Pandemic Working is Not Normal Remote Working

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many companies into remote working.

After months of lockdown, executives are looking at productivity and trying to decide whether remote working is a good choice for their companies in the long term.

While COVID-19 has definitely busted some myths about remote working and a lot of people have been surprised by how well things are going, the last few months are not a good indicator by which to measure the effectiveness of a remote workforce. Here's why…

1. The current home environment is not normal

I worked remotely before the pandemic, and even for me, the pandemic has changed my working environment. Instead of just me, there are now two other people working from my house. It's busier, louder and the internet is slower.

Every-day tasks require a bit more thought than they used to: my weekly shop takes longer because I have to queue; I need to remember my mask and hand sanitiser; I need to double-check opening times before I leave the house (twice, I've walked to the post office to collect a parcel and found it shut).

Some of the habits and routines I've developed to support remote working have had to change: I can't have my morning coffee and chat in the cafe round the corner, or a post-work pint at my local pub.

And I don't have kids. Those who do can add full-time childcare and home-schooling to the mix, all while cooped up at home. This is hard enough for couples, but even harder for single parents. Working from home is a lot harder when you need to simultaneously keep your children entertained and fed, and help them learn long division via Zoom on an overloaded internet connection.

On top of the practical demands these things make of us, there's a mental burden that comes with having to deal with all these new things at once.

None of this is normal for remote teams.

2. Pandemics are Scary

COVID-19 has killed three-quarters of a million people worldwide. That's very scary indeed. Of course, this fear is even more acute for those with family members working on the front-line.

But people aren't just scared of contracting the virus. They're also scared about the future: we all have new worries about job security, finances and the economy.

And the constant stream of news about all these things keep them front-of-mind.

None of this is normal for remote teams.

3. The shift was sudden and unexpected

Like anything, remote working needs individuals and teams to have the systems, habits and skills required to do it effectively. These take time to develop, and the sudden onslaught of coronavirus meant that very few companies had sufficient time to develop them.

Many companies are still struggling to efficiently transition to Level 2 on this scale. Working from a well-appointed home office with large monitors is very different from sitting on a bed with a 12" laptop, and I know a lot of folks working from their beds for lack of a decent desk and monitor.

And we haven't even touched on the systems, habits and skills needed to progress to the higher levels yet.

None of this is normal for remote teams.

All of these things have a negative impact on productivity – even companies that have successfully worked remotely for many years have felt their effect. For companies new to remote working, this effect is likely to be magnified.

So if you're a founder or executive considering switching to a fully-remote or hybrid way of working, be sure to consider them. And whatever you do, if you're feeling a bit less productive recently, remember that it's not necessarily remote working to blame.

None of this is normal for remote teams!

Danny Smith

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