I was on a Zoom call recently (as are so many people these days), with some long-time friends. The discussion naturally centered around the impacts and effects of Coronavirus on people today and in the future. One of my friends noted that he’s never been more productive, and the future of work will be forever changed with the increased familiarity and usage of remote working teams. This particular friend is in the TV business and is an excellent creative thinker and producer and is part of team that delivers a weekday daily nationally syndicated television program.
Another friend on the call who is the CEO of a publicly traded tech company in the cloud computing and data security space raised his eyebrows just a bit (I was looking). I later asked him for his thoughts team building for remote workforces since his company employs a few thousand people who for the most part, work in offices. He noted that he was very involved in how to meet that challenge both today and going forward. I might have pressed a bit too much in saying that I could not understand how truly well-integrated teams could be maintained when not having the PEOPLE get together in person on a regular or even semi-regular basis. But my friend did not disagree.
So, what does this all mean for the future of working in offices as members of teams of varying sizes? The workplace for office workers had already been altered over the past twenty-plus years by the use of technology in mobile devices and internet connected workstations. But it’s not far-fetched to think that company leaders of enterprises both small and large are thinking and re-thinking about the how’s and why’s of bringing their people together in the near and distant future. Chances are good that outcome will include fewer instances of four or five day a week commuters. Millennials have known this for a while and have been waiting for their companies and managers to catch up. They never wanted the five days in the office thing in the first place. Their parents have known little else.
How and when people in cities like New York will go back to the office is still unknown. All of us are starving for in-person contact and communication yet we know what we will ‘get’ when we return is a watered-down version of the way things used to be. These days I frequently think about the eateries, shops and services in Manhattan that are so dependent on the daily flow of commuters into the city (not to mention the other 4 boroughs). How can they survive if 50% of people come to the city one day or one week and the other 50% come the next? Same rent, same operations costs, half the customers equals less revenue. How long can that last?
I am not saying that companies should bring people back to offices so that ancillary businesses can survive, but the notion that most or all business can be built, nurtured and or transacted remotely will be bad for people AND bad for business in the long term. Being together in person is integral to building higher functioning teams. Coronavirus has fast-forwarded the utility and effectiveness of remote workplaces. Staying apart from one another reminds us how important it is for us to get back together, and stay together, for each other, even if not as frequently as we did pre-Coronavirus.