Since the pandemic hit, people around the world have been taking part in a ‘Great Remote Work Experiment’. We’ve learned a lot, about things like productivity, communication and boundaries. We’ve proved we can do get our jobs done, something that has fueled global conversations about work structures once Covid-19 subsides.
Yet there’s one thing we keep forgetting. We weren’t just working from home – we were working from home during a pandemic. The experiment began almost overnight, with minimal preparation or support. We worked at our kitchen tables, sometimes watching our children, as we sheltered from a virus. Everyone was in the same boat, working remotely without choice.
That means that although we did work from home, our experiences were shaped within a very specific, unique and communal set of circumstances. When the world re-opens, these circumstances will change – meaning that remote work may feel rather different. Some experts suggest we need to reflect on which parts of our ‘experiment’ may have been unrepresentative of long-term remote work in a pandemic-free society. Others suggest that our pandemic ‘experiment’ taught us more about remote work than we could ever have imagined, and propelled work-from-home into the mainstream in a vastly accelerated manner.
Both good and bad effects have come from the great work-from-home experiment occurring during a global medical emergency. Experts say pinpointing these could better inform our future work practices.
Why the pandemic isn’t the best guide
On one hand, we crash-landed into remote work because of the pandemic. This could mean we’re not best placed to judge how well or poorly it works under ‘normal’ circumstances.
“There was this enormous uncertainty – the stress that we all felt of ‘what’s going to happen to society?’,” says Martha Maznevski, professor of organisational behaviour at the University of Western Ontario. The last 18 months have been tough for many of us; some have faced health-related anxiety, loneliness and boredom, while others have been juggling children and homeschooling with professional responsibilities. And all of us had to rapidly adjust to new ways of working.
Workstations, for example, weren’t necessarily standing desks in home offices; they were stacks of books on kitchen tables, or even our beds. Zoom made conversations – professional or personal – feel foreign and exhausting, but we couldn’t leave our homes for fear of contracting the virus. It’s fair to assume these factors will have shaped people’s ability to work, and their resultant view of remote work, in diverse ways – and some may never want to work away from the office again.