I vividly remember the first time I was issued a BlackBerry smartphone back in the 2000s for work. I’d read emails while in line at the Pita shop during lunch hour, formulating a plan and response before I returned to my desk to reply. For emails that required a quick response, I’d hammer out a response on the BlackBerry keyboard while in line. And having access to my Outlook calendar on the BlackBerry meant that I could view, schedule and prioritize my tasks anywhere. There was never any doubt in my mind that it made me far more productive.
For email and calendaring, the BlackBerry untethered us from the physical office. Mobile email and calendaring is ubiquitous today, but we instead use Android or iPhone. The productivity benefits, however, are the same.
The recent pandemic took this to a whole new level by untethering many of us entirely from the physical office. Instead of mobile email and calendaring, it gave us remote desktop-style computing from anywhere (work-from-home, work-from-cottage, work-from-backyard, work-from-Tim-Hortons-parking-lot-with-free-WiFi). Video conferencing software replaced in-person meetings, and virtual private networks (VPNs) allowed us to use computers at home to access the systems and data hosted in our organization.
It worked well. And for many of us, working from home made us far more productive. In fact, the productivity gains that remote work afforded me this past year have continually reminded me of that first time I got a BlackBerry. Here is what I’ve noticed:
- Interruptions are easier to manage because it’s all software-based. No more having people repeatedly ping you on Slack and then hover 2 feet behind your chair until you turn around.
- Meetings are shorter more meaningful. People come better prepared and attentive, and meetings are focused on training and other discussions where questions and feedback are expected or encouraged. Gone are most of those meetings that could have been an email.
- No commute-related stress. Getting ready in the morning is much easier, and there’s no frantic drop-everything dash to beat rush hour traffic on the way home.
- Life issues are easier to deal with. Mainly because you don’t have to leave work to deal with them. You live at work.
- It’s easier to organize and work on mind-intensive tasks at your optimal time. In other words, multi-tasking and prioritizing are easier, which ultimately means you get more done in less time and with more consistency.
It remains to be seen how many organizations embrace work-from-home in the long term. But I imagine that certain job roles will be work-from-home (less office space/costs), and that many organizations will allow certain positions to be remote if it allows for more productivity. As a tech worker, I can see most tech positions falling into these categories, but I’m sure we’ll see it in other areas as well. Regardless, it will be an interesting next few years, and work-from-home will be as ubiquitous for some job roles as mobile email and calendaring.