Dear El Cardinale,

As people get used to Zooming and working from home in their pajamas, do you think the way we work has changed forever?

– Homer 

Dear Homer,

You are right in that we are likely to make some tweaks to our work habits because of the unprecedented order to work from home. However, I don’t think this will change the way we will work in the future.

To start, new habits are hard to form. Research shows it takes 21 days of conscious, enthusiastic, and consistent effort before a new habit is formed. I’m what I call a habit cultivator, and I know how difficult it is to create new ones. To some extent, the degree to which our working habits change will be tied to how long it is before the all-clear whistle blows.

There also are other factors to consider.

  • The fiefdom. The physical office is where the boss is, and he or she often likes his or her fiefdom. The person that pays your salary likes to see employees busy at work. Your employer also has a huge commitment to that fixed cost of the office that they don’t want to see wasted.

 

  • Long-term commitment of office space. Office leases are usually seven years long on the short end, with facility expenses usually being one of the top three expenses for any company, this represents a sunk cost that the company is going to want to use as an asset.

 

  • Lack of suitable infrastructure. I have an Asian client that is struggling now in part because they don’t have a lot of experience with working from home. Their residential areas do not have adequate bandwidth, and homes tend to be smaller, meaning less space for an office. I suspect they will return to working from an office setting as soon as their government allows it.

 

I view what’s happening now akin to when one takes a sabbatical. There are some occupations and cultures where every three years or so people are expected or offered the chance to take a month-long sabbatical. Some people study or conduct research in another country, while others may simply check out of their daily routine. When they come back, they may be refreshed or rejuvenated, and they may have new ideas. But typically the way they work hasn’t drastically changed.

By the way, Microsoft disagrees with me – here is a link to a deeper dive. But I am an Apple guy 😉

My suggestion is to enjoy this unexpected sabbatical that has been thrust upon us and to look forward to returning to a new normal with some new ideas and a fresh outlook.