In March of 2016, our consultancy was rebranded as FutureWork IQ and one of our founding principles was that the business had to be 100% location independent and that all our services should be able to be delivered virtually. Looking back we know that this was an important decision.
Even back in 2016, we were convinced that anywhere working would become a major global trend and we regularly shared our thoughts around this. The past four years have been spent studying the companies that have successfully adopted work from anywhere as their culture and all the best practices associated with this.
Here are some examples of what we published on the topic over the past four years:
July 6, 2016: It’s Official: Letting Your Team Work Remotely Makes Them Happier and More Productive
Aug 31, 2017: How much can be saved with flexible/remote work
Nov 8, 2017: Smart leaders are switching on flexible remote work
April 26, 2018: Remote work and staff digital literacy
September 24, 2019: Here is a reason why companies need to enable remote working for knowledge workers immediately
As 2019 progressed we became more and more convinced that governments would begin to mandate remote work as a way to curb carbon emissions in their fight against climate change. As a result, it was our belief that designing a flexible and remote work workplace would become a business imperative in this decade. In order to ensure that the guidance we were providing businesses was in line with the latest thinking around remote team management, I enrolled in a Cornell University Certification programme entitled Leading Virtual Teams and received my Certification for this in October of 2019.
This was all in perpetration for what we believed was to come as governments attempted to mitigate against climate change. Never did we imagine that the arrival of mandated remote working would happen the way it did and so quickly. The strategy of mandating remote work as a way to curb the spread of the virus is very much still in play. In fact, as recently as a few days ago, some countries experiencing a second wave of infections were again mandating remote work. See the example below from France:
So here we are.
Of course, the climate crisis has not abated one bit while we have been focusing on keeping populations safe from the virus. In fact, as this data shows we are woefully behind in what we need to do to avoid a global catastrophe. The need to reverse this situation grows in urgency every passing day.
There have been some silver linings from the lockdowns that have disrupted the economy so intensely. For example, we have able to see, very graphically, what happens to emissions produced by daily work commutes when these no longer happen. Satellites tracking Nitrogen Dioxide concentrations immediately saw changes in NO2 levels in many cities around the world. Here are a few examples.
The US east coast:
This data inspired researches to take a careful look at what impact lockdowns were having on global carbon emissions. This study, for example, was published in May of this year.
From the above, we now know that there is a way to immediately cut a large portion of transportation emissions and more importantly that we have the technology and the know-how to do this. There is no question that as we now build back that these insights will inform climate legislation going forward.
So mandated remote work will be a reality that stays with us until we have a vaccine for COVID-19 and until we are able to electrify our entire transportation sector and by so doing end commute emissions.
Reflecting on our current experiences we know almost all leadership teams have now had a taste of remote work. Many of course are struggling to figure out how to effectively operate as remote teams. As leadership teams figure things out, it is really important for them to understand that forced-at-short-notice remote work is very very different to deciding to work this way by deliberate design and having the luxury of time to do so.
The consequences of un-designed remote work workplaces are beginning to show as is highlighted here by the two main challenges being experienced by first-time remote work teams:
Both these issues can be successfully overcome with intentional design. If you are wanting to make remote work a permanent feature in your business — which you absolutely should given the challenges we still need to face post COVID-19 — but you didn’t have an opportunity to design it, we highly recommend taking the time to fill the gaps in order to create a successful remote work experience. (Please reach out for a conversation if you are needing guidance around this.)
This crisis is clearly just a precursor of the disruptions still to come. The question that all leadership teams need to answer as a matter of urgency is “How resilient is our business to cope with what comes next?”