The world crisis created by the current COVID19 pandemic has forced many companies to undergo fierce changes and adapt to flexible working.
First of all, we need to remember that for a lot of companies, working from home is not an option. The vast majority of the work includes physical interaction and manual actions: while drones are only an aspiration for your online shoping delivery, you still need someone for the parcels to come to your door; take-away and food shopping requires staff to prepare food and stock up supermarket shelves; emergency work involves ingeniors or technicians to repair and maintain plenty of appliances; and of course all the health sector will need to be working in hospital and surgeries.
Working from home has been part of the work-culture for a long time in some country, especially northern Europe. In the recent years, lead by office space reduction more than a sudden consideration for the well-being of their staff or environmental concern commuting reduction, more companies have moved from a full-time office based location to flexible working (meaning partial remote working, one or two days per week for example).
Therefore, while remote working, flexible working and share-office have become a frequent feature of the policy of some companies, unfortunately many companies were still very reluctant to do so, and therefore have been urged to adapt their practice to the confinement measures with a threat to disrupt completely their activity otherwise.
We can find a few examples of the scale of that change in newspapers:
"On Friday [17 March], all 8,000 staff from KPMG’s London office worked from home and Lloyd’s of London closed down its underwriting room for the first time in its 330-year history. [...] Many of Britain’s businesses are going beyond government guidance on the pandemic, with flexible or full “working from home” policies becoming standard as they try to prevent large numbers of employees from contracting coronavirus." [Financial Times]
With the modern digital technology, people can manage their work emails, access the softwares used in their company with their laptop. However, with so many companies and workers unprepared, there has been a shortage of laptops and IT equipements such as monitors, printers, keyboard, mouses, webcams... Even second hand laptops and tablet-sales are difficult to get. And some companies expressed concerns that their IT infrastructure might not be able to support the load of remote working from all the staff.
More surprising, it revealed also that even senior management, used to work with mobile phones and laptops, where not equiped for proper home-working: they do not have a dedicated space, no printer, no proper chair nor monitor. This is even more difficult with kids needing to check their school work online and complete tasks ... and the family realising that they only have their office laptop and mobile phone that they already use.
But even with all the technology in place, employees will need time to adapt to new routines away from day-to-day direct contact with their managers. For those new to working from home, they will quickly understand that while it has advantages for its flexibility, it's much better to set routines and lying in bed with your pyjama while working on your laptop is not going to be the most efficient.
The companies the best prepared were those which had already put in place measures to encourage flexible working, way before the pandemic. And the current situation, especially the longer it last, could lead to a rapid and permanent increase in the everyday adoption of technology allowing us to work remotely.