The grand experiment in ‘work from home’ has gone better than expected for many companies. Employees all over the world are learning how to do it successfully.
Remote Works Is Here To Stay
Previously it was incumbent on the remote workers to figure out their tech and other support needs, and conform to the in-office standard. But then everyone was remote, and companies pivoted to try to figure out how to support that. Everyone became conversant in Zoom, Google’s Hangouts Chat, and other tools – they incurred the one-time costs to figure out how to work remotely that made it easier for everyone to do so.
Now companies are striving to figure out what that’s going to mean even after Covid. Many companies are considering staying remote for quite some time, and using their offices differently. The pandemic could be what saves WeWork. And offices could effectively become WeWorks for when people come together in one place, or for those who are local to choose to work from office either regularly or on occasion.
How Business Travel Will Change
That’s going to make some business travel harder: without people regularly in their offices, how do you go visit clients? But it’s going to make other business trips more common.
I believe that short-term work from home works well because companies can live off of the social capital and shared cultures they’ve built. But how is that maintained over time? How are new employees onboarded and taught their employer’s way of doing things, of thinking? How are junior employees mentored, when normally they’d watch their senior colleagues to learn how to become successsful.
And so many companies will be bringing workers back into the office (in a post-Covid world) for regular team retreats. They’ll need their 100, 500, or 10,000 employees all in the same place, perhaps for a week at a time or in rotating groups.
Facebook’s offices are closed until at least October but it’s this sort of business that citizenM hotels is betting on building a project across from the Facebook campus. They’re betting on Boston, Seattle and San Francisco as cities where tech companies will bring employees regularly to campus in a new world of work from anywhere.
One thing to consider about the future of work though is once employment is location-independent, and you can work anywhere, the work can be done from anywhere and you’re competing against people everywhere. That’s good for improving world living standards, not so good for less productive people here in the U.S.
This is bad for big cities, good for growth of beach towns. And since we’ll no longer socialize at work (zoom socials notwithstanding) we’ll look to communities more for in-person socializing. That’s probably good for churches and religion.
Our New Normal Starts Next Year
I’ve said for a long time that business travel will not be back in 2020 and some portion of it won’t return at all. Yet I’ve also believed for some time that Covid-19 in the United States will be less than an 18 month event, in that normal life will return by mid-2021.
While an authorized vaccine for emergency use on highest risk individuals isn’t likely before the election it’s reasonably likely this year, with large scale access by mid-next year, according to government officials in charge of the nation’s biomedical response (and lest you think that’s political, this is coming from people who aren’t necessarily “supportive of this administration”). So far it appears that all of the major vaccine candidates in phase II trials or beyond are safe enough to justify expedited use if they appear effective.
This isn’t going to eradicate Covid but is likely to be enough, combined with continued best practices and the number of people who have already had the virus recently, to keep things under control and return to normal. And that’s just a first-generation vaccine, “There will be the first vaccines approved, then the second wave, then the improvements on those, until we have (with luck, hard work, skill, and lots of money) tossed this virus out of the human population and back to the bats, pangolins, or whoever had it in the first place.”
We’ll be able to return to work, but Covid-19 will have changed what that means. There will be business travel in the future, but it will be different. And meetings will play a large role, even if large meetings will be what’s last to return.