Is the world’s workforce ready for telecommuting full time?

COVID-19 has rapidly swept across the world, forcing many of us into a huge working-from-home experiment. Organizing telecommuting in a very short timeframe has been as complex and fraught as it has been liberating.

Homeworking has meant that some employees have had to come to grips with new technologies. We’ve all had to change our behavior, which isn’t always easy. Changes in routine can be stressful, and establishing boundaries between work and home can be difficult. Knowing when to switch off the computer isn’t always easy.

A seemingly unreal scenario

Thanks to the unfolding pandemic, we are living in a very strange world right now. The coronavirus crisis could be seen as accelerating the trend for homeworking, but dig a little deeper and we are all inhabiting a very surreal space – one in which enterprises big and small have to get every eligible employee to telecommute.

Homeworking wasn’t quite as popular as many would have us believe pre-coronavirus. Only around 7% of employees in the U.S. had the option to work from home regularly, according to the 2019 National Compensation Survey (NCS) from the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here in Russia, we are more accepting of what we call distance working. But it is still far from the norm.

Far from the new normal

One legacy of COVID-19 will undoubtedly be that more people will have the opportunity to telecommute. Will it become the new normal? I don’t think so. You have to remember that this pandemic has forced countries to lock down in one way or another. People have not been given a choice: they have been forced to work from home.

If you live in a house with a good network connection and a quiet space to work, then your home can become an effective working environment. But I have staff living in locations where connectivity is unavailable or poor. Their homes are cramped, and a home office is an unrealistic ambition. Others find the whole experience lonely and isolating. Taking care of people’s minds and well-being is, therefore, becoming increasingly important.

The technological infrastructure also has to be in place to support home workers at scale to maintain business continuity and productivity. During this crisis, we’ve been working overtime to ensure our customers’ networks can handle the huge number of connections coming in from VPNs. We also need the Internet bandwidth for employees to stay connected and use collaboration tools, such as videoconferencing.

Beyond the lockdowns

It is unlikely that everyone will go back to working in an office when this is all over. Companies will find that some of their employees were happier working from home. A smaller office space and hot desking may be the answer. Others will find their employees thrive in an office environment or flexi-working.

These are unprecedented times, and the majority of employees have been ill prepared for home working. Not everyone wants to work in the same four walls that they live in. Teams, for example, may find creativity waning without the motivational forces of the workplace.

A shift in corporate culture

The pandemic has been a tough lesson for many companies in terms of technology and communications. Especially for those who weren’t even at the start of their digital transformation curve. Remote working technologies have undoubtedly been tested like never before.

In the future, companies will be able to look back with a sense of real achievement at how their employees have responded to working from home. Technology has shown what a powerful enabler it is in such adverse circumstances. The virtual office, however, is not for everyone, and the future will be a happy medium of home and office working, where appropriate.

Collaboration tools have been a lifeline for companies during the pandemic and will continue to be a key asset in the new normal. Find out more here.

Richard Van Wageningen

Richard van Wageningen is CEO of Orange Business in Russia and CIS and is the Head the IMEAR (Indirect, Middle East, Africa and Russia) region. He has extensive leadership experience in the IT and telecommunications industries – both in services and equipment manufacturing – and holds degrees from Groningen State Polytechnics and the University of North Carolina. Richard has lived in Russia for more than 10 years and speaks fluent Russian.