks that need to be completed and it quickly becomes clear what can be done remotely and what is dependent on being in a specific location.

Global nomads are on the rise, the gig economy is booming, the silver economy is here. The workforce is liquid – it is constantly moving from role to role, career to career. The work is specialised, outcomes based, cross functional, networked, collaborative - teams are agile and self-managed.

The future of work is here, are you ready? I firmly believe there is a much bigger wave coming and it’s going to forever change the composition of your workforce, your work and your workplace! COVID-19 may be the catalyst, but this wave has been building for a long time. Digital first workforces and workplaces are the norm. You don’t need to be a first mover in this space, but you do need to keep up.

How do you make sure you don’t miss the wave and find yourself upside down swallowing seawater or slammed into the sand?

Author: Jude Mahony

12th March 2020