If work from home, or WFH, wasn’t part of our common vernacular before, it most certainly is now. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, WFH and the timeline for returning to the office are hot topics. “What is your current WFH policy?” people ask, “how is your team adjusting to remote working? Is everyone OK? Is everyone productive? What tools are you using?”
For many, working from home is relatively new; for others it’s an expansion. But, regardless, everyone is adapting to our new way of thinking and working.
Let’s not sugarcoat it. The rapid shift from working in the office to indefinitely working from home has been a pain for most people. Some don’t like the solitude or have a difficult time organizing their days. Others have to deal with screaming kids or barking dogs. But, as WFH starts to become the norm, most workers are coping by reconfiguring their apartments and houses, introducing desks and chairs, and repainting and redecorating. They’re instituting new rules with their families. They’re getting ready for the workday as they normally would. They’re aligning to a new schedule and quickly getting used to an office routine from their home office.
They’re also re-discovering technologies. They’re upgrading their hardware, joining online conferences, warming up their webcams, connecting headsets and stepping up their broadband plans. They’re discovering new applications that help them with remote document and contract management – which make their jobs easier. They’re digging into collaboration, communication, customer relationship and project management systems and realizing that, when setup correctly and with enough training, these systems can provide powerful tools for sharing data, calendars, files and other important information regardless of where their teams are located.
A huge hurdle has been overcome. In just a few months, America’s businesses have finally embraced working from home as the new normal. It took years to get to this point. Now comes the next, inevitable step: the elimination of “working from home.”
I don’t mean the practice of remote work. I mean the identification of it. As people become more experienced, hardware and software systems become smarter, and the cloud becomes faster, working from home will be just…well…working. With our “always on” schedules, we’re already blurring the lines between the corporate office and the home office. When someone sends me a contract to sign using Adobe Sign, or a PDF to collaborate on with Adobe Acrobat, or when I receive a conference call request or engage in an email discussion I don’t know where that person is located. And more importantly, I don’t care.
What will happen next is our video conferencing systems will mature so that “fake” backgrounds no longer look fake. Exterior noises are filtered, and artificial intelligent-leveraged bots will respond to requests automatically. Phone systems will entirely give way to office-based collaboration systems.
Not only that but, with the help of hologram, virtual and augmented reality technology, employees equipped with high functioning, inexpensive headsets will sit in on meetings and conferences from their home offices as if they were right next to their colleagues and workmates, regardless of where they’re located around the world. And speaking of around the world, those same employees will be able to seamlessly speak back and forth in their native languages as software automatically translates their conversation in real time. Sure, there will be challenges: security, behavior, professionalism, attitudes. But these are also the case today, while we’re in our offices.
All of this is not just coming. The bones are already here. But it will take a few years for it to be commonplace. I think about five years. Maybe less.
It’s taken a pandemic to convince people that working remotely is possible with today’s technology. Sure, there are some hiccups to overcome, but the future is set. With the right amount of independence, balanced with technology, those same workers who were in the office every day can accomplish their jobs just as easily and professionally from anywhere.
Of course, the office will never go away. Humans need the face to face interaction that we all crave right now. But, more can and will be done virtually in terms of office work. In the near future, people won’t be “working from home.” They’ll just be working.