Challenged to Change Ourselves:
Embracing the Remote Revolution
In a matter of weeks, the pandemic has changed everything we thought we knew about the way workplaces work. Without any warning, we now face a remote revolution. What does it take to survive? As business leaders, we must rise to the challenge and change ourselves.
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“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
The pandemic has unraveled everything we thought we knew about the way workplaces work.
Toddlers are throwing toys during Zoom meetings (and it’s okay!); when work conferences pick up again, toe taps may be the new handshake. Without any warning, business-as-usual has vanished.
To succeed in these changing times, we must change ourselves.
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We are experiencing a remote revolution. It’s a fundamental shift in the nature of work and working; it’s a sea change representing a completely new and different way of doing business. With in-person interactions off the table in so many settings, the remote revolution will require traditional industries to embrace technology as a means of connecting and of producing results more efficiently than ever before.
Otherwise, ask yourself: “do I want to be Blockbuster?” Going from $800M in late fees collected to a crushing $900M in debt? Or, better yet, close your eyes and picture Kodak’s collapse: owning 90% of the U.S. film market and then facing these closing credits: bankruptcy.
In this new era, companies will discover and embrace working from home with the realization that employees don’t have to be in a physical office to function effectively. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, predicts: 25 to 30 million U.S. employees will be working from home regularly within the next two years. Above all, the remote revolution hinges on nimbleness, an end to the days of leaders getting stuck in their ways and insisting on approaches at odds with our new normal.
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Now is the time to rewrite the rulebook on technology, collaboration, data and ultimately culture. Why? Because the old systems broke overnight. And the cost of failing to adapt in this remote revolution isn’t lagging behind — it’s losing everything.
Still, I genuinely believe in the value of a glass-half-full perspective, of the potential to make work happier for everyone involved. In fact, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman says he feels confident his company’s temporary WFH policy has already revealed that the organization can run perfectly well with “much less real estate.”
Ultimately, the pandemic may force workplaces to work better for all of us, slashing commutes and increasing family time through flexible scheduling like we’ve never seen before. We also have a powerful opportunity to boost trust and enhance transparency by leveraging data to bridge physical divides. Imagine a workplace where the best information flows through the entire organization and quantitative insights spark the healthy debate we’ve all been dreaming up. By adapting in the remote revolution, we can work from anywhere with confidence.
Interestingly, we are witnessing rules in certain old-school industries flipping and loosening, almost overnight. These industries include education, healthcare and real estate.
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Schools across the U.S. have been swiftly forced into a new framework: distance learning. As the San Francisco Unified School District’s own example makes clear: there’s a wide-ranging approach to teaching kids from the comfort of a computer screen. Whereas some schools are opting for flexible blocks of time featuring pre-recorded lessons, others are requiring a universal lunch period and enforcing strict classroom hours.
No matter their approach, it’s clear public schools suddenly find themselves on the front lines of innovation. As their progress unfolds in real time, I’m inspired by the politicians who are working hard to address gaps in digital access: from Illinois releasing a map of Wi-Fi hot spots for families in need to Georgia devoting funding to buy laptops and provide software for both students and teachers.
In healthcare, we’ve seen telemedicine switch from “no” to “go!” Kaiser Health News highlights the explosive growth in telemedicine: from 50 virtual visits daily at NYU Langone Health in New York to a staggering 900 visits per day during the week of March 23.
It’s never been more important, after all, to assess patient needs far from crowded front offices or packed emergency rooms — spaces that may now be dangerous or even deadly. The time has come to experiment with efficiency in medicine; if we find that video appointments improve both the patient and doctor experience, then we’ve turned a distressing situation into genuine progress.
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Meanwhile, real estate, an industry dear to my heart, is witnessing a massive evolution in attitudes. As CEO of HappyCo, a company that provides solutions to the multifamily property management industry, I’ve been inspired to see real estate companies quickly shift their perceptions about the possibilities of working from home — and change their minds about the value of technology to improve daily operations. Zillow’s CEO, Rich Barton, recently tweeted: “my personal opinions about WFH have been turned upside down over the past 2 months. I expect this will have a lasting influence on the future of work.”
Interestingly, some in multifamily have been planting the seeds of the remote revolution for some time. In overseeing leasing and operations at properties across the country, regional managers in multifamily have been on the cusp of the revolution for quite a while. Every day, they interact with on-site teams by email, phone and a dizzying number of Excel spreadsheets.
In the pandemic, however, entering resident units represents a major health risk for tenants and property managers alike. So, I’ve been excited to see multifamily embrace new technology that allows teams to continue to work through this challenging period: from virtual leasing to resident-led inspections, which enables real-time visibility of apartment conditions without risking resident or staff safety.
When multifamily leaders recognize the power of technology in trying times, both residents and employees gain time and peace of mind. In this remote revolution, industry leaders have the chance to win big in brand loyalty — if they truly start seeing software as an asset. And, from there? Design changes that include creating more common areas for people to work from home, especially spaces that include closed-off cubicles, will bring things to the next level. Apartments with office rooms will also be clutch in this remote revolution.
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There’s no doubting that the remote revolution is changing the idea of intimacy in the workplace. Yes, we can’t share laughs in-person these days. But we can host Zoom lunches for birthdays, anniversaries and anything else we’d like to celebrate. Data won’t entirely replace physical interaction, but it will allow people more flexibility to unleash their creative sides.
One major change in the remote revolution is that leaders will all have to work harder to build rapport with colleagues. For example, we should make it a point to spend the first couple minutes of a Zoom call asking: how are you? Also, with the latest innovations in project management and collaboration software, we have newfound transparency to observe (and acknowledge!) all the great and varied work happening in our organizations; not just the bad news that surfaced when things didn’t go as planned.
This all spells a new era for culture: a time where praise becomes specific and meaningful, where recognizing quality work becomes the new normal. On that note, I see a deeply meritocratic change coming to workplaces. Before the pandemic, leaders may have felt they had all the right answers — squashing debate in favor of their own perspectives. Overnight though, many ideas once considered groundbreaking no longer apply, as we enter a new normal with very different rules of engagement. Acknowledging this sense of disorientation — and encouraging everyone to raise their hands with ideas — is the best way to change course.
Here’s where we can take inspiration from billionaire and Bridgewater Associates founder, Ray Dalio, who recently stressed: “the human capacity to adapt and invent and come out of this is much greater” than the current financial downturn. As he puts it, “one’s ability…to interact in a digital way and help that kind of thinking — either as an effective user of it or an effective builder of it…that’s going to be important.”
As more leaders begin to embrace this new normal, they will truly make work happier — and more productive — for everyone. The remote revolution represents a once-in-a-lifetime shift and adapting is our only choice. To succeed, we must change ourselves.
Viva la remote revolution!
This article was first published on Medium.