The “New Normal” of Work Was Already All But Inevitable

By Paul Belevich, CEO and founder, QA Supermarket.

May 11, 2020

In just over one month, the COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed fundamental changes to our work lives, and there’s little chance we’ll ever go completely back to the way things were. With 95% of the U.S. population under stay-at-home orders and infection rates still on the rise, we’re still in the thick of the crisis. Still, there’s plenty of hypothesizing about the “new normal” and a future of work that is, where possible, done remotely. 

The truth is, remote work may not have been as pervasive as it is now, but it was certainly on a growth trajectory. In an early April 2020 survey about the impact of COVID-19 on American workers, MIT found that nearly 15% of survey respondents were already working from home when the virus turned our lives upside down.

But more startling than that percentage is this one: 99%. That’s the proportion of respondents to a 2019 survey conducted by social media marketing firm Buffer who said they would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.  

Remote work carries a lot of benefits for both employees and employers. Personally, I created my business as a 100% remote operation and always intended to keep it that way. While the original impetus was the lower overhead, I quickly realized there’s as much to gain as there is to save. Now, for reasons completely out of our control, businesses of all sizes are forced into a remote work model. Over time, I suspect, many will find enough upsides to adopt their temporary adaptations more broadly and/or permanently. 

For one, working remotely can be incredibly positive for the quality of life. No longer do people need to make the choice between living in a small, super-expensive apartment in the big city so they can be close to the office versus moving into a spacious home in the suburbs, which will require a long commute while adding expenses like gas and car insurance. According to an article in The Atlantic, the average commute in the U.S. recently hit an all-time record of 27 minutes one-way – almost an hour a day. With remote work, you can live wherever you want, and your commute is reduced to the 10 minutes it takes to turn on your computer. 

“Allowing people to work closer to home—whether at a coffee shop, in a co-working space, or on a couch—could be a win for work-life balance, for happiness, and for the biosphere,” says Atlantic staff writer Derek Thompson. 

Employers benefit, too. The driver of my choice, saving money, is certainly a big draw. Instead of spending on rent and infrastructure, organizations can shift their budget to upgrading computer equipment and subscribing to cloud services. 

That’s not to say there aren’t any issues with conducting business virtually. Security is something that requires more attention (and investment) when you need to protect distributed assets. There can also be issues with keeping a separation between work life and real life, plus those with managing time, feeling out of the loop, addressing technology problems, and of course, over-eating!

“Remote work isn’t just a different way to work – it’s a different way to live,” notes Amir Salihefendic, CEO of Doist, maker of to-do list app, and task manager Todoist. “We need to acknowledge that isolation, anxiety, and depression are significant problems when working remotely, and we must figure out ways and systems to resolve these complex issues.” 

Working remotely also requires a shift in expectations and deliverables. “Employees will have to develop new habits, such as keeping copious documentation of every meaningful work interaction so that teams across space and time are always up to speed on what’s happening…and bosses will have to normalize more video conferencing and corporate retreats because their employees will continue to crave face-to-face interaction,” Thompson notes. 

As someone who has a bit of experience organizing and connecting teams on different continents and in different time zones, over the years, I’ve always felt that making offices into a second home a la Google was misplaced. Instead, we should move offices into people’s homes. And here we are, completely online, positioned for the future. 

While nobody expected a wholesale move to happen on these terms, we are fortunate that so many of us were already at least part of the way there.