Is Social Distancing The Future of Work?
Social distancing might not just be a four-week thing
There was a time when work was so straightforward: one would clock-in, get his or her work done and clock-out. Then somewhere down the line of humanity’s development, gray areas started to appear: What about those that could—or had to—work remotely? What about the sales employees whose time really couldn’t be quantified? What about the parents who had to take care of a child with chickenpox, but could still hand in their deliverables from home?
Then came the current mandates: social distancing, enhanced community quarantine, the closing of recreational areas, the locked doors of office buildings and schools the world-over. One would think that everything would come crashing down, but it hasn’t. There are theories of economic dips—some of which are likely to become a reality—but most of us are (hopefully) doing our part to keep things afloat.
After all, what else are Zoom, Google Hangouts, Viber groups and high-speed internet for?
So we ask: Is social distancing the future of work?
It is no secret that some of us have found the benefits of working from home. The luckier ones of us have been sleeping more, have more energy, have been spending more time with family. Then, of course, there are the struggles of not having a proper work space, having to entertain kids, the not-so-reliable internet connection. But as the days pass and as we get the hang of things a little bit more, the possibility of this becoming our norm (post-quarantine) becomes more and more realistic.
Is it possible that companies might consider this time of social distancing as some sort of pseudo enforced trial to work-from-home?
There are people who thrive in the home environment and who prefer the comfort of their couch over an expensive desk chair. They worry less about their family because they can keep an eye on them, are responsible with the breaks they take and are capable of putting in the hours that their output demands.
If all of us were like these people, then the more modern companies would see the incentive to become more lenient with the in-office hours. Perhaps this time might be the realization that, “Hey, my people can deliver from their homes—maybe even better—and I can trust them to do get the work done.”
Unfortunately, the story is not the same for everyone and the equation of productivity is not absolute. Even if we prove ourselves resilient enough to keep things above water, there will be individuals who insist on getting to a desk at 9AM, prefer face-to-face meetings and want to ensure that their employees are clocking in the hours that they are being paid for.
After all, no matter what happens, there will be certain individuals who will take advantage of not being within eyesight of their bosses. They’ll take longer breaks or do errands between video calls and the standard of their output might suffer. And this doesn’t mean to throw shade at anyone at all; some just work better with that little bit of added pressure—and it just doesn’t quite translate digitally.
Nevertheless, even before this uncertain and honestly sometimes overwhelming COVID-19 situation, some bigger companies were already giving individuals the option to work from home. Startups were all about working however their intimate group of employees thrived in. So if we’re asking whether or not social distancing will remain after the checkpoints are gone and the virus is contained, the answer is likely no. Or, at least, I don’t think this period will be the catalyst for the change.
But, if we’re talking in the distant future, then yes—and I hope so. There is so much potential to this setup if only we treat it carefully. And these benefits go way beyond the workspace: Imagine decongested streets and cities with breathable air because not everyone is on the same roads at the same times, imagine kids who see their parents for more than an hour on the weekdays; think of the possibilities for persons with disabilities, or young parents who can’t afford help, or those with social anxiety.
The potential benefits are endless. We just need to find that sweet spot. So for now, make the most of the situation, stay at home and stay productive.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver