Why the massive remote working experiment during the Coronavirus crisis is doomed to failure

By: Sergio Salgado & Antonio Blanco-Gracia ( PantheonWork)

Those of you who, like us, are working or simply interested in issues related to the culture of organizations, will also be paying attention these days to this topic derived from the one topic that takes up everything: country after country, the coronavirus crisis has been forcing for a month and a half the biggest remote work experiment we have ever seen. In fact, it is very likely that you are participating in this experiment. And many people are doing it for the first time.

We who write this have been working from home for years (and from wherever it is necessary) and we will try to explain in the most synthetic way possible why we believe that this experiment is doomed to failure and, above all, what are the ingredients of this disaster.

As an alternative we propose the obvious: let’s not evaluate ourselves by how we are managing remote working but by how we are managing a crisis. Remote work will serve to deal with this crisis, not to avoid it. Check your expectations about remote working.

On the other hand, don’t look for a magic recipe or a master tool. The key to remote working- like the key to work — is practices, not tools. Here are some of the most basic ones. The hard part is identifying our needs. Once this is done, it is very easy to find the right tool.

This is not about productivity. It’s about public health

We do not know what the impact, duration, effectiveness or depth of the measures that will be taken to stop the Coronavirus will be. We are not experts in that. We are experts in organizational culture, but even for us this experiment is not the priority. It may seem obvious but it is not: health comes first. The causes of this peculiarity in organizational environments is not or should not be saving the economy, maintaining productivity or even saving our organization however much it hurts. We are taking these annoying and costly measures to protect others and especially the most vulnerable.

The global remote work experiment will be a failure and it should be because the goal is to stop, close, slow down and reduce our activity to what is essential to save lives. Not keeping pace with remote working Anyone who tries it is condemned to failure ethically and strategically.

This is not about what you do. It’s about what everyone else does

Your health during an epidemic depends not only on your behaviour, but on the behaviour of others. Your productivity during remote working, too.

Human realities are networked. It doesn’t matter if you or your organization are used to remote working and you can continue as if nothing is happening. Something is happening. It doesn’t matter that I am used to working intensively in August and at Christmas. I do this every year, bearing in mind that the rest of my network is at a standstill in August and at Christmas. Otherwise my work will be sterile. You can take advantage of August for many things, even to move forward with some more than you normally would, but you cannot do it as if it were not August

If you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans

China is the world’s largest exporter. The impending disruptions in supply chains are likely to cause disruption to all organizations in the coming weeks.

But there is something else. The Chinese New Year and the cycle of celebrations that follow it are a kind of Spanish August in the Chinese calendar. This year that August is already lasting twice as long but at least previously they had prepared to stop for a month. Another effect is that they will have to postpone the planning of their year. This second August catches us in the middle of March. It will not be consecutive as it has been in China. As for the plans we had made for the whole year in September or January… they have just been left on paper. The coronavirus is already the black swan of 2020 and who knows if it will end up being the black swan of the last decade.

There is no magic tool that will solve everything

There is a common place in many organizations that leads them to seek that magic tool that allows information to flow internally in an optimal way and communicate the results of the organization’s work to the outside. That tool does not exist (and if it does, the learning curve would be infinite). The real solution is much less magical. Against the fetishism of the tools we claim the organizational culture that takes shape in protocols, netiquettes, FAQs … as the key to success.

These are the practices we have observed in organizations that successfully adapt to changes in the environment. More info here

These are the practices we have observed in organizations that successfully adapt to changes in the environment. More Info

Any experiment that entrusts its success to the virtues of a new tool is doomed to failure in a normal situation. In a situation like this, it is destined for disaster. We suggest that organizations manage this situation with the tools they already have and know. It is advisable to minimize the introduction of new things and to postpone the adoption of new tools.

Remote working does not exist. Well, it kind of does, like Santa Clause

What we propose is that the framework of remote working is much worse than a wrong framework. It is just a magic word that we will use to try and keep things as they are. If there is anything we have learned over the last 20 years and what some companies are now beginning to realise is that there is no divide between the Internet and the real world. The Internet is no exception. Working during this crisis will not require a move to another environment. It will require continuing to deepen the native-digital practices that we have consciously or unconsciously, voluntarily or forcibly been applying for two decades. This crisis will test our organizational culture, but the test will not be about how far we can maintain productivity by remote working but about how far we are able to identify our critical processes, discern our priorities and cope with this crisis.

Let’s keep working in a network. Organizational changes will happen on their own.

Researching organizational theory useful for p2p organizations. https://pantheon.work/en/ https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/author/antonio-blanco-gracia

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