What practice mandated by remote-work setups is most likely to stick around after work returns to offices?
Experts in Protocol's Braintrust highlight digital reliance, updated policies and communication.
CEO and Founder at DuckDuckGo
Remote-work setups done right can be more productive then in-office setups, and remote-first companies (like ours) can therefore be more efficient per person as a whole. This is a sustainable competitive advantage, and companies should consider offering it where possible long term. However, it is important that leaders understand when doing so that working remotely is not alone a tool to solve or even improve corporate culture issues. In fact, it is the opposite: Your corporate culture (e.g., the way leadership treats employees and its ripple effects) will be the same no matter where work is getting done, and arguably magnified in a remote setup with less social cues. For example, workplaces that prioritized "face time" will prioritize "being online" in the same way. Both aren't healthy or help employees be the most productive.
Instead, when office work returns, I hope people maintain this newfound empathy and compassion for work-life balance and a down-to-earth and unpretentious attitude toward work in general. You don't need an office fashioned like a temple to run a successful tech company (we've seen this movie). Instead, we've always had a "work wherever, whenever" mentality at DuckDuckGo since our beginnings over a decade ago, and it has worked well for us.
CEO and Founder at Even Financial
I believe this widespread remote-work experiment has the potential to evolve the traditional models for hiring and staffing in the tech industry as companies recognize the potential to hire geographically diverse talent. According to the Brookings Institution, nearly 90% of tech jobs were created in five metro areas (Boston, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle). All five face the same challenges for employers: very tight labor markets, high cost of living and limited diversity. As tech CEOs and managers accept the feasibility and benefits of remote work, I believe they will also realize that the opportunity to have employees work across state lines and time zones unlocks significant operational advantages. These include: better employee performance and productivity, improved employee engagement and retention, and higher profitability thanks to cost-savings on office space and payroll. Most importantly, it means being able to bring on incredible talent who might have otherwise been overlooked because of their location.
I am hopeful that this will be a game changer for sourcing untapped talent from rural areas and in cities with more-limited job opportunities. It's easy to imagine an engineer in Iowa working on projects with a colleague in Nebraska, even if their team lead is in New York. Even's team is intentionally split between multiple states and countries; we know firsthand the benefits of being digital and agile through remote work. This has the potential to not only widen the global tech talent pool, but also bring tremendous economic vitality to communities that have yet to benefit from the digital revolution.
CEO at Privacyworks
The single most interesting thing to me about the rapid and sudden shift to remote work is the way in which people have brought whimsy and playfulness into their work. Consider the usage of custom Zoom backgrounds. Suddenly your co-workers are sitting on the Iron Throne or are perched on the edge of a cliff or have the Milky Way swirling behind them on a call. People are showing up in actual costumes. Dogs barking, once a work-from-home distraction, are suddenly welcome participants in meetings. These lighthearted moments certainly help keep us all sane as we've been in quarantine or sheltering in place, but they also reveal our humanity to one another. For once, we all are bringing our "whole selves" to work every day with more empathy for one another than I've ever seen. I expect and hope that once we are released back into common working spaces with one another, these moments of fun will stay with us and continue on.
VP, Customer Experience at Slack
This is a time of unprecedented change in the way we live and work, including the rapid global transition to remote work. It can make collaborating more challenging and complex, especially if your team wasn't working this way before. It's also an opportunity for teams to drive clarity and focus around doing their most important work. How does that happen? By committing to making information visible and accessible to the broadest possible audience.
With a remote workforce, you're no longer able to quickly debrief with your colleague in the hall or see that your boss has stepped away from her desk. Silos of information just won't cut it. That's why Slack has become such a positive force for our customers. Working in channels, rather than relying on email, gives teams a shared view of the work being done. With access to the same information, everyone in the channel can work together to move quickly and push work forward as a team.
This kind of commitment to making information broadly visible and accessible is crucial to the success of remote teams, but it's ultimately a huge boon for any team seeking better alignment. And Slack is here to help. Check out our remote work resource center to learn more.
Head of Policy at Plaid
Decades of investment in IT infrastructure have made it possible for many workers and businesses to keep going, using email and videoconferencing to effectively work remotely. But this isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Mandatory lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders, while necessary for public health, have shuttered small retail and restaurant businesses across the nation, without pausing payroll, rent and inventory. As a result, COVID-19 is causing economic stress, especially for small businesses and consumers living paycheck to paycheck. And the economic tools we have are stuck in the era of paper applications and checks in the mail.
As brick and mortar closes, the imperative will be for every business that touches people's financial lives to accelerate into digital. Already we see the digital shift in restaurants processing delivery orders, people transferring cash to help family members and friends, donations to health care workers on the front lines, and consumers using investing and money-management apps to protect their nest eggs in a volatile market.
But gaps remain. If the government wants to move fast to get billions of dollars into the hands of consumers and small businesses, they need to make the same digital transformation. And new tools and services must be built that meet the rapidly evolving needs of consumers and businesses struggling to make ends meet. The digital-first habits that will be born out of the pandemic will accelerate the demand for a digitally delivered financial system.
Principal at Co.-Design of Work Experience
Technology and work practices will come and go. The one thing that will most likely stick around is the choice on when to work from home. Despite some perceptions, telecommuting is still a new concept for many companies. COVID-19 has forced their hand between going out of business right away or making remote work possible. Also gone are the excuses that certain roles can't be done from home (with the exception of pandemic-dictated essential workers, of course).
In the past, administrative assistants, certain IT functions or client-facing/client embedded jobs were excluded from any-work-from home policies. Weeks and now months will pass where these roles are, in fact, "workable" from home, and it can't be taken back. Removing the option when all this is over will always have a negative impact because it says the company can't or won't trust employees with flexibility.
Director of Strategic Threat at Darktrace
I was a remote worker prior to the remote-work mandate. The largest change I have seen is an intentional shift to video calls rather than teleconferencing calls for group meetings and team catchups. I know this has been done to ensure that company culture, morale and team dynamics remain intact for the traditionally office-based workforce. However, as a full-time remote employee, it has opened my eyes as well and greatly changed how I engage with my peers. It is allowing for more social and even relaxed interactions with key team members I may only get to see a couple of times a year. I think the preference for video calls over defaulting to audio-only communications will stick around after work returns to offices, especially as we will almost certainly see more companies testing and embracing hybrid office and telework approaches.
Even when employees return to offices, I think we are going to see companies and security teams continue to shore up current telework security best practices and increasingly implement cybersecurity tools that can secure telework or hybrid environments. While VPNs are important, they're also quickly becoming a legacy method for the private sector. Leading companies are going to continue to increase their use of SaaS and cloud solutions for communication and collaboration. The typical security trends around cloud and SaaS apply here — the need to gain visibility, concerns around compromised credentials, solutions that can match these technologies' flexibility and speed — although they are likely accelerating and will remain in place once work returns to offices.
See who's who in Protocol's Braintrust. (Updated April 1, 2020)
Questions, comments or suggestions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.