Prognostication Is A Fool’s Errand
By Jeremy Harper
Jeremy Harper, MBI is chief research information officer of Regenstrief Institute of Indianapolis, IN. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.
Regardless of how COVID-19 progresses, we have scenarios ranging from (a) everyone is going to die as the stock market goes to zero, to (b) we will be back and running at full steam in a matter of months. I’m optimistic that we will go back to work and keep moving, but less optimistic that we will successfully lower the curve enough to make a significant difference.
However, there will be permanent repercussions of the choices we’ve made so far, things we as employers haven’t had time to adapt to.
Employers need to prepare for the social impact of employees who have suddenly been moved to remote work arrangements en masse. Many employers have had people working remotely for a week and a half at this stage, and states are rolling out more stringent quarantines.
Below I attempt to predict the impact of remote work arrangements for our organizations.
If we have remote work for a month, I anticipate that most will re-integrate into their work routines with relish. Having children out of school also helps. It’s hard to be a full-time caregiver and a full-time employee. Even with dedicated efforts at sharing, it’s hard to balance the workload. People may enjoy the time off, but much like a vacation, they will return to the office and be glad for the peace of a single job.
Prepare your remote work policy, though, because people will be pointing to the last month to explain that if can be done for every one of their jobs.
Workflows haven’t changed. They might be re-envisioned online, but they have been optimized for in-person, office setups.
If you don’t see an end in sight, start preparing your IT to support wikis, group teleconferences, Slack etc. Optimization of the remote work arrangement is worth the expense.
In general, the organization just needs to grudgingly get through this time period.
Employers must prepare for a mass outpouring of employees who point to their productivity over the past two months as justification for them to be remote for significant portions of their schedule. “What happens if I am only in the office Tuesday and Wednesday every week, or Thursday and Friday?” will be a common refrain. We still like the in-person interaction, just not every day.
We will start to see workflows shift and adapt towards an assumption of remote work and effort.
Some people will take vacations while maintaining their digital presence to avoid using vacation time. Vacation could look like visiting family and friends who they never have time to see in person. It might be the dream trip to Hawaii, although during a global quarantine, it probably won’t be to other countries.
Three-Month or More Quarantine
Employees will have adapted to a remote work arrangement, they are searching for alternative employment, or the government stipends will be sufficient for them to stay home. Not everyone can handle remote work arrangements. People will start moving to their dream locations, as in, “I’ve always wanted to live in another state.”
We as employers have started to change our office policies to meet the need of this new normal. This is no longer waiving policies, it is rewriting them.
We will start to see employees migrating. They won’t all be in a single time zone. We will no longer have the ability to call them in person. They will want to have accommodations for their new time zone and their working later or earlier.
New collaboration tools that were mentioned in Month 1 become a necessity. You might have new opportunities to bring in global talent since if everyone is remote, you no longer need everyone to be based locally. Alternative arrangements for office buildings that are sitting closed will be considered and leases will be dropped.
Upcoming Societal Changes We Need to Discuss as a Community
The requirement for strong telemedicine arrangements outside COVID.
The obesity epidemic is not likely to be helped by quarantine.
Data analytics, collaboration, and productivity.