Post-COVID: WFH vs WFO vs Hybrid
6 min read
The sci-fi movie COVID which pushed us hard in the early 2020 is slowly, but inevitably going to its final credits. Along the road it forced us realize a lot of things - nothing is more important than the human life, how short and fragile it is, how each one of us - individually and globally, adapt and handle crysis like this. But along all the negatives, COVID forced a new chapter of the digital revolution we are witnessing in the last 20 years. We now know for sure that the digital revolution enabled us to use our mobile and computer devices for running whole businesses successfully, to move ahead big enough part of the economy, even when whole sectors are closed. We can do it securely, from any place on the planet with internet access, on a global scale. And wherever there is no digital transformation which covers at least part of the business, profit goes to zero without governmental support. We now know that good internet access is crucial. And last but not least - Work From Home (WFH) went from exotic benefit to the new norm of working. Now, an year and a half later into the COVID crysis and being able to see it slowing down its impact on our lives, more and more companies are doing the math - is the WFH an irreversible revolution, or we still need an updated version of Working from the office (WFO). Lets see where we are and what we learned.
Work From Home - successful production test
WFH was a pretty exotic way of working back in the days before COVID, although it was present in some form for a lot of companies. There were a lot of precautions which limited the application of WFH - "its not secure enough", "people are less productive", "employees are working whenever they want", "we just don`t offer this as an option, sorry" and many more. There were companies where WFH was even strictly forbidden. We never knew that the only thing needed for a huge WFH revolution is a real production test, forced by external power. And it happened, without preparation, without time for planning, we just needed to do it live with all we had at that moment. In the first few weeks of the first COVID lockdown, WFH experienced its real production test. There were a lot of issues like VPN servers low performing or crashing, trust crysis, keeping the company performance at high levels, issues like access to office hardware for home usage. It was hard. Some were prepared, some needed to adapt in order to survive. I clearly remember how in many IT companies there were presentations comparing the overall performance and KPIs before and after the mass WFH wave. And in most of the cases, even shockingly for a lot of people - they was either non-changing or even better than before. After the initial reorganization chaos (which was produced by the scale, not by the WFH in general), the WFH production experiment turned out to be huge success. It enables people to go work from whenever they are with only internet access available as a prerequisite. This lowers the overall stress and empowers more freedom on focusing WHAT to do, instead of WHERE and WHEN. Having that in place, the traditional 9-5 schedule was replaced with more flexible way of working. You need to handle some personal issues - just go and do it, then come back and move on. Nobody cares where are you in each and every piece of time. We also increased the trust levels between employer and employees. Its now battle tested, that people do their job from anywhere, when they are given the freedom to choose the location and the time. Employees save from transport expenses, food expenses and most importantly - TIME expenses. Companies were also able to calculate what is the financial cost vs profit of working from home based on real, big data. All those results, hardly pushed by COVID, made it possible to finally spread the WFH way of working globally and transform it into mini-revolution.
COVID slides away - what now?
Like everything else, the hard COVID period is slowly moving away, leaving IT and non-IT companies with the question - what now? Should we go on and apply WFH permanently? Should we go back to the office, we pay rent for it, duh? Or..maybe hybrid? First of all, why are we even asking those questions if WFH is the paradise? Well..not exactly. There are a lot of drawbacks and tradeoffs. Lets start with the employees related ones. There are a lot of people which have absolutely no chance for productive WFH environment - kids, pets, grannies, parents, small rooms, poor internet access. We all have seen such people just going back to straight 9-5 office routine as prefered choice. There is the opposite side of the coin - people which actually have good conditions for WFH, but they are either alone or alone most of the time, making feel them depressed and desocializied. Those are real issues which have to be addressed, as we have seen during the last year and a half. But here it comes the biggest issues - employers. The sudden WFH wave last year hit hard MANY people down the chain, which even has nothing to do with the companies directly. Restaurants - even if they are open, no one goes there. Fitness centers, groceries, shops. All the bubble around the office buildings freezed. After all, the buildings itself are costing money for being at rent or at least supported without people in it. What about the office buildings being under construction? The whole real estate business is suffering. Those office buildings are feeding many more people, than the actual employees. So its just not possible to shut down everything, stop building new offices and all happily worked from home forever. Thats why companies started to investigate how to adapt and keep the balance. Company-wise question cards, calculations, comparing numbers, even reorganizing the existing office spaces, transforming them to co-working spaces with less space. Thats now the second part of the revolution. Most of the numbers says that people wants the WFH way of working IN SOME FORM. That1s why companies are now testing different approaches - team based decisions on how to work, company wise policies like forced split hybrid WFH+WFO (3-2, 2-3, 5-1, etc) and even deciding to keep the fully WFH policy for the time being. There is one more element in the equation - relatively small companies, which didnt have big office spaces anyway are now stealing people in this reorganization with the main benefit being "dont worry, you can do your job fully remote here, no one is going to force you anything". The balance is not achieved. This is the second phase of the WFO revolution. We can only observe how it`s going to be resolved. One thing is certain - nothing is going to be the same.