The whole western world is talking about it. Should we bring people back to the office? How can we convince them to do so? There are so many people that, given the choice, would choose remote working full time now. Those who aren’t able to choose feel demotivated, and will really feel it when they lose that flexibility that they’d been waiting for for years. Lots of companies are looking at new ways of working that allow us to be in “other places” for a couple of days a week. But theres a more radical movement coming too, especially concerning those who belong to Gen Z. People who want to work 100% remotely, all of the time. They want the choice of never going into the office.
In theory they would be right. But transitions such as the pandemic have accelerated our learning, putting theory into practice. We’ve been working remotely in exceptional circumstances, allowing us to maximize the technological opportunities available. But we’ve not had the chance to work on the culture or ways of working remotely. In essence, we’ve not made any choices about it. We found ourselves in high seas, and so we decided to swim. We’ve sum for so long that it seems like it’s the best option, but it’s not always the case. If we have the option to work differently, we should do it. It would be a great opportunity for all, but moving the place where we work isn’t the only piece of the puzzle.
Over the last 30 years, our way of working has changed in line with technological changes. At the end of the 90s, emails rose in popularity, without anyone stopping to think about the best way to use them. It was like learning a new language without having a dictionary. We all spoke it and we were taken along with it. We talked about (a lack of) netiquette. It’s something that’s still lacking, but email itself seems a much more formal and polite way of contacting someone, compared to chat, instant messaging and social.
When we’re surrounded by a constant flux of fragmented communications, we’ve given ourselves a range of bland rules, both in terms of timing and modes of communication. Today’s 30 year olds have never known anything different. Today’s 50 year olds saw a “before” and an “after”, and I don’t know how many would call the latter a smart way of working.
Time and place doesn’t bear enough weight when it comes to working effectively. We need to consider who we are, the reason why we work and the choices we can make.
When we think about remote working, we’ve discovered something important in practice. A 100% remote job can be done both freelance or in house, so long as you do what you need to do within the time limits set by the company. If you are able to satisfy your social needs through personal relationships, you won’t have informal meetings with your colleagues, you won’t be in the same place, you won’t be able to say anything that’s out of place. You won’t be able to see relationships evolve over time, using your intuition. In a way, it’s saying goodby to innovation. Individual innovation is almost impossible: it’s genius and artistic, but products, processes and services need lots of people on board to be able to succeed.
Nobody can afford to work without innovating, even if it’s only marginal. Our jobs are under constant change and we’re under pressure to be productive. This ability to collaborate has allowed our human species to flourish. The discoveries, inventions and progress have always been created by lots of different people that have been able to work together in harmony. This can also happen if they’re not physically close by of course, but it’s much more difficult.
There’s so much more out there. The human species has survived thus far because it knows how to stay together. There aren’t many other species that know how to stay together, organize themselves and care for each other, going beyond their defence mechanisms. So work isn’t just a way of producing more, it’s a way of building society. In our collective remote working, we’ve been able to produce things in a certain way. The social aspect has been dialled down. If that’s what we need, we can call it smart working.
This article was originally written by Riccarda Zezza and published on the Il Sole 24 Ore blog, Alley Oop. To read the original article (in Italian), please click here.