You Can't Vaccinate Remote Work

We’re asking the wrong questions

Happy new year! After a month hiatus, I am back to your regularly scheduled musings on remote work and remote leadership, albeit with a few changes (see below). 

But first, let’s talk about - what else - remote work. The chatter about remote work has shifted. 

We started the pandemic with a big (false dichotomy, in my opinion) question: is remote work possible?

Despite the fact that millions of people worked remotely in some form or another (even if we’re just talking about the occasional WFH day) pre-COVID, suddenly the question’s scale jumped a thousand fold. Could the whole world work remotely? Well, no. Some jobs - essential jobs - cannot be done via the internet. But so many more could be. 

Then we moved to: is remote work productive?

This one is, in my opinion, difficult to estimate during the pandemic - because pandemic lockdown work is NOT remote work. However, many studies found what I’ll call mixed results, leaning productive. By and large, people are more productive. It’s worth noting this was found in a 2018 Stanford University study and reconfirmed during the pandemic.

There are experiential pieces about how remote work was not productive for specific individuals, which is fair - I don’t mean to tell them how to live their lives. Further, a lot of people face distractions and other issues that make working from home (really the only kind of remote work possible under lockdown conditions) difficult. That’s all well and fair. My concern is more than those experiences are 1) Isolated to lockdown environments and 2) Not indicative of everyone. These experiences should be read and respected, but not universalized. 

Ok, but now there’s a vaccine. We are seeing glimmers of the potential of the future normalcy. So we have today’s question: will remote work continue post-pandemic? 

Again, I think we are asking the wrong question. It’s not “will it” but “how will it.” 

A Gartner study found 90% of companies plan to offer some remote arrangements post-COVID. The companies that had their big transitions won’t just go back to all-office (many have given up leases).

So how will remote work change post-pandemic? I’ve already enumerated a few of my predictions for remote work, but here are the big ones:

  • 1 billion remote workers by 2025, whether freelancers or employees (or whole remote companies)

  • “Never remote” companies that pride themselves on not offering remote flexibility

  • Hybrid remote will be the new normal

One other thing that’s got me excited is how remote work seems to be changing the conversation around mental health. Specifically, it’s happening more now. A new study found that remote workers are talking about mental health way more than employees did previously, which is a huge win for progress in that area.

A quick change to Remotely Inclined

Previously, I published Tuesdays and Thursdays. Going forward, I will be making a slight change: every Thursday and some Tuesdays. I want to make sure I have great things to share (not forcing a content calendar). If that bugs you and you prefer more frequently, let me know! I want your feedback.