Scoring my COVID Predictions Part 1 – The Rise of the Remote Worker
“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” Michael Jordan
“We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they are at their desk or in their kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will.” Richard Branson
The COVID-19 pandemic taught us that for the right type of work, working remotely can be incredibly effective. My organization was able to maintain a high level of productivity in a 100% remote work setting. The high productivity experienced by my organization was not unique, and enlightened leaders around the world realized that a remote workforce could be nimbler, offer cost savings and the flexibility could be used as a recruitment tool.
I had personally come to that conclusion decades ago. When I began working on international focused projects, I quickly realized that having the best person on my team was much more important that having the closest person on my team. I had hoped that many leaders would come to this conclusion as a result of the pandemic, but am sad to say that didn't occur. In fact, many organizations are now getting "back to normal". Under "back to normal" guidelines, I have a colleague who will be required to commute over 90 minutes to go to her office, which is in a building where no one works for her!
Because... uh... leadership!
You can’t make this stuff up.
My prediction that the shift to telework would be a permanent was based on change management theory. The three step theory of change management states that an organization needs to unfreeze from current practices, transition to the new practice, then refreeze and ensure the new process is followed. I assumed that two years of experience with remote work would effectively refreeze organizations into a remote work posture.
What I did not count on was management’s ability to ignore facts and make decisions based on their personal preferences. Almost every organization says they want to be “data driven”, but at the end of the day many leaders want what they want, and data doesn’t matter.
I have the opportunity to interact with leaders from a wide variety of industries, and I always ask how recruitment and retention are within their organizations. The organizations that have embraced workplace flexibility and are using remote work as a recruitment tool are doing great! They are retaining employees and are recruiting a talented workforce. The organizations who are struggling to recruit and retain employees are usually led by people who want to “get back to normal” and have learned none of the lessons of the pandemic.
So how did I do on this prediction? I am going to say that it was accurate. There is no denying the rise of the remote worker, and organizations that are leveraging the lessons of the pandemic will continue to thrive. Those organizations that don’t modify their work process will wither away as employees “vote with their feet”.
If you are a leader in an organization that is struggling to recruit and retain employees, don’t hire a consultant or do a reorganization.
Look in the mirror.
My wife and I are going to Jamaica next month on vacation. I am fully vaccinated, and have had COVID-19, so in theory I am a very low risk traveler. Before I go to Jamaica, I must provide a negative COVID test, and then I have to take another COVID test before I return to the US. Why? This is one place where I do wish we could “return to normal”.
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