We cannot go back to normal, and even if we could, we shouldn’t. Why? The normal we knew was not sustainable. Too huge of a carbon footprint, too slow to meet the demands of the “fast fashion” economy, too stressful for associates, and too high of a cost to support.
As painful as 2020 was, it did lead to positive changes in the workplace:
- Enterprises advanced by 10 years technologically in only six months
- Taboos that prevented mass adoption of distributed working were broken down
- The economic benefits of a distributed workforce were proven to be real
- The ability to hire the best resource regardless of location proved extremely valuable
So again, I say that we not only can’t go back, we shouldn’t go back. That is not to say working in offices or having face-to-face meetings should be totally abandoned. No, there are situations where they are necessary, but in most cases, they should be the exceptions rather than the de facto standard.
So where do we go from here? We all deservingly patted ourselves on the back for moving our people from the office to home when the lockdowns first occurred. In reality, that was the easy part. It was limited to the scope of physically moving folks but not changing the enterprise’s culture. We are now seeing the limitations of an incomplete transition. The hard part now is determining how we make changes in our enterprise culture and infrastructure to truly support distributed working.
If you noticed, I have not used the term “work at home” or “remote working.” Those are terms that describe the partial transformation. They imply they are the exception or that they are temporary. When I use the term “distributed work,” I am referring to the complete transformation of an enterprise—the concept that work will be conducted from anywhere that supports the workflow.
Let me provide an example. I was having lunch with an audio principal for an enterprise that has theme parks. Most of his work can be done in distributed manner, if the infrastructure is in place. In his situation, the work location—wherever that “is”—would need good internet connections, large dual screens to handle the transfer of information from spreadsheets to schematics, secure access to proprietary files, and so on.
There are some workflows that would need a local centralized lab where they can work on the physical servers as they mock them up and collaboration rooms where they can periodically meet in person.
In this scenario:
- The demand for physical office space is significantly reduced
- The commute is significantly reduced
- The carbon footprint is significantly reduced
- Commuting stress is reduced
- Speed to deployment is increased
- Employee satisfaction is increased
I think you get the picture. As industry thought leaders, our mantra should be, “We don’t want to go back.” To accomplish this, we need to work with top leadership to:
- Agree on a distributed workforce enterprise strategy
- Develop an enterprise communication plan
- Identify individuals to be the executive sponsors for the project
Once the distributed workforce plan is accepted, we should work to build the enterprise infrastructure (IT and Facilities) to support it:
- Solidify, secure, and templatize distributed work configurations
- Redesign offices to support:
- Drop-in collaboration rooms
- Standardized collaboration tools that are implemented and followed up with an adoption plan
2020 was painful, but it forced us to move from an unsustainable office and in-person-oriented “normal” to a more efficient and sustainable distributed work model. It is now up to us to find effective ways to further transition to that model. Build upon the temporary emergency configuration that exists today to implement a well-designed and supportable permanent distributed “normal.”
You with me? Then let’s do it together.
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