Are There Any Positives About Pandemic-Caused Remote Work?

Five positives that come from the disruption of working virtually.

Posted Oct 17, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic caused many businesses in the U.S. and around the world to switch to remote work. Teams had to quickly move from face-to-face work in offices to Zoom (or another virtual platform) meetings and online coordination of activities. After many months of this, we are constantly hearing about “Zoom fatigue” and workers being stressed out from remote work (not to mention going “stir crazy” from the lockdown).

But, are there any positive lessons that we can derive from the transition to remote work and virtual meetings?

We recently convened a virtual (of course) advisory board meeting for our leadership institute, and had a panel of noted executive leaders address COVID leadership challenges. Here are five positives associated with pandemic-caused remote work:

1. Assessment of Work Team Quality.  As one executive stated, “you know that you’re on a good team if people pull together during the bad times.” The pandemic can be viewed as something like a test for work teams. Teams of high quality were able to meet the challenges of remote work/meetings and make it succeed. Some teams had a very tough time or were unable to adapt, and that may have had more to do with underlying problems with the team and team dynamics than the immediate crisis created by the pandemic.

2. Opportunity to Innovate. The challenge of having to do teamwork while dispersed and locked down at home offered the chance for some teams to try new ways of getting work done. Some tasks that used to be done in long, group meetings were now accomplished individually, or in pairs communicating electronically. Of course, everyone had the opportunity to upgrade their skills in remote communication, and develop innovative ways of exchanging information.

3. Chance to Get to Know Coworkers Better. In many fast-paced companies, there was little time to learn much about coworkers except from what they showed or talked about at the office. Seeing team members via video in their homes, dealing with childcare (or petcare) issues, and being exposed to their “living quarters” has led to us finding out more about the non-work lives of our fellow teammates.

4. Opportunity to Slow Down. Not being able to travel for meetings, led one executive to say “I’m not on a plane all day” anymore. This in itself allows more time to work, but also to relax. Some companies encouraged employees to take stored-up vacation time, and this allowed some workers to take a break (even if it was a “staycation”). Of course, a danger is that remote work might actually increase time spent on the job because you can work from anywhere—even the beach if there’s Wi-Fi!

5. Reflection on the Future. Finally, several corporate leaders said that the pandemic and switch to virtual work caused them to think about team processes going forward. Will there be less business travel for face-to-face meetings? Which things can be done remotely and which beg for live, co-located interaction.

Of course, the pandemic has caused spikes in unemployment and has been a financial catastrophe for many individuals and families. The hope is, however, that we can derive positive lessons even from this unavoidable disruption.

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