Sobering take on the future of work.
By now, you must have read many radical takes on the future of work. Whenever I read these extreme predictions, two things come to mind—regression to the mean and Amara’s Law.
A layman’s translation of the statistical term regression to the mean is—what goes up comes down. Regression to the mean is not directly translatable to the remote work predictions. Still, a loose way to think about it is that remote work is being overhyped, and the majority of the companies will revert to working from the office once the pandemic is over.
Amara’s Law states that—we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run. You can apply this law to any recent, top of the zeitgeist phenomenon. In this case, replace technology with remote work.
One thing is for sure; remote work has become mainstream. Before the pandemic, remote work was the domain of heretics and hippies. These people were very vocal about it; few paid heed to their preaching. Now, they get to say—I told you so, you did not listen to me; it took a catastrophe to change your mind on something so obvious.
From now on, when anyone starts a company, not setting up an office and letting people work from wherever they want will be a valid, socially acceptable option. In the pre-covid world, it would have been diabolical to think along these lines.
Many companies will announce(already announced) permanent remote work(or remote first) and when problems crop up, think of reverting to the office. When things do not go as expected(which is bound to happen from time to time), leaders will search for a scapegoat, and remote work will be the easiest to blame.
Companies that revert to working from the office will face resistance from employees after some time. Initially, people might like going back to the office. It might feel like a good break after a long period of remote work. But, once you start spending a significant chunk of your day commuting to work, people will yearn for the days when they could work remotely from the cozy comfort of their homes, avoiding the mind numbing commute. Young people who socialize at work and can shift residences based on their office location might not have this problem, but people with families will reminisce their remote work period.
It will rain bonanza on developers who will have many choices to pick when it comes to where and how to work. If the work is remote, what prevents a foreign company(or a young foreign startup) from starting an overnight Indian(or any other country where there is a critical mass of talent) office where they can hire the same(or better) talent? All that is needed is a group of people working in the same timezone. Many do not even agree that the timezone matters. I predict a war for talent in India, and Indian companies will have to compete with increased pay scales(at least for the top percentile of the skilled folks) that foreign companies can afford.
At the cost of stating the obvious, companies opting to go remote will be able to tap a diverse talent pool, which is excellent for companies and employees. Remote work will help in alleviating the stress on tech-centric cities.
People fresh to work will be at a significant disadvantage when compared to tenured folks. It is tough to remotely re-create the mentoring that one would receive when physically sitting next to each other; freshers need this the most. Tools might be able to bridge this gap; it will be interesting to see.
People will self-select their employment. Some folks rely on the environment(office) to motivate them to get things done; they feel more productive in an office. They cherish the human connection that stems from working with their co-workers in the same physical space. These people will find it tough to work remotely for long periods. Hence, they will opt for companies that have a robust physical office culture. Remote work favors those who are intrinsically motivated and can self-manage. Such people will naturally gravitate towards remote work.
Remote companies will have to invest in processes, tools, and written communication. While working in the office, you can get by without these, but it is impossible to do it in a remote setting; it becomes dysfunctional. Even though it is easy to institute these, entropy is the way of the world—people will veer off this path unless someone is continually reminding them. If you invest in processes, tools, and written communication, you can eliminate middle management—bullshit jobs might reduce as a side effect.
Some believe that physically working together is essential to do great work; that is where the magic happens. Some are vocal about remote work and believe that it is a significant productivity booster; letting people work on their own time and terms is the future. Ultimately, the stories that the leader believes in will shape how a company operates.