In the last few weeks, the world has shifted to a different plane at a pace that none of us could have anticipated. The rapid spread of COVID-19 has transformed the way we live, the way we work, and the way we interact with others. With the growing importance of social distancing to reduce the spread of the virus, companies are being forced to resort to remote work. For many, tech giants and small businesses alike, this transition to a remote world is novel and unfamiliar, but could be a glimpse into the future of work. 

The movement towards a remote world has been focused on creating a system that optimizes productivity, quality of work and the well-being of employees at home. But what does remote work hold for the future growth and development of society? More importantly, how do we foster a sense of community while only being connected online? 

According to Paul Statham, CEO of Condeco Software, many businesses and organizations have adopted this work from home approach prior to COVID-19, however, a shift to this form of work has created a sense of uncertainty and discomfort, and also brought a set of physical and emotional challenges that we must navigate as a community. 

Future of Work

An issue that you may have already encountered while working from home is that it can be easy to get distracted by other tasks or projects at hand. Contrary to the typical work environment at your office, working at home presents opportunities to relax, complete household tasks, socialize with family or take more frequent breaks. To avoid the plentiful diversions present in our homes, it’s essential to have a designated workplace, for instance a home office, if you have the space, to help separate your home and work life. Otherwise, it could be helpful to declutter your desk, removing non-essential items as studies have shown that it can take up to 23 minutes to regain focus after being distracted. Therefore, having a clean workspace is very important to ensure you are in the right mindset to work productively and avoid distractions. 

The lack of routine or structure is another challenge that remote workers can face. In order to combat this, setting blocks of time to certain tasks that you want to complete can create a realistic schedule to achieve your goals. As many struggle with staying motivated to work from home, it is important to be clear about your goals and constantly work towards them.   

Working in an unorganized environment and not having a fixed schedule can also cause you to jump between tasks if you are constantly distracted or diverted. While it may seem productive, multitasking has been proven to be detrimental to your effectiveness. The cost of switching between tasks seems inconsequential but it quickly adds up resulting in a hindrance to productivity. An experiment conducted by Joshua Rubinstein, Jeffrey Evans, and David Meyer, found that shifting between tasks can reduce productivity by up to 40%, which is an undesirable outcome for both the company and the employee.

But perhaps one of the biggest challenges we face is the feeling of isolation, stemming from the lack of human interaction. Randstad found that 89% of their employees believe face-to-face meetings were the best way to interact with others at work, emphasizing the importance of socialization in the workplace. Remote work can be very productive but there must be an organized structure in place that allows for effective communication and coordination. Especially during a time where social isolation is strongly encouraged or even enforced to limit the potential for mass transmission of the virus, many may feel even more disconnected from society. Thus, in the remote world, productivity and the ability to build relationships with colleagues and clients may be hindered due to the lack of social interactions, making it even more vital to have a strong remote community. 

Future of Work

While it can be argued that “remote communities” is an oxymoron, the reality is that having a community online can be just as beneficial as one in-person. Although it may initially feel not as impactful and weaker than in-person communities, remote communities are one of the ways to reduce the feelings of isolation. Having a group of individuals who you can connect with and provide support for one another is among the greatest components that come with working remotely. There are a number of platforms, such as Slack or Zoom, that help with meeting like-minded individuals online to collaborate or discuss new ideas, and even help to hold each other accountable for your work. One of the benefits of remote communities is that individuals have access to a wider range of people from different backgrounds and locations, which broadens their opportunity to consult and learn from others.

In a remote world, it can be easy to feel separated from your colleagues and clients, which is why constant communication is important. Synchronous communication is when two people are exchanging information in real time, for instance through a Skype or Zoom call. Asynchronous communication, where the relay of information involves gaps of time between two people, is just as essential. Examples of these forms of communication include emails or discussion forums which usually allow for deeper thought and contemplation between responses. By keeping the conversation going aside from only face-to-face conversation, it becomes easier to keep track of your responsibilities and to maintain that sense of connection.

In order to make remote learning and working efficient, it is important to incorporate asynchronous communication into daily life. Remote learning revolves around the opportunity for individuals to learn with a certain degree of freedom given that they are situated at home, or at least not in their typical work environment. This means that they are able to explore and attempt to find solutions to their problems. However this method of communication inevitably comes with a heavier reliance on technology and online resources. Those who are more self-reliant and independent will thrive on this component of remote work because it requires a drive to look for answers and explanations. But it also comes with the expectation that people are going to be online and therefore more easily accessible around the clock, which can increase stress and responsibility to do work, especially given more freedom at home.

Today, we can find almost anything online. We are at a stage where we have the ability to learn new skills and information from solely online resources, making it relatively easy for us to learn remotely. However, as we shift towards a remote world, we need to consider more than just being able to apply these technological tools, but the ability for everyone to access and utilize it properly and efficiently. This may be an area with which many companies struggle during the rapid acceleration into remote work resulting from COVID-19, as it requires training among employees to learn how to translate their work on a digital level. 

Businesses who have been practicing remote work for some time typically have a well-established process that prevents people from feeling isolated by continuously having them socialize. In order to achieve this, they are well trained and adept at using appropriate technology to ensure they maintain communication between one another. These digital tools also make it easier for them to learn and acquire new skills that help them grow and improve. It can be argued that in such a global crisis as COVID-19, these kinds of companies have a social responsibility to help other businesses to make this transition into the world of remote work.  

Future of Work

However, organizations who still rely on working from an office may struggle with this rapid change. Not only must employees adapt to a new form and style of work, but oftentimes they may be required to learn one if not multiple new softwares or tools. This additionally can pose a problem for older workers who are less adept at learning technology. The shift from in-person to remote and online work can be made more difficult for older generations as well as those from a lower socioeconomic status who may not have the resources necessary at home to facilitate work as they originally relied on office resources.

The novel coronavirus has caused thousands of people to quickly adapt to a new way of working 一 working from home. This shift of work environment and remote lifestyle comes with numerous challenges and differentially affects different populations. However, we can overcome them through organization, separation of work from home, and communicating both synchronously and asynchronously. The advantages of establishing a remote community play an even more crucial role during a time like this when it is difficult to not feel isolated from the rest of society. We are aware of the benefits that come from working from home, so if there is one positive side-effect of COVID-19, it is that it accelerated us into the world of remote work, where we learn and connect with others through online communities. Hopefully, we can learn from this sudden movement, and become ready to adapt and thrive in this new future.