As most of the world goes remote and everyone talks about freelance and remote work, it is staggering that it hasn’t yet been 100 years that women were finally allowed into workplaces in substantial numbers, as a result of men of working age being away fighting in the World War 2.
After the end of the war, the women remained in workplaces and this dynamic, triggered by a specific necessity, became the norm.
As we lock down countries across the world to halt the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 (aka coronavirus) we are already seeing the positive impact that remote work offers.
It is unfortunate that it took a catastrophe such as this to catapult remote work, already a sound concept with many positive effects unrelated to social distancing, into widespread application or consideration.
Leaders are being forced do to so now, to save lives.
but it will prove difficult for them to go back to the old work practices, even after we have defeated the virus. By then, we would have exposed an entirely new order.
Freelance and remote work
The concept has been around for a while now but has had difficulty penetrating workspaces beyond certain industries (e.g. technology or consulting) and economies (primarily the developed world) in cross-sections.
It is acknowledged that certain jobs simply cannot be done from remote (yet) and this piece does not advocate that all work can or should be done from remote. Rather, what can, should.
In general, companies who have embraced freelance and remote work either do so fully as part of their overall work culture, or grudgingly in order to say “we have a policy in place” to tick some box but restrict use of this policy heavily. The latter are generally led by traditional, base rate thinkers.
Tyler Cowen the economist coined the distinction between growth rate thinkers (or “growthers”, analytical people who use numbers and modelling to solve problems or propose changes) and base-raters who assess things using emotive techniques and by asking how often it has happened before. That is, they estimate its base-rate likelihood and appeal to emotions.
Put in a different way by Balaji Srinivasen (impossible to categorise him), growthers have no problem anticipating exponential growth like the explosive rise in mobile phone users, whereas base-raters generally think in percentage points, where 100 is good and 200 is outstanding. Growthers are therefore better equipped to deal with the future by forecasting ambiguity, and not basing projections on the past.
With the advent of social distancing as a strategy to combat the virus, remote work has been thrust upon all, including base rate employers. The results are going to shine an intense spotlight on how much of a no brainer this is under current business circumstances.
Why such resistance?
Which begs the question, why such a reluctance towards remote work in the first place? If it’s so wonderful, why is there such resistance?
Apart from the general fear of change, some leaders unfortunately have little trust in their people.
Therefore, need tangible evidence that work is being done, which is satisfied when they see people at work. This is delusional, yet anecdotal evidence, suggests that employees who are visible for longer in the office generally have higher performance ratings.
Most studies report that the typical employee is only productive for around half the working day, regardless of level of activity. Leaders who place more emphasis on presenteeism than productivity that they can’t touch, or feel are naturally resistant towards remote work.
There is another more compelling reason for remote work not being more pervasive – self-interest. Or rather, self-preservation.
Weak or incompetent leaders find corporate office locations good hiding grounds to mask their defects while hanging on to well-paid corporate jobs for as long as they can.
They manage to screen their weaknesses using white noise opportunities offered by offices – such as meetings, group discussions, casual chats and lobbying – where body language and physical prompts suggest desired outcomes and are used to exert pressure.
Physical offices allow for heaps of white noise.
Not the actual piped white noise to reduce echo, but the white noise of office distractions from actual work.
A senior executive once remarked that lobbying other executives was more important to her than the quality of the proposals she was preparing. This executive truly believed that successfully persuading people rendered the need for proper analysis obsolete.
This is in no way not advocating a lifeless environment without social contact or non-work engagement, rather paints the picture of how white noise makes it difficult to ascertain the truth. White noise is an additional smokescreen that allows people at work more hiding places for non-performance, incompetence or poor skills. Leaders who decide on policies are not excluded, and realise this, which is why they are not always fans of remote work.
Lastly, there may also be social factors at play when leaders oppose remote work. Some of them have fused their work identities with their personal selves so tightly that they simply cannot extricate them. They feel a sense of power afforded by their job titles that they simply do not possess outside.
Therefore, going into work each day affords their egos the stroking that remote work simply cannot replicate. And, yes, many business leaders lead lonely personal lives, so their work colleagues and teams play a social role for them too.
Unblocking the way
All the above are wiped out in remote work setups.
Remote work demands and is predicated by proper planning and work allocations within teams. Everyone needs to know what is being done and delivery (or non) overtly transparent. Everything is traceable and verifiable. The trust issues currently exhibited by some leaders are therefore easily addressed.
Similarly, online has no place for casual chatter. While there may well be lots of IM and DM exchanges, together with video calls and other more regular office communication, everything digital leaves a footprint which means people are more circumspect about “lobbying” or jabbering on while deadlines loom.
Of course, these may just expose the weaker leaders as true performance is suddenly that bit more auditable. Shareholders should be clamouring for freelance and remote work, just for this reason!
A week and a half before South Africa went into Government-mandated lockdown, employers with remote work policies activated them. On the second day, a friend posted a screenshot of his Waze trip from Fourways to Sandton at 7am estimated at 22 minutes, a trip that usually takes an hour to go about 20kms.
We waste an obscene amount of potentially productive time commuting to and from work, when we could instead be using this time to enhance our life quality. Or even do some more work.
Sitting in traffic, spewing fumes and fighting for space, must surely be one of the most loathed experiences in life. Remote work removes the need to commute, and thereby a massive stressor in life.
Of course, the environmental impact is pretty obvious. It has been reported that people in Wuhan, China finally saw blue skies after their own shutdown. Their normally grey skies, choked and clogged by fumes from vehicles and factories, cleared spectacularly.
Imagine a million less vehicles on the roads in your part of the world.
We have tasted the nectar, are still doing so. It is going to be difficult to go back to the old ways. Here are a few snippets of what’s to come.
- We are going to see the post-covid world as having Remote Economies, not just remote work. Entire supply chains and service delivery models will be built on remote workers plying their trades from distances.
- To prevent future outbreaks and manage the related risks, every job will need to be re-engineered to be remote capable. HR and OD experts are going to be very busy.
- Work from home is going to improve exponentially as people deeply work through establishing it as their primary work arrangement. No more static video calls or dropped signals, and people are going to adapt to smoothly and effectively apply remote work processes over swift technology platforms. As a result, the reasons base raters use to deny remote work are going to be eliminated. Viva la Zoom / Blue Jeans / Teams / etc!
- People need human connections and therefore will lean harder into their online social networks to compensate for the loss of offline closeness. This adaptation will address the need for conversation, sharing and updates without physical contact.
- There will still be physical contact, but this will take place within trusted communities of individuals where Biotrust is high. Where people know all of them are sanitizing and using the proper hygiene practices.
The outbreak has shattered us and exposed just how fragile our existence within the global village is.
We feel for everyone who has lost loved ones to Covid.
We are growthers by nature though.
We want to play a part in how the world can change.
If freelance and remote work is part of this change for the better, we will be pleased that One Circle through its community of HR experts, is a small part of the drive in this direction.
Visit our website www.onecirclehr.com and sign up to join the community and the freelancer revolution.
Base rate extrapolation – how the world stays the same.
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