Three Predictions About the Future of Remote Work

Three Predictions About the Future of Remote Work

We're now several months into our dispersed work “routines.” (I suspect that anyone with a child at home would love to have a real routine.) And, as I work with my clients, I've learned several fascinating details:

  • Many teams are much more effective now.
  • Teams that can't find collaboration time can show their problems with value stream maps.
  • Managers can't easily micromanage. (Yes, there are some managers who still try, but the teams often outwit them.)

In general, I'm a bad predictor. However, since many of us will not return to the office for the short-term, here are three predictions about the future of remote work. You can make your future remoteness work for you and your team.

Prediction 1: We don't need similar commutes to collaborate.

Sufficient collaboration time does not require similar commute time.

As long as the people who need to work together can, it doesn't matter where they live. (See Hours of Overlap, the First Principle of Successful Distributed Teams for more details.) I happen to live in the Boston area. I can easily collaborate with people who live in the wilds of Vermont, Minnesota, and Colorado—as long as they have sufficient bandwidth.

Just this past week, I had real-time meetings with people from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and the UK. We needed a little more organization to find times to meet. It depends what kind of a team you need, and how much the team needs to work together.

One problem: you, as a leader, might need to work with people to prevent them from working too many hours. Some people aren't that good at walking away from the computer. Or, they feel they need to prove something. Or, they want the socialization that arises from work.

Prediction 2: Companies will spend money on a person's setup rather than office space.

It's cheaper to outfit a person with enough hardware and software to avoid office space costs.

What does office space cost you per person per year? After some quick research, I discovered the most affordable office space is about $4000/person per year. The most expensive space is $18,000/person per year.

That means that you can afford to outfit every single person with enough hardware, monitors, camera, headset with directional microphone, meeting software, and more for much less than the per-person cost for a person to be at an office. Depending on your organization, you could subsidize larger homes if you can reduce your office space.

And, if some of the people you serve live in the wilds of some state or other, consider how much you might invest in increasing their internet speed.

You'll still have to manage these challenges:

  • The security of the applications on your private network.
  • You'll still need to have meetings several times a year because we need to connect with each other. However, what you will save in fixed office expenses will offset anything you spend on outfitting a person at their home office.

The more expensive your office space, the more flexibility you can create with where you spend money.

And, for those of you in the real estate business? I bet you can reconfigure how the cities might use these buildings.

Prediction 3: We'll use asynchronous work to our benefit.

Choose asynchronous work wisely.

Since the pandemic started, I've had the chance to teach a couple of project management workshops. I taught the first workshop on three sequential 6-hour days. I was able to teach the other workshop for three hours twice a week for three weeks. The results? The people in the second workshop had more practice-and-experiment time than the first workshop. They are succeeding in ways I could not have imagined.

I teach my remote-by-design workshops with time for people to practice.

How will these predictions challenge your management or leadership?

I see several challenges as we negotiate these changes:

  • How will you hire people who are outside your local geographic area?
  • Depending on how many people can work remotely, how might you change your physical office footprint? Can you take some of that office-space money and use it for outfitting people in their home offices?
  • Once we can travel again, how will you create opportunities for the teams and the entire division to get together?
  • Which work makes sense to be asynchronous?

Back in April, I wrote We Won’t Return to Normal; We Will Discover Normal. I'm excited about what we will discover as we continue to innovate and learn.

If you don't like my predictions, let me know. And, if you think the future will be even more remote-first, I'd love to hear from you.

Learn with Johanna

Expect the next nonfiction writing workshop to open for registration late this year, with the class starting in February.

See Distributed Agile Success for all of my self-study classes with Mark Kilby based on our book, From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams: Collaborate to Deliver.

Take a look at Your Management Mentors for my self-study class with Esther Derby about Make the Most of Your One-on-Ones.

The Modern Management Made Easy books are in print layout, which means I'm finding small changes. Wait to buy if you prefer to read finished books.

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Here are links you might find useful:

Till next time,


© 2020 Johanna Rothman

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