It is still too early to understand the impact of the events of the past two years on our working lives.
In the early months of the pandemic, Microsoft was talking about two years of digital transformation in just two months, as many people switched to remote work and companies scrambled to rethink business models for a profoundly changing world.
Two years later, the digital transformation continued apace. This is a forced change for organizations that may not have found any reason to change business practices for years to come.
The clearest example of change is the shift to remote work which is now – for many knowledge workers at least – at least a part of their daily working life.
Giving workers more flexibility about where and when they work has improved their work-life balance. It has proven to many managers that teams can be just as effective at working remotely as they are in the office.
This does not mean that there are no challenges: there are challenges, and they are becoming increasingly apparent.
Remote employees don’t always feel as connected to the company culture as their colleagues working in the office. They worry that they’ll miss opportunities that office residents might snatch because they’re sitting next to their boss, or that they’ll give up on the everyday serendipity that happens in a co-working space. Newcomers to the workforce worry about access to mentoring for similar reasons.
And while everyone seems to be more efficient at working from home, they may be less helpful when it comes to new ideas.
This does not mean that everyone wants to return to the office – they are only aware of the problems that remote work creates.
These problems can be resolved, but only if they are recognized.
Unfortunately, many organizations still operate as if telecommuting were a temporary condition, only to be replaced sooner or later by a return to the office full-time.
Too many managers are floundering without being able to tackle the escalating problems.
This is a serious failure.
Managers must acknowledge that remote work is now a standard part of employment for many, and has been a key driver of the digital transformation that has taken place over the past couple of years.
Assuming – or hopeful – that remote work will be rolled back is as logical as expecting that other digital transformation steps taken in the past two years will also be reversed.
In fact, they are interrelated: It has supported flexibility around the workday and enabled flexibility around business models.
There is some suggestion that as the economic outlook deteriorates, and as employees’ bargaining power declines, managers will finally be able to force employees back into the office.
Such a situation is simply likely to antagonize workers, and even in tough economic times, the best people — especially in technology — still have plenty of other options. And since remote work helps build momentum behind new ideas such as four-day workweeks, the debate over who works, where and when is unlikely to be resolved soon.
Managers should stop pretending that telecommuting will go away. Instead, they should look at the negative aspects and figure out how to deal with them.
This will be quite a challenge, but pretending that remote work is going to end is not really an option.
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Monday’s ZDNet editorial is our opening for this week in technology, written by members of our editorial team.