While our major industries and institutions are still using centralization and consolidation to achieve economies of scale, our most important technologies are increasingly tended in the opposite direction, toward decentralization and distribution. The migration to decentralization also includes working from home.
Work from home research during the found that the abrupt move to working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has had only had a 1% reduction on work productivity. And more than 40% of workers would prefer to work remotely full time in the future. The report recommends that workers do their best to manage a work-life balance, become more technologically self-sufficient and learn to be more collaborative. Recent research from Salesforce found that 86% of remote workers rate their productivity as excellent or good.
I have written a series of articles that speak to how to effectively work remotely. The research findings are very encouraging - given the incredible difficulties of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, a 1% loss of productivity is an amazingly positive outcome. Working from home does work, and yet it is a new concept for many companies.
WFH - working from home - has long been a thing among independents, contractors and the otherwise self employed, and increasingly among the more digitally connected companies, though not without the occasional fits and starts, like Yahoo's famous recall back to the office in 2013. But COVID-19 and the stay at home/safer at home orders have almost certainly accelerated the trend. While the vast majority of us are excited to get out of the house and go about our daily business, WFH is poised to become much more widespread and perhaps even the norm for some businesses and industries. But as we start to move towards this new model of work, there are two important things for leaders to consider:
The Identity Imperative
There is a risk that companies will simply re-imagine home as a remote cubicle and forget that the office is more than just real estate. For many people, the physical workplace is where corporate culture and identity exist, where the idea of "company" is made real in the world. Without the logo on the door or at reception, without the security badge, without all the other signage and branded materials, without a space that equates belonging (and reinforces status) with access rights and privileges, identity has to be found in new ways. We believe that purpose and principles or values will become even more important than before to provide that sense of cultural identity and belonging - ideals shared and practiced by all - in the absence of physical collocation.
In a recent "fireside chat" with Salesforce's CEO Marc Benioff, Kevin Johnson, the CEO of Starbucks, described how doubling down on principles during the pandemic has guided their decision making despite the uncertainties surrounding us all, and how they have enabled him to delegate decisions and actions to enable local responsiveness globally. The principles have reminded every single Starbucks partner around the world "who" the company is, its DNA, its identity, and therefore what their appropriate action should be in any situation. At my company Salesforce, my colleagues and I can work from home for the rest of the year, even after offices have reopened.
Decentralization, not substitution
There is also a risk that the home-based quarantining we have all been living through will harden the concept of home as an extension of the office rather than simply decouple the concepts of work and office. WFH should enable the employee to avoid the wasted time, cost and discomfort of the commute into the city and enable them instead to do their work wherever (and possibly whenever) feels most conducive to getting it done. This may mean moving to different places over the course of the day. A balanced approach of working from office, home, or anywhere is healthy and promising. As a former Chief Customer Officer, Chief Marketing Officer and VP of Engineering, I spent 20 years at company headquarters and some of my biggest career breakthrough moments were the results of in-person impromptu meetings with my peers, team members and managers. For many, work is a place. Work is co-creating value by doing.
WFH should give the employee their autonomy, not extend the company's authority into their private space. It should also give the company the opportunity to discontinue the use of the word "remote". Remote is always used to describe distance from HQ when what we really need is a way to describe closeness to the customer. As it happens, remote workers are nearly always closest to the customer while HQ is furthest away, the most remote from them.
Working from here
For these reasons, we should re-brand WFH as "Working From Here" It frames the work experience from the user's (employee's) perspective, enabling them to imagine any place as a possible place from which to conduct business, whether that's the office or an office alternative like Wework, home itself, a third place like Starbucks, the car (once fully autonomous of course), a plane, a hotel room or bar, or even the customer's location! It also recognizes that more and more business is being done on mobile devices and that it no longer needs to be place-based. Quite simply, wherever I am right now, even if that's in virtual reality (VR), could be a place from where I can work. In other words, here. Working From Here.