Remote Work in 2020 is Not Normal – Will We Evaluate It Fairly?

How are you feeling about working from home right now?

As I look around the internet, it appears to me that results are mixed.  Many are loving the new remote work lifestyle.  Many others are stressed, working more hours, and feeling pressure to maintain productivity while working from home.

I don’t believe either of these groups are right or wrong.  Everyone’s situation is unique.

One thing I do believe strongly though;

Working from home right now, during a global pandemic, is NOT the same thing as “remote work”.

I feel that this is getting lost in too many discussions lately.

This is not a normal year

With large companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft continuing to adopt more permanent remote-work policies, it looks as if remote work is poised to stick around for a while.

I don’t think remote work is right from everyone.  It’s not, and it doesn’t need to be.  

But I also don’t think the current realities of working from home are an accurate, or fair, representation of what a remote work culture can be.

According to Buffer’s State of Remote Survey, remote employees largely want to stay remote. However, if 2020 is your first foray into remote work, I wonder if that is still the case.

We’re extra stressed right now.

There are more distractions throughout the day; kids learning from home; extra deliveries; partners also working from home; etc 

We can’t really get out of the house to work. 

We can’t meet up with others to work, chat, brainstorm, collaborate. 

On top of all of that, it seems many companies haven’t actually shifted to a remote-first mindset.

All-day meetings are even more draining right now.  Employees are feeling pushed to work nights and weekends.  Defaulting to real-time communication adds to the pressure of being always at a keyboard; even when that’s at odds with the realities of being at home.

In short, translating the on-site work experience to the home is challenging, and in many ways, just doesn’t really work. This leaves employees feeling overwhelmed, less creative, more isolated, and longing for a return to work-normalcy.

All in all, there are currently many things which are very atypical of enjoyable, and successful, remote work.

I worry that during this big initial push into remote work, let’s call it v1, that the evaluation by organizations/managers/individuals will fail to take into account everything else going on right now.  I fear that this will keep many from getting to remote work v2 in which there are hopefully fewer abnormal circumstances and more of the traditional benefits of a remote work culture.

What does remote work usually look like?

Are you getting your first taste or remote work here in 2020, and it’s not what you thought it would be? 

I can relate.

I’ve been remote for 4+ years now, and this year has still been unusual.  It has not been the same remote work situation that I’m accustomed to, or that I enjoy so much.

How does remote work usually look?

For me, remote work has generally been filled with far more connection, flexibility, and variety than it has here in 2020.

I miss getting out of my home to work from a coffee shop, or library, or a co-working space.

I miss being able to change locations when the home is too loud; or too distracting.

I miss meeting with local co-workers or friends to chat, work, brainstorm, plan, organize, etc…

The lack of 1 on 1 chats, meetups, and conferences has me feeling disconnected, isolated, and uninspired.

In the past, I’ve been able to travel and meet my remote team in person.  This builds trust, improves communication, and leads to a better working relationship.  In 2020, I haven’t even been able to meet remote teammates living in the same city; let alone the ones from all over the world.

Speaking of travel, it’s difficult right now to get away and recharge in the same way we used to.  Even just going outside for a relaxing walk is not as simple or relaxing as it used to be.  This has accumulated over the year; myself and others are starting to feel the fatigue of our current situations.

None of these things matches my previous experiences with remote work.

What’s the future of remote work?

I don’t expect all companies to shift to remote-first work; not all can or should.  And I know that my experience with remote work may be very different than yours.

If you don’t want to work remotely, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But if you thought you might like remote work, and aren’t enjoying it here in 2020, I hope some of this resonates with you and maybe gives you hope that your remote work dreams are still possible under different circumstances.

I do worry that the efficacy of remote work will be unfairly judged during this period, and I’m also encouraged by the number of people that find themselves adapting to remote, acknowledging the realities of 2020, and still finding themselves wanting to make a more permanent shift in remote work.

I hope the increase in remote work stays around. Not because we’re forced into, but because more teams find themselves adapting to it favorably, and in a way that emphasizes outcomes, trust, and the human being. As discussed in this recent CNBC article, these changes in leadership are needed to make the effective shift into remote work.  It seems like this may be the case, but only time will tell.

In my experience, effective remote work has enabled me to work around life, rather than living around work.  That’s what I wish for all of us, and I see increased remote work opportunity as a powerful tool in realizing that for more people; not because everyone should be remote, but because I hope those that wish to be remote can find healthy, thriving remote teams in the future.