We’re all old hands at virtual work by now. That technology that seemed impossible a year ago? We’ve figured it out. Working with kids and pets underfoot? No problem. Avoiding going into the kitchen for a snack every half-hour? Well, maybe that one we’re still working on.
And now we’re starting to think about returning to the office and the world of 3D work. Many of us are vaccinated and itching to get back to in-person collaboration. Others have found working from home (WFH) quite satisfying and aren’t quite so thrilled at the prospect of putting our business “uniforms” back on and heading out into the world of face-to-face interactions.
It’s a good time to take stock of some things we have learned this past year. Here are a few key findings from a panel I attended on “The Future of Work,” sponsored by The Economist:
- WFH can be highly productive. In general, the data on productivity are quite positive. It depends on the nature of the work, but it is clear that most people don’t have to be sitting in their cubicle downtown in order to produce quality work.
- WFH makes it more difficult to establish trust. It’s harder to read emotions over Zoom. People get frustrated with each other more quickly. It’s easier to end relationships virtually than in person.
- Management quality has improved. Employee satisfaction scores are up, including endorsing the statement, “My manager has been better during the pandemic.” Seeing employees in their personal spaces seems to have softened many managers’ communication style. In the office, managers could share information with just one person and expect it would spread by osmosis. Managers must be more clear and intentional in their communications when people are working from home.
- Many meetings have improved. In general, people are going to more meetings, but they’re shorter and more people are invited. In other words, the meetings are more inclusive and more efficient.
Some workplaces are moving back to entirely in-person work. Others will make an effort to become hybrid. That will bring a host of new challenges. Zoom fatigue is real — how will we handle that? Women, who are often ignored in 3D meetings, have found it even harder to make their voices heard in virtual meetings. How will we level the playing field between the people in the room and the ones on the Zoom? Will the WFH people be able to network and build their reputations so they can compete with the 3D people for promotions and other opportunities?
I’ve been talking about the “New Better” for a year — the vision of new ways of working that combine the best of the “before-times” with the good stuff we’ve learned during the pandemic. The good news is that we were remarkably successful in making the transition to WFH. That suggests we’ll do an equally good job at figuring out the return to 3D. As the moderator of the panel said, “Things are better than you think.”