Elon Musk broke some surprising news at the beginning of June to its employees, stating practically that TESLA as the company will be prohibiting working from home. Truth to be said, he did not fully exclude “work-from-home” but made it clear that those who want to work remotely will still have to spend at least 40 hours per week in the office. If you take a calculator into your hands, you will be able to see how the math doesn’t add up. He also made a point of stating that those who do not conform to the new rules might be considered as having given a notice that they quit their job.
Surprise over the news was further amplified by the fact that it came at the moment when many companies are moving to hybrid work models. Some global corporations went a step further, like AirBnB and Twitter, planning to fully terminate work from the office.
In any event, the fact is that work from home, or to be more specific – work from anywhere is becoming a new normal in many industries. The trend existed before but was marginalized prior to the pandemic. Covid times made it exponential. Some companies are financially motivating their employees to move out of the cities in which they lived and worked, arguing that for the same or lesser salary their quality of life will increase.
Who has the upper hand in this debate? The conversations around the topic are brewing, and in line with the times we live in, participants are required to pick a side. If you ask me, my choice would be to state – I disagree with the question that was asked. The dilemma of “work from the office” or “work from home” is a false one, as one cannot have a right answer to a poorly posed question. This, for sure, is a major topic at the moment – and the one that is staring right into our faces. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as the true dilemma is what the future of work holds?
Technological advancements in our civilization in the past decades have led to decrease of manual labor and the number of people required to do the work. At the same time, there was a radical shift in the way that non-manual work is conducted. Equipment for work and performance of administrative, intellectual, and managerial tasks has become mobile and not physically tied to one space, which created a basic setting for disconnecting work from the confines of an office. The Covid crisis drastically expanded the magnitude of that model and made it normal, creating a new reality for the planet.
From this point in time, this all seems natural and logical, but back in the day it wasn’t really that obvious. Until a few years ago, companies invested large amounts of money to make their offices and business spaces more attractive to their employees – making them feel at home. Apart from offices and work quarters, rooms for games, meditation and relaxation started being part of the equation. Then, came the gyms and fitness spaces. Canteens were substituted by modern restaurants and cafes and the companies at the head of the curb created kindergartens and playrooms for the employees’ kids while pets started being more commonly welcome as desk/office companions.
Logic is clear. If with all the work environment conditions you get all the side benefits, the fine line demarcating office and home is becoming less visible, the time off from work is decreasing and you are spending more and more time being present and available. In the final phase, you are working better and more for the company that enabled all the perks. This was and still is the ultimate goal for the company shareholders.
And then Covid hit and global lockdown happened. Fancy office spaces with all the sexy benefits and side rooms were locked, while office work moved to homes and apartments. With a laptop, a cell phone, Zoom, Email, Viber, WhatsApp, Slack and all the other thingies we had everything we needed to continue working. That is exactly what we did, hoping that this soon shall pass, and we can just go back to the way things once were.
As the time passed and Covid remained, the temporary setting started becoming the new normal. Tech allowed for working time and free time to become mashed up together once again, only in a different location. Covid also helped us become aware of the depths that the shift has brought into our lives. Until the pandemic, we firmly believed that the office is the place where you work, and the technology we use is the tool. Now we see that it is actually the other way around. Technology is the place we work in, while the office was just one of tools – and not an essential one.
This realization and acceptance brought a series of far-reaching consequences that are still in the pipeline, waiting to be revealed – superseding the question whether the future of work is tied to the office or the home. The speed of changes requires that we adjust and adapt faster than we can grasp and become aware of all the consequences that await.
In all of this, one of the key problems is loyalty. It is already an issue and a challenge for a great number of companies to develop a sense of belonging to a particular corporate culture when people are physically remote. This extends to the sense of team spirit with colleagues, as well as dedication to working together on reaching set goals. Can occasional gatherings of employees in one place offset the spontaneity of work-place interactions, outside of scheduled business meetings?
Similar questions are also in the loop for employees themselves: Do I continue working for a single employer now that I can set my own hours or will I become a freelancer and pick and choose what, where and how I continue working? If I don’t have to spend time in the office, do I still choose to live in a polluted urban environment, surrounded by noise and traffic jams? Why should I even choose to live in one city/country?
Let’s stop for a second here and ask ourselves something. Isn’t a nomadic lifestyle something that is already quite natural and part of our DNA? We stopped being nomadic when we transformed from a tribal to a class society and ever since we have been living and working in one place. Now that (once again) we can take our tools and carry them, is there a need to be tied to one spot forever?
Maybe some of the global companies that are currently facing the dilemma of forever moving their employees out of the office or bring them all back in, will start thinking outside the box and start buying deserted houses and properties in villages, mountain cottages, or build new settlements in tropical islands, creating livable conditions for both family life and work and give an option to their employees to spend some time in such curated locations.
I am not making any suggestions here, just thinking out loud. But if you wish to hear more about that: hey, I’m here and can be wherever you need me to be. At least today, that is not an issue anymore.