When the coronavirus first hit, a friend conducted a survey to see which of her staff would be interested in working from home. Three of them said they would agree to switch, a response rate of less than 50%. The others said they would rather stay in the office citing lack of space for privacy at home, which was perfectly understandable.
A thought came to me. What if there were other factors involved in the employee’s decision to continue working face to face? What if they were simply comfortable with the existing arrangement and preferred to stick with what was familiar?
For many, the familiar features of an office provide a meaningful, reaffirming shape to life. We see ourselves operating professionally and socially. After all, most marriages begin at work! Home and family form the basis of our self-view of course but in a more private and personal way.
If, post-Covid, we continue to view the physical office space as a barometer of our social wellbeing as well as our professional status, it could lessen the possibility that the disruptive impact of Covid-19 will trigger major global change. Climate change is often quoted as an example of how things could be different in future.
In his latest FT Weekend column, Simon Kuper singles out the huge beneficial impact on the environment that improved technologies can bring by enabling office workers to interact from home, putting an end to long daily rush hour commutes on overcrowded roads to get to and from their offices.
From my perspective at least, when it comes to workplace choices, I’m looking out of my open window at an unpolluted sky. So far, the forced option to work from home seems to be turning out fine.
How about my friend’s team members who opted to work remotely? I’m told that at the outset, conference calls had a fraught atmosphere with family members coming in to be met with frustrated pleas for privacy. 6 weeks later and my friend detects a growing sense of calm at the other end of the video link.
Let’s wish for something good to come out of this nightmare we’re all having.