A casually dressed young woman working from home on a laptop, stretched out on a sofa next to a coffee table with a mug and some small potted plants.
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Welcome to the remote working revolution no one wanted

16 Mar 2020

This is not the great remote working experiment we asked for, but it’s what we’ve got. And it might just help us realise that it takes a village, not a single company, to enable a remote workforce, writes Elaine Burke.

Here at Silicon Republic, we were planning our own remote working revolution for 2020. We had hoped to convince businesses to trial a work from home week to really see if this proposed transformation of the way we work was feasible.

Now, of course, we have entered the remote working revolution whether we like it or not. While some resistant businesses would have rather been dragged kicking and screaming into this phase, we are in unprecedented times where resistance to remote working is futile.

That’s not to say all businesses were prepared for last week’s Government-sanctioned work-from-home period. Our small, nimble operation was ready to work from home as soon as An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD, made the recommendation before lunchtime on Thursday (12 March). But even multinational corporations were much the same, with global workforces of thousands and even hundreds of thousands sent to work from home. Some, however, don’t even have company laptops and the reality is that not all jobs that could be done remotely have been enabled to do so.

We’re not cheerfully waving in a paradigm shift and getting on board willingly. This has been thrust upon international workforces in the midst of sobering circumstances, and so the negative effects are even more keenly felt.

Remote working is not a blanket solution for the modern workforce. There are plenty of jobs that can’t be done remotely and we are all, I hope, seeing the importance of these workers in light of recent events. From the heroic front line of healthcare and our vital education and childcare professionals, to the retail staff and service workers who keep our daily lives ticking over with a comforting sense of normality and routine, remote working is an option for some only because these people keep the rest of the world turning.

Reports of small businesses such as cafés and lunch spots suffering immediately the loss of footfall from massive office blocks hit home the fragile ecosystem of our daily working lives. We are all in this together.

Since Thursday, more workers have been sent home but not to set up a workstation in their kitchen or living room. Job losses have already taken effect as pubs, restaurants, cafés, cinemas and more begin to close due to a combination of safety concerns and dramatic loss of business.

‘This is not the remote working revolution we were looking for’

The utopic remote working vision is one of thriving towns and villages as a result of decentralised workforces. The situation we find ourselves in, however, is far from idyllic. This is not the remote working revolution we were looking for.

This is a scramble to sustain businesses through a global health crisis, and hope it doesn’t become another widespread economic meltdown. Tensions and anxieties are high and the ability to destress in social settings has been dramatically limited.

For now, at least, we can still go for a walk. And, most importantly, we can still make the decision to be kind and understanding to one another. We can be patient with co-workers now balancing a home life that combines their professional and parenting sides. We can be understanding of each other’s mental health in a trying time. We can be supportive of the small businesses, gig workers and freelancers who are already hitting on hard times.

The future of work and the success of remote working requires community. It’s not isolated workers interacting only with machines 24/7. You can’t have effective remote collaboration without a collective mindset, and that frame of thinking applies across the ecosystem.

These events will pass and we can emerge with a newfound understanding of everyone’s important role in the day to day. To dismantle the sense of the individual at work for themselves and instead embed the idea of us all playing our part together is the real revolution.

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Elaine Burke
By Elaine Burke

Elaine Burke was editor of Silicon Republic until 2023, and is now the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. Elaine joined Silicon Republic in 2011 as a journalist covering gadgets, new media and tech jobs. She later served as managing editor before stepping up as editor in 2019. She comes from a background in publishing and is known for being particularly pernickety when it comes to spelling and grammar – earning her the nickname, Critical Red Pen.

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