The Big Remote Experiment: Navigating the Work From Home Shift Amidst COVID-19

The Big Remote Experiment: Navigating the Work From Home Shift Amidst COVID-19

Designwhine Magazine Feature The Big Remote

Suddenly, everyone is a remote-work advocate. But does it really work?

Unless you have been living under a rock or hidden deep within a sketch design library with a million components, there’s a viral outbreak that currently affects the entire world. And the digital product builders (that includes the UX-people) are also massively starting to work from home.

The situation is dangerous enough so that many stores have been entirely bought-out, with people preparing for the incoming zombie apocalypse. So while we’re getting ready for a month on canned beans, we may get bored and decide to work a little.
There’s a lot of encouragement to work from home now, even from businesses that previously shunned the idea.

But while it’s all fun and beans, it has a huge potential downside for the entire “remote worker” community. But first, let’s take a look at the positives.

The Positives!

The benefits of remote work are easy. You can do it from home. But you can also travel abroad and do it in the morning, and then go sightseeing and exploring in the evening. You can have a more meaningful life than the work-netflix-sleep, that’s plaguing a lot of the millennial generation. You can save time and money on commuting. Those hours each day can add up.

Let’s add the hours up –

If it takes you just 30 minutes to get to work each day, it means it takes one hour both ways. So assuming you won’t get sick, it’s 252 hours spent on commuting each year alone. That is ten and a half days!

Surely, you can find much better use for that time. Maybe write a book, start a podcast, or learn a new skill or language. Or binge-watch the entire X-Files library (except for the “new” seasons).But, there’s the rub..

The Negatives!

The problems that are not associated with the current situation have been around for a while. No human contact can lead to depression, anxiety, and lower quality work. Some people simply can’t focus well, if they’re not in an office. They need the division of home and work to be clear and set in stone in order to do their best work. Teamwork and collaboration are an essential part of building fresh, new things, and exploring new ideas. And don’t tell me it’s still Teamwork if you’re using Microsoft Teams. If you’re in a cool, relaxed company, it doesn’t have to be a “daily grind,” it can be a fun place to spend a quarter of your day.
Staying at home will push you out of that circle. But that’s not all. Many companies, who never considered remote work before, are doing it now.While usually, it would be a reason to jump up and shout “viva remote work!” the whole process is happening too fast. All of a sudden, half of the world is going remote (if the type of job allows it).

Forced WFH

People who never tried working remote, are now “forced” to do it, with a potential pandemic happening around them. The new situation (not being at the office), combined with fear and anxiety, can significantly decrease their output. I’ve heard it from some friends in the last few days:

“I can’t focus! I’m trying to work, but it’s just going so slow. They may even fire me when it all calms down!”

All of this adds up to an overall weaker performance of those newly turned remote workers.

Do you think the people in charge won’t look at the stats? This entire thing can lead to many new studies on how remote work doesn’t well… work. We’ll see huge percentages of subpar performance, vs. what was measured before everyone started working remotely.

It’s hard to argue with statistics

There have been surveys by various organisations on the benefits and drawbacks of working remotely, while the benefits largely revolve around not having to commute and flexibility, the drawbacks are more varied with the top contenders since the covid-19 lockdown being “Collaboration and Communication and ”Not being able to unplug after work”. So while it all seems to be a win for working remotely, keep in mind that it may well be its end. When the dust settles, and the virus goes away, we may find out that it was a massive fiasco in terms of pushing remote work forward. Hopefully not.

This article was last updated on November 27, 2023; Originally published on September 23, 2020

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Michal Malewicz
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