Martin Read asks whether COVID-19 might force the wholesale adoption of the remote working paradigm.
Here it is, then. The single, unavoidable worldwide event that could finally be the tipping point for remote working among knowledge-work businesses. A mandate by government to reduce office staff to the bare bones and conduct all normal activity in diffuse teams; and a situation in which those who manage by proximity to their managed are forced into accepting an output-based approach.
We've been here before, of course. London 2012 saw a concerted campaign to convince firms to adopt dispersed flexible working, albeit temporarily, while others loudly trumpeted experiments by major organisations have seen short-term success. Yet we've seen major knowledge-work employers pull the plug on all-out remote working pilot schemes for fear of losing their company's very sense of company.
It's not about the kit. We have the technology to allow 'always-on' video conferencing, instant messaging tools and any manner of other ways to technologically glue teams together. The revolution in broadband capacity over the last five years has seen off any last pockets of concern about reliability.
Which means that all the remaining challenges to remote working are human: the management and make-up of teams; entrenched organisational structures; a fear of individuals being 'out of sight, out of mind'; and, for some, a lack of natural self-discipline. Managers and the managed can find they are naturally unsuited to this way of working.
Of course, FMs know it can work. Look at, for example, how mobile maintenance teams are run. The difference for office working is that the very essence of an organisation's structure can be affected by this full-fat form of flexible working. Remote working can mean more autonomy for each team member in a flatter management hierarchy.
Might COVID-19 force the wholesale adoption of the remote working paradigm? It'll nudge it forward, for sure. There may well be a more accepting attitude to remote management, which in turn will affect how future facilities are procured, sized and managed. Nevertheless, the office as social and cultural heart of a knowledge work operation, with all the sense of belonging it confers, will survive these extraordinary times.
Martin Read is editor of Facilitate Magazine