YESTERDAY, at my local coffeeshop, I eavesdropped on two gentlemen talking about Coronavirus. It feels weird to start a LinkedIn post with a sentence like that, but here we are.
The two gentlemen were talking about how their workplace was about to have its employees work from home now—before the epidemic reaches us. They actually seemed excited, which at first blush seems odd, because they also seemed freaked out like the rest of us.
“It’s a crappy way to find out,” one of them said (I’m paraphrasing), “but I think companies are going to realize just how possible it is for people to successfully work from home.”
I hadn’t thought of it this way, but I think he’s on to something.
Saying that it’s a “crappy” time right now is an understatement; people are suffering, and people are dying. As part of Team Humanity, we each have a responsibility to do our part in minimizing the damage. One of those things is to help flatten the curve by not spreading the virus. Another thing is to keep the economy going—because if we stop working, stop supporting businesses (especially local ones), the ripple effect will lead to more suffering, with disproportionate results inflicted on the poor, the elderly, and gig workers.
The simplest way that many of us can do both things is to work from home. And it turns out that the gentlemen I eavesdropped on were right. It’s more possible to succeed at WFH than at any point in history.
And it turns out that if done right remote work can actually be more productive. “We can take advantage of the tools we have and come together as society to keep moving,” points out Jessica Black, who designs interactive and virtual experiences at the agency Imagination. “Also, not to mention, the option to work from home levels the playing field—especially for women with children.”
She’s right. And I’m increasingly convinced that remote work is the future.
Why do I think so? For one thing, last month, I was a guest on the premiere of the newest season of a 10-minute web show called Modern Workplace, a Bourdain-style docuseries by Microsoft about the future of work. In the episode, we explored how the principles of teamwork I research for my books apply to a future where people increasingly collaborate across time zones.
And also—I got a sneak peek at a prototype of the coolest “meeting room” you’ve ever seen. The room was an object lesson in how designing collaboration around remote teamwork is better for diversity and inclusion—and for problem solving.
We filmed the episode in Seattle before the Coronavirus arrived. I had no idea just how relevant this segment about remote work for diversity and inclusion would be in a case like today—where it turns out that remote work is good for public safety.
Click here to watch the segment, and please leave your insights and questions in the comments below. I’m going to be working on some specific posts to help folks make remote collaboration work better over the next couple of weeks—and your input will help!
In a world of laptops and video conferencing it shouldn’t take tragic circumstances like these to properly give remote work a chance in our companies. But in the history of innovation, constraints have often taught us just how good humans are at adapting—and very often for the better. I hope that turns out to be the case here, too.
Wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick—and tell the people in your life how much you love them today! God bless.