If the last year has taught us anything, it is that predicting the future is a dangerous game. However now parts of the world are starting to emerge from the long shadow of COVID-19. With that shift there are lots of different interests coming to bear on what the future of work and business could look like.
I’m Maya, the founder of Healthy Happy Homeworking. After more than twenty years of working from home, including extensive consulting and training with remote teams, I decided to set up Healthy Happy Homeworking to advocate for choice for individuals working from home (whether employed or self-employed). I believe working from home can work well for most people, businesses and organisations.
As a lifestyle choice, it can unlock undreamed-of freedom and flexibility for the remote worker. For the organisation it can offer better access to a wider talent pool, more motivated workers, more inclusivity and cheaper overheads. However, it needs to be planned, resourced and supported properly, not forced on people unwilling and unprepared.
Planning, resourcing and supporting remote work
This means the creation of sustainable strategies for collaboration, instead of a hastily thrown together response to an emergency — circumstances under which many businesses have operated more than 12 months. Back in the ‘BC’ days I used to work with managers to plan and pilot and evaluate remote working schemes, often over months at a time — but if you were working in an office anywhere in the world in the first quarter of 2020, the continuity plan was probably along the lines of ‘everyone grab a laptop, go home, and get online however you can. We’ll figure out how to share stuff and collaborate safely as we go along’.
On the face of it, it’s amazing that it worked as well as it did. It was often down to superhuman efforts and ingenuity, from varied teams and individuals. Everyone rose to the challenge, and kept going somehow. Heroes come in so many professional guises.
But nobody can stay in that fight-or-flight response situation forever. Stress and burnout has been the price for many. We have never been through a year like this, and for lots of expats it was particularly challenging.
If your lifestyle is depended on living and working somewhere you wouldn’t normally call home, travels could have been abruptly curtailed. For some it meant a hasty decision as to where ‘home’ really lay to start with. Short placement turned into lengthy lockdowns, and spending far longer than anticipated separated from loved ones.
How will it change things for expats
This new shift to more flexible and distributed ways of working could ultimately serve the expat world extremely well. It’s important that everybody understands how to make the most of the opportunities it offers in order to make them work for them. This might mean a chance to experiment with entrepreneurship and new business opportunities, but in lots of cases it can mean working at a distance for other businesses and organisations.
If you are ‘living the expat life’ because of a work placement then you can surely continue in that role because it requires you to be in a particular place that originally required relocation. Other jobs, however, are increasingly becoming recognised as not dependent on being in one place. This is even happening in organisations which traditionally resisted remote working.
The data in the pudding is proven, and no one can say that it can’t be done. And if you don’t have to be in a particular office any more, then what is to stop the work being done from further afield, perhaps much more than your regular commuter distance?
This gives more and more people, with different professional backgrounds, the chance to live wherever they want. More importantly it is opening up vastly increased opportunities to partners of those on overseas placements, to follow rich and diverse career paths of their own, wherever life takes them geographically. It will also allow entrepreneurship to thrive regardless of location.
Getting organisations on board
Of course there are some organisations that can’t wait to get everyone back to the office and promptly curtail those freedoms, out of a sense of… Well, what exactly?
There are many different factors. Nostalgia to some extent, a sentimental dream of a return to the ‘before’ times, that we all miss for different reasons. During the COVID-19 crisis while some organisations thrived working remotely, others really struggled. While they may have maintained productivity they seriously lost out in terms of morale and motivation.
Some managers have never learned how to connect and communicate effectively. How to support and manage the work and personnel over distance, and get beyond a sense of winging it. Others have spent the entire time steadily frustrating and stressing each other out with unrealistic expectations, surveillance and equipment.
So, there’s a big debate going on quietly in every boardroom in the world right now, which could spell new opportunities for expats — or a change you never sought in the first place.
What is best for you?
The future of work is changing if you like it or not. If there was ever a good time to keep your options open, now is certainly one. It’s also a great time to take step back and think about what YOU want, from your work, your life, your location, and your future.
At Healthy Happy Homeworking we encourage every knowledge-worker to get clear on their own needs and preferences, and design the lifestyle of their dreams doing meaningful work wherever they choose to base themselves. Prepare yourself to ask your employer for what you want. Don’t settle for what they think you need. Educate yourself around best practices and the range of possibilities, so you can argue your case.
I’ve created a short ebook about the hybrid future of work to help readers participate meaningfully in the conversation. It fill of information that will help you be able to advocate for yourself or your organised when it comes to working from home. Yay For Today readers can get a free copy of it right here.