What Happens When Remote Work Stops Working?


When the pandemic first hit, many companies quickly switched to remote work. Knowledge workers began tapping away on their notebooks from the comfort of their homes, providing similar levels of value to the office.

For a few weeks, managers breathed a collective sigh of relief. It seemed like this government-imposed working practices experiment was going to help their businesses survive. 


Unfortunately, that’s not how things stayed. Before long, workers began complaining that remote working wasn’t “working” for them. And teams up and down the country started struggling. 


But why is this happening. One issue is culture. Some companies just don’t lend themselves well to remote work. Public sector organizations, for instance, are finding it hard to keep staff disciplined. Workers know that they can take long breaks and nobody is there to supervise them. So large chunks of the day go to waste. 


Another issue is the fact that it is taking time for companies to adapt to the changing nature of remote work. Microsoft, for instance, used to insist that the bulk of its employees came to the office. While there, many would take part in meetings to discuss items on an agenda. Often, these meetings would turn into brainstorming sessions with vague agendas and take up a lot of time. But the computer company was prepared to put up with this because it often sparked creative ideas. 


Now, though, it is discovering that it can’t reproduce the same model online. Under normal circumstances, workers would grab a snack and use the restroom before transitioning from one meeting to another. But block timing via Zoom makes that impossible. There are no breaks. And so people can’t refresh like they used to be able to. 

Then there’s the issue of chat apps, like Slack. The quality of communication suffers when people use written text instead of voice messages. Workers can get the wrong end of the stick if they can’t hear the tone in which things are being said. The number of irate employees is on the rise because firms simply don’t know how to communicate with each other using written text. 


That’s why Fanvil phones are making a comeback. Companies want people to actually talk to each other as if they were there in person. It seems strange that everyone has adopted texting as the default position when a call could get the job done much faster. 

Lastly, there’s the issue of work-life separation. When people work from home, there is no clear distinction between the time “in the office” and the rest of their lives. And that’s leading to unprecedented levels of stress for people. Early evidence suggests that workers are actually putting in more hours at home – including the commute – because they feel they have to. There has been a considerable increase in the number of people talking to each other between 6 pm and 10 pm – times of the day that were quiet traditionally. 


The only way to manage the current situation is to adapt. Firms need to impose strict working hours, improve their monitoring and ensure that workers maintain their work-life separation.