Will remote working become a permanent reality or was it just a fluke brought on by COVID-19?

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Will remote working become a permanent reality or was it just a fluke brought on by COVID-19? What will the next normal in work life look like?

Digitalisation has enabled us to work from home for over a decade, yet there are companies that have been reluctant to allow employees to work remotely. But COVID-19 changed all that as lock downs emptied offices overnight.

As the world is slowly opening up after a spring where employees have been confined to their homes, the question arises: what will be the next normal? How will we work in the future?

This spring has given employees a chance to show to suspicious employers that work do get done in the garden office too.
In some organisations there has been fear that productivity will fall if employees work from home. For those organisations, the corona crisis has perhaps showed that work can go on even though you have less control of how your team spend their working days”, says Kristina Palm, a researcher at the Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan in Stockholm with the digitalized work life as her special field.

However, the jury is still out on the final verdict: we do not have adequate research from this spring yet.

Innovation done remotely

Some say that mundane tasks are easily done remotely, but more complex things like R&D needs physical presence. Veijo Hytti who heads Keto Software, a Finnish company that helps companies innovate efficiently online, disagrees. With Keto Software’s no-code platform companies can digitize their innovation processes, keep track of different innovation projects and streams and even involve their customers in the process. This is particularly useful in situations where your team and customers are scattered around the world. As the COVID-19 crisis hit with full force, Keto Software saw a surge in new clients.

“As physical teams where dissolved, companies had to find new ways to collaborate on innovations.”

Fast implementation of ideas was even more needed this spring, as the COVID-19 gave rise to a surge in demand for certain products. Walki innovated a tear-resistant material used for aprons in health care facilities within a few weeks (read more HERE ). This innovation project was done in collaboration with customers online.

Still, Hytti thinks that in certain cases, physical meetings are still to preferred. One such situation is where creative and completely novel solutions are needed.

““It’s difficult to get creative with Excel sheets”, he says. “You can work physically apart from your team when working according to rational waterfall models, where everyone knows what to do. But when you need to come up with something completely new, at least I prefer physical meetings.”

Kristina Palm agrees. The physical meeting is also to be preferred when you form new working relationships.
“Research shows that digital meetings are efficient in situations where we already know team members and have worked with the people in the meeting. But in situations where you have to solve complex questions and with people you do not know from before, physical meetings tend to lead to a better outcome.”

Despite COVID-19, our inherent human needs have not disappeared anywhere. This has Hytti thinking that the world may change due to COVID-19, but not as radically as some predict.
“We will do more things remotely, but we will always also enjoy physical meetings.”

So is the future working life fraught with fear or filled with hope?
“I prefer to see hope. We humans are extremely good at adapting. We will find meaning in new ways of working, whether the change is brought on by robots or a virus”, says Kristina Palm.

How to lead a team remotely

Remote working sets new demand both for management and employees. Kristina Palm gives some tips.

• As your team deals with more independence than before, it becomes adamant that you give your team clear goals.
• We can work whenever. Still have a team discussion on when and how you are available.
• Make room for informal meetings online.
• Make sure you can be easily approached also online so that the team feels confident to come to you with their challenges.

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