The first iteration of business was simple. In pre-historic times, Crag might offer to trade a day-old fish to his neighbor Blug for a saber-toothed tiger steak. This was face-to-face, one-on-one barter at its best. We’ll call it Business 1.0. Several thousand years later, we built office buildings and packed as many people as we could into them. This centralized workforce model we’ll call Business 2.0.
Now in the early part of the 21st century, a pandemic called Covid has come along and, thanks to the development of the internet, allowed us to work at home in isolation. This is Business 3.0. The tricky part is that the idea is so new that no one really knows how it will play out,
Are we looking at a flash in the pan or a genuine game-changer? We’re guessing game-changer and here’s why.
High-Speed Internet for All
Here’s the problem in modern America and much of the world. While most states have at least a few population centers with state-of-the-art broadband service options, the kind of high-speed access needed to offer the same remote work opportunity for all often stops at the city limit. In Florida, major metro areas can expect to regularly hit 1 Gbps for both download and upload speeds on a fiber optic connection, which is plenty fast for any kind of work.
But when you drift into the more rural part of the state, let’s say Alford, Fort Green, or Laurel Hill, the best speed drops to 30 Mbps on average. That’s not really fast enough to reliably join a video conference with your co-workers. The same urban vs, rural pattern holds true for most areas. But there’s a good chance that a Covid-enhanced distributed workforce could be the momentum that motivates service providers to expand their infrastructure to the farms and small towns.
A New World of Tools
At first glance, the typical tools required for successful remote work seem too hard to learn, especially to a typical office worker who knows their way around a computer but isn’t a tech nerd and hasn’t had the need to dive into Zoom, Slack, or G Suite file collaboration. This enforced stay-at-home period is likely to require people to learn how to use these tools or they won’t have a job.
To go a step further, remote work has been steadily increasing in popularity over the last decade, and the accompanying tool industry has increased to keep pace. But with the remote workforce increased by millions almost overnight, expect a boom in supporting technology as software companies seek to fill the market void that will surely appear. If you thought there were too many choices before, just wait.
Business Leadership and Agility Will be Tested
Beginning with the industrial revolution, the tendency of business was to grow ponderous, slow to react, and adopt a static organizational structure. The current reality is anything but that and it will be the agile who will survive and thrive. Expect all the same challenges as before, only they will be even more critical because the team is dispersed. Maintaining motivation and pursuing creativity will require new tactics.
Even the idea of the simple weekly meeting has been upended. While the manager can still stand at the front of the room and drone on the same as before, it will be an even greater test to keep all employees engaged when they take in the view from the other side of a laptop screen. There’s a good chance that inclusive meetings will become fewer and further between, replaced by short one-on-one real-time chats or quick Slack calls.
A New World of SOPs
Once the immediate health emergency is behind us, business is not likely to slide back into the old standard operating procedures because they will be irrelevant in a distributed work world. Just a few factors to consider:
- Less work-mandated travel
- More white-collars working from home
- Reduced human contact and emphasis on sanitation for blue-collars
- Local and regional supply chains replace global relationships
Recent disruptive periods have seen upheavals like a shift to having more part-time workers in order to reduce health insurance costs. We can expect the same thing to happen after Covid has passed, though the specifics of the shakeout are harder to predict. There’s one thing we can say with absolute conviction. Things will be different.
You’ve probably heard the term “silo” used in relation to the business world in recent years. Organizations who remain trapped in the silo mentality and aren’t able to think “outside the building” will likely become the first casualties in the new world of work. Those who can focus on the wider system will have an easier time of it and be set up to thrive in the future.