A planetary experiment in remote work.

For the last half decade, discussions of the ‘future of work’ have populated the landscape. Driven by a perceived automation of work, new organizational forms and technological affordances, heightened dynamics of global competition, and a pressing need for meaning and purpose in the workplace, the future of work has spawned a cottage industry of perspectives across news media, industry, and academia.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced one vector on the future of work in particular – remote work – often underemphasized, inescapably to the fore. Whether it was desired or not, remote-first is now the default for many kinds of communicational, cognitive, and immaterial tasks. Work has become less bound by physical location, and more distributed across time and space. It is as though the pandemic were accidentally running a comparative experiment in distributed organizations –  testing and revealing what works and what doesn't in managing organizations that no longer meet in the same locations daily. 

At the same time, many kinds of work, including many physical, emotional, and logistical tasks, continue to be done in person and exposed to higher risks, even as protocols are implemented and improved. These tasks affect different groups, including women, minorities, and economically disadvantaged groups, in different ways. The working landscape of tomorrow will involve a range of hybrid arrangements – mixtures of remote and in-person tasks. Different situations will call for different solutions. 

As we look ahead to a world beyond this pandemic, what new practices, rituals, tools, platforms, protocols, organizational forms, and environments will shape our work futures? 

Published on April 27th 2021