Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Working from home: The future of business is remote

A controversial Chick-fil-A video reveals so much about the future of work

In 2022, everyone will return to the office. Or they won't. Or everything will be hybrid. Or it won't be. Or, well, something more subtle. Chick-fil-A may have already experimented with this subtlety.

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A more flexible future?

Screenshot by ZDNet

With every new Covid variant comes a new variant of uncertainty.

What will life be like in 2022? What will work be like?

Businesses will want everyone to be at the office. Unless, that is, it becomes so much cheaper and more profitable to have everyone working from home.

Or wait, it'll all be hybrid. Unless that doesn't work because everyone at the office will be sitting, lonely, on Zoom calls all day.

When you look back on 2021, what themes resonate over and over again? The difficulties of working from home. The proliferation of remote work surveillance. Oh, and the Great Resignation.

Can any of these be somehow related? Do any point to a certain future?

Last week, a video from February resurfaced and made a few people stop and wonder. It seemed to show an Arizona Chick-fil-A employee taking orders at the drive-thru.

Yes, it's a surprise that humans still do that when fast food companies are increasingly testing robot order-taking.

This video, though, showed something more subtle. Here was the Chick-fil-A employee taking drive-thru orders while sitting at home.

Taking advantage of some convenient Apple products, it appeared she was using FaceTime to greet customers and then an iPad to enter the order into the Chick-fil-A system.

Oddly, the customer doesn't seem surprised that the Chick-fil-A employee is sitting at home. If they did, it would surely be a subject for fascinating conversation.

"Where are you?"

"I'm at my mom's house, looking after her cat while she's in Florida."

"Oh, alright then. I'll have a lot of fried chicken, please."

This might even enhance customer relations, offering a more personal touch.

The video was reposted on December 9 by @alesander25, with the tantalizing caption: "When you have Covid and no one can cover your shift."

There's no reason to believe the caption was anything other than a joke, though the suggestion is that some Chick-fil-A employees in Arizona had to work from home when Covid struck.

Please imagine, though, the inspiration this video might offer to certain managers -- and not just of fast-food chains.

"Oh, you're home sick with a cold/the flu/Covid/a bad back/a broken leg? No problem. We can hook you up so that you can carry on working as normal."

As work life and home life have become hermetically entwined, business leaders face difficult decisions that revolve around axes such as cost-saving vs teamwork and efficiency vs flexibility.

Where does working from home genuinely help both businesses and their employees? And where does it interfere in the smooth running of the enterprise?

And, dare one add, how does it affect the employee both physically and mentally?

No business will necessarily have the same solution. I feel sure, though, that Chick-fil-A customers -- or those of any other drive-thru -- might be pleasantly moved to see someone taking their order from the (possible) comfort of their own homes.

In this video, at least, they can see the actual location of the person taking their order. Too often, customer service interactions involve an anonymous voice in an undisclosed location and a lot of potential misinterpretation.

In 2022, ingenuity and flexibility may be the most important factors in both hiring employees and servicing customers.

Somehow, a longer-term perspective on anything is currently very difficult.

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