I’ve had a vision for a long time of myself sitting in a café in Bali, working on my laptop and that being my normal, everyday routine. I pictured, sometime in the future that I would have my own business, and be able to work from anywhere in the world.
I followed all of these influencers and travel bloggers whose office was whatever city they were currently in or whatever country they had chosen to stay for a few months. I longed for a nomadic lifestyle, knowing that a corporate company would not be able to give me this.
I guessed also that an agency wouldn’t want me working remotely when I needed to join calls, attend in-person meetings and be able to perform my job properly. I thought this could only be the case for someone that worked for themselves.
Freelancing was once a popular career route. I used to receive emails every day from a beauty directory company telling me of the latest journalist to go freelance. It was lucrative and everything I described above.
But with the current financial insecurity, it is probably one of the worst career paths to have chosen. That confining, trapping world of the corporate jungle also comes with benefits, health insurance and more often than not, financial security.
However, this period of isolation has shown us that those of us who work for the big companies, can also work remotely. And work well remotely. So what does this mean for the future, once we come out of isolation?
BRICKS AND MORTAR, OR WIFI?
I’m sure it costs quite a lot to own office space. Especially if you have office space in large cities like London, New York, Singapore, or Dubai. It’s all well and good having an address of Park Avenue or Oxford Street, but what about when that office is empty for months on end with employees working from home?
Instead of paying all of those fixed costs on rent/mortgage, rates, water, electricity and maintenance, why not use that money to hire more employees, to pay current employees more, to invest more in the business or invest more in training for your workers?
If we are all able to work from home, all we need is a good wifi connection. We don’t need a fancy office on the 52nd floor and we don’t need state of the art coffee machines (although they do help).
It’s a view of my Jersey City home and filter coffee for now and it seems to be doing the trick. How many offices are going to close up after this pandemic? How many WeWork’s are going to close once people realize they don’t need to be in a physical building?
Depending on how self-motivated you are as a person, you may notice that working from home inspires you to do more work than in the office, or it could have the opposite effect and you could find yourself struggling to get any work done at all.
For me, it’s a bit of both. I have three other flatmates, so at times things can get quite distracting and go from being silent to an ABBA sing-off in the next few minutes.
I have to take most calls in my room, away from the loudness of the living area but also find myself working through my lunches and working past 5pm. If you want to know more about what it’s like to live in isolation with flatmates, you can read this post from few days ago.
The mornings are my favourite as most of my housemates spend their mornings working from their beds, where I like to work from the dining table at all times. I enjoy my morning coffee while catching up on Twitter, reading my book and scrolling through the morning news before starting my day, and writing my daily emails which you can sign up to here.
There is no rushing to catch the 8.40am PATH to the World Trade Center and I no longer feel like a robot heading to the office with another million people weaving in and out around me on my commute. I no longer feel drained on the train home as I’m already at home.
I don’t have to spend time deciding what to wear to the office, applying makeup or perfecting my hair. There is no rushing and there is no stressing.
For me, my productivity levels are a lot higher at home, even though the most distracting aspect is the kitchen.
FAMILY TIME MAY IMPROVE
There will be no more ‘daddy’s working late tonight,’ or ‘I have to go away on business,’ for the foreseeable. Parents will be home more than ever (if they don’t work in the essential front-line sectors) and be spending more time with their families.
Children will be able to remember this time for the rest of their lives. This special bonding time with their siblings and with their parents. Playing games, watching TV, talking to family members from a 6ft distance and getting to know one another better.
We can’t ignore those families that won’t appreciate this extra time together. Not every family household is like the Brady Bunch. There will be rises in domestic violence, a rise in divorce and potentially a rise in fatalities (I’m looking at you America, with your stupid gun laws).
Working at home may be a treat for some, but it can also be a distraction. How do parents entertain a two-year-old all day while also trying to work on their laptop 9-5? We all remember the BBC conference-call interview that was interrupted by a toddler and baby in a wheeler. Is that how most Zoom meetings are going these days?
It must be a hard balancing act, with priorities changing and working times also changing. It’s a time to adapt to change and businesses must be lenient for this to happen.
LIVING IN A VIRTUAL WORLD
In the PR world, many are used to long lunches with journalists, launch parties, press parties and evening events. They’re also used to planning events, being social and meeting a lot of people face-to-face. Now? Not so much.
There are no more events to both plan or go to, there are no more lunches to be had, no more treating journalists to dinner, and no more social gatherings.
We are now living in a fully virtual world. Zoom conference calls are our new best friend, Facetime has never been so popular and my phone screen time has never been so high.
We can now have meetings via webcam with one person or a whole team. We can call each other through our laptops using different instant messaging applications such as Skype, Jabber or Slack. We are all able to stay in constant contact with each other via our laptops. So what really, is the need for the office?
Will this be the future? Webcams, online calls and emails? I don’t see why not. At least while we are all in lockdown and can’t leave, this will be the normality for a lot of us.
When things start to go back to normal and the events industry picks up again, large conferences start to reappear and restaurants reopen their doors, maybe then, we will go back to face-to-face interaction. But for every other working operation? Why can’t we just meet virtually from the comfort of our homes?
THE NEED FOR HUMAN CONNECTION
Working from home can be lonely for a lot of people: people that live on their own, with their other half or far away from the nearest town/city. For those who love meeting with their friends, speaking to people and being social, working from home may seem like the loneliest thing in the world.
From living by myself for a year, I realized that there is a human need for social interaction and sometimes this can be filled by going to your local café or even the local Tesco.
Being isolated alone in an apartment or house for weeks on end, that can be tough. I’m glad that I’m with my flatmates here in New York, so the days definitely don’t seem long.
When I envisioned myself working from a café in Bali, I always envisioned myself alone. I don’t know if that comes from the months I spent working in my local Liverpool café while writing my dissertation. I enjoy that time by myself, and also watching the world go by outside and in the café itself.
Working from home and working remotely are two different things. Right now, we are all working from home. When the time comes, we may be able to switch to remote working and work from anywhere that we choose. This would be the ideal scenario for me. Being able to work from anywhere in the world that I want, but with the background of people coming and going and not being alone.
CONTROLLING THE CULTURE
I know I’m starting to drag on with this topic, but there are so many things to consider. How can you control the culture of an organization when everyone is working remotely from a laptop?
How can you keep everyone engaged, motivated, connected and morale high? Is it the job for the people at the top? Is it the job of individual managers? In both businesses large and small, culture holds a huge importance. Remote working is only going to make nurturing a culture, all that more difficult.
Culture can be interpreted in many different ways. When I think ‘culture’ I think of the office culture, and what it’s like to do my day-to-day job. So how does that change when my office is suddenly my living room?
The number one thing I think to help cultivate the culture is to keep communicating. Communication is vital and more so at the time of a worldwide pandemic in which we now find ourselves.
We need that message of ‘banding together’ and feeling of security to be communicated from the top, right down to the bottom. No one wants to feel like they are in the dark or that they have no support.
Culture is different in every organisation, but right now we need a culture of togetherness and unity, to make it through this tough time.
THE NEW NORMAL
Now that a lot of us have proven that our jobs can be done from the comfort of our own homes, this may change the way that we operate in the future. I can’t imagine that we start working remotely all of the time, but we may be allowed some days to work from home.
Some companies may give up office space to reduce costs and may implement new ways of working. This time of remote working that we are now in, may help my case in the future of wanting to work from around the world, wherever I may find myself.
If I wanted a business case to prove that I can work any time and anywhere, then this is it. You may find me in a café in Bali sooner than I thought.