The COVID-19 pandemic has forced hundreds of thousands to work from home.
In many cases, the experience has been surprisingly positive. As a result, many workplace experts predict that “teleworking” will become a permanent feature.
That’s a promising prospect for companies hoping to reduce overheads while maintaining, perhaps even improving, corporate efficiency. Some planners even question the future viability of office buildings altogether.
“Working from home has been a paradigm smashed,” says Craig Applegath, founding principal of Canadian design studio Dialog. “It’s probably the most impactful event that has happened in my career. It has changed just about everything we are doing.”
Not everyone agrees. The complexity of ICI project design, management and construction means teleworking may not be the answer for everyone and every company in the building industry.
ZOOM meetings are one thing, but one-on-one interaction is another.
“Ours is a relationship-based business,” says Derek Goring, executive vice-president of development at Northcrest Developments. “You can maintain relationships in the short term over the Internet, but building new ones, mentoring and helping younger people come along in the industry is much more difficult to do.”
“One of the biggest things lost in remote work is chance meetings,” programmer, writer and technology investor Paul Graham tweets. “These are very important, but hard to quantify. If you measure productivity on individual projects, everything will seem fine. Yet when you read stories of how things happened, chance meetings were often crucial.”
There are also practical issues affecting those salaried employees forced to telework who are not part of the executive suite.
“Many people, especially in large cities, don’t have extra space to set up a proper home office,” says Goring. “They’re making do, working at dining room tables, in bedrooms or on decks. You can make it work for a few weeks because there’s really no alternative, but that’s not a suitable long-term solution for many people.”
Furthermore, behavioural psychologists suggest that social separation from distractions at home, coupled with a disciplined balance between work and break times, are required in order to maximize the efficient use of time.
Beyond these human factors, cyber security is also vitally important. Applegath describes how his firm’s practise has evolved from five studios across the country to over 600, due to teleworking. This immediately raises questions about Internet access and data security.
“Organizations of all kinds are facing an uptick in email-based threats, endpoint-security gaps and other problems as a result of the sudden switch to a fully remote workforce,” William Altman, senior analyst at the Global Cyber Center of NYC, told Forbes magazine. “It’s now more important than ever to consider both the security practitioner as well as ethical-hacker perspectives in order to stay secure.”
For starters, not every employee has access to the same level of Internet connectivity as that available in the office. Firewall protections are not likely to be as robust either. As a result, remote work policies need to be put in place, plus a focus on strong Internet practices, if proprietary software and sensitive corporate data is allowed to be accessed from an employee’s home.
Experts suggest Internet procedures such as avoiding any public WiFi hotspots and instead, creating personal hotspots within personal cellphone plans, using VPN’s (Virtual Personal Networks) available through subscription, and setting up encrypted remote connections.
Remote workers must be reminded to use their employer-provided computer or laptops exclusively for their work — introducing a personal computer, even for short, last-minute emails, offers a potential gateway for cyber attackers.
Giving remote workers access to a portal or remote access environment like Office 365, and dual-factor access authentication protocols, also adds a layer of cyber protection.
A company-specific evaluation of both the potential work efficiency gains and individual human impacts may, in fact, result in a home/in-office hybrid solution.
“I think more people will work from home on a case-by-case basis, but that doesn’t mean you don’t provide space for them in an office,” says Goring.
John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont. based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.