by Julius WiedemannOct 20, 2020
The effects of the acceleration of remote work powered by the uptake in digital technologies in the last six months is going to be understood only in a few years. I guess that its consequences are going to go deeper than simply saying “I work from home”. A 15 per cent shift in the workforce to residences, rather than staying in their offices could cause a dramatic change in major economic sectors that should not be underestimated. For instance, the gastronomy sector is going to be affected. Workers not going out for lunch, or not eating indoors in their companies are going to force you to redesign in the field, whose winners are going to be companies with greater efficiency than required today. Food delivery is not the same food that is served on plates or in a buffet. Utility bills are going to change too. If workers stay at home, how is the relationship with their bills for communication and other things, so that they are included in a package that is part of the salary or not? Employment clauses might also change, as many companies might feel that these workers can actually become freelancers. Labour relations will change. The paradigm-shifting is endless. Hotel chains like Selina, who based their business model on the idea that nomads would travel the world working from anywhere, might have to shift the focus to attract new clients. Private equity funds who bet everything on office rentals for large companies might have to think again what their plans are as well.
It is also important to consider that what remote work meant one year ago and today are two very different things. Whilst remote work until October last year meant that you could work from anywhere so that you could keep travelling, having a nomad life, and could respond to your work from anywhere, now it means that you can work from anywhere, because you have to stay where you are. These are two very different realities. The other thing to consider is that if the current situation persists, companies will understand that they can do things differently, and consolidate changes permanently. Many changes that have started as temporary will become permanent because there will be a gain of productivity in some areas that were impossible to identify before. This new world will be regimented by a good use of technology that empowers communication and foster creativity, if these changes are here to stay. Remote work is becoming less of a question related to COVID, and more a question of what we have learnt so far that can work on the long-term regardless of what we are going through right now.
Just a few months ago I thought that making a video conference was quite intrusive and therefore opted mostly for text messages and applications that would empower collaborative work such as Slack and Google Docs. Today, I spend from three to five hours on video conferences every day, and use a variety of tools, from Microsoft Teams to Zoom, from Google Meets to WhatsApp, and from Slack to my latest discovery, WhereBy. What was the future just six months ago is now the present. And the companies and professionals who do not work hard to understand the future might be stuck in the past in just another six months.
Remote work always existed somehow. When I lived in Japan from 1997 to 2001, I had an AT&T connection anywhere around the world for the laptop I carried with me. I always had a local number for dial-up connections, so that I wouldn’t have to pay for international calls at hotels anywhere. In 20 years, we have grown from having dial up as the ultimate technology, hoping to establish a 100Kbps connection for emails and text files, to the obligation of having speedy connections for video conferencing from anywhere to anywhere. The orgy of corporate travelling is definitely over. Travel agencies too will have to redesign their models. There is no space anymore for five people to go to one place to spend just one day together if they can do it over the Internet. These cost efficiencies will be looked at very carefully by every financial department from now on. The standards have changed already.
To conclude, remote work is not a mere possibility anymore, instead, it is a must if you are to survive in nearly any business these days. We used to do what I call remote work 1.0 until eight months ago, meaning working while travelling, I am now doing 2.0, working without being able to travel, or opting not to. And I am being careful that when 3.0 comes, I’ll be ready for it. It might be closer than we thought. Domestika, a leading technology company who serves the creative community worldwide, has recently kicked off a new subsidiary in São Paolo, Brazil, in the middle of the pandemic, and has done from hiring to training to onboarding, entirely online. The team got together for the first day of work on September 1, 2020, to shoot a course in the studio they had never been before. The country head, Rodolfo Ohl, was also hired without any personal meetings with the CEO, and needed to make sure that everyone in the team was ready to work together, and each one of them had the necessary skills to accomplish their individual goals. The teams in Mexico, Spain, USA, and Brazil worked seamlessly to get it all together. And it worked. Remote work 3.0 is just around the corner and ready for mass implementation. We should all get ready too.
Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.