As we currently face the challenges of the COVID-19 (corona) virus, I see many individuals and teams being forced to rapidly go remote.  I’ve been resistant to post on the COVID-19 topic so as not to add to the noise.  However, some of the hype around remote work during this time has not been helpful.  This situation  prompted me to point out a few things around remote work.  

  • Remote Work is Not the Future (it’s an option)
  • Remote Work May Be Hurting and Not Helping 
  • Remote Working IS HERE (be patient, kind and helpful) 

Remote Work is Not the Future (it’s an option)

Some advocates of remote work are taking advantage of the unfortunate circumstances around COVID-19.  They are pushing predictions that this will be a tipping point to have many companies go remote.   Some seem to even be taunting people on social media.  Maybe that’s just my reaction.

While I write articles, blogs, and books on remote work, I have never felt remote work will be optimal for everyone.

When Johanna Rothman and I wrote our book on successful distributed agile teams, we targeted two audiences.  The first group consisted of distributed teams and organizations considering agile approaches to improve their collaboration and value deliver. 

The second group represented agile teams that have been asked to work remote.  This second group typically shows up when a team member may need to work remote for a while, or an expert/contractor is brought in to work with the team, or there is a merger or acquisition that causes companies and teams to merge at some point.

We did imagine extreme cases of this second scenario, but we did not want to sound alarmist.  However, the extreme case is amplified and accelerated with COVID-19.

We are now all remote.

Remote Work May Be Hurting and Not Helping

In a previous post, I mentioned the importance of choice in remote work.  This includes the choice to work remote.   However, the COVID-19 situation has forced many thousands of people to suddenly work from home.  It was not their choice.  

Using the Satir Change Model I described earlier, Many of these people find themselves at this point in the model.

The remote work that people have been forced into has challenged many assumptions about “productive work”.  Many are struggling with this challenge.  As Peter Senge said, “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.”  I’m seeing many people disoriented, confused and even angry about this shift to remote work.   

If people don’t find a way to still be productive and maintain social connections during this time, remote work during COVID-19 could polarize the debate even further.  The advocates and the detractors of remote work will find themselves further apart on the argument around merits of remote work.

Do we really need this now?  Do we need more arguments?  Do we need more polarization in our communities?


Remote Work IS HERE
(be patient, kind and helpful) 

There are some that are working through the disruption of being suddenly remote.  Transforming ideas emerge daily as people begin to “figure it out”.  This is represented by the diagram below.

Some are finding those transforming ideas to start experimenting with this new way of working. Below are some examples of teams adapting to the situation.

shared with permission from a popular agile Slack community
shared with permission from a popular agile Slack community
Thanks to Joe Astolfi for sharing on Twitter. Glad the book helped.
Disclosure: I nudged Marcelo to post this on LinkedIn after he texted me about his success. This was not to promote the book, but to promote how he was finding transforming ideas and applying them.

Some trainers, coaches and consultants are banding together to gain skills quickly to help others.

The amazing Liberating Structures community working together to co-learn and co-train on distributed facilitation. They were actually working with a group in Italy to help while learning. I’ve left the names of highly skilled consultant visible. More are ramping up.

Final Thoughts on Remote Work during COVID-19

Is remote work the future of work? Maybe for some of us.  Maybe for more of us after this?  Hard to say if we remain polarized.

I see distributed agile as one option for the future, not the path that all teams and companies will follow.

Working remote is how I prefer to work these days.  But I see no need to force people to work remote once the COVID-19 challenge has passed.  I still believe people should choose how they work best.

Currently, people do not have a choice.  So let’s do the best we can to help each other learn how to work effectively with this remote way of working.  Find a community you can share your struggles and successes.  Learn from each other.

I’m here to help.  How about you?

P.S., I purchased this poster earlier this year in London. Little did I realize how relevant it would be now.