Remote whiplash – when a good thing isn’t that good.

Earlier this year I joined WP Engine. I stepped out from a 100% remote company with a team size of ~50 into an organisation with 1,000+ employees mostly working in-office.

The week I started, WP Engine switched tracks and went 100% remote. Bloody COVID!

To WP Engine’s credit though, they have transitioned amazingly! They embraced the opportunity and leaned-in on their strong team culture to navigate the change and have since implemented plenty of operational changes that now see remote work as a big part of the future norm.

I watched all this happen and got super excited, not just for WP Engine, but for the greater work life of people everywhere! I’ve been a massive remote work advocate for years. I thought that this forced-hand moment was going to usher in a new work reality for the modern world and we would see more people enabled to embrace the upside of working remotely and more companies establish practices to offset the downside.

6 months later and I’ve tempered my optimism. A forced hand isn’t necessarily a helping hand!

It’s like going cold-turkey on a big diet change. Plenty of people may “know there’s a better way”, but how they go about change is what will determine success. A person who decided that enough-is-enough and that from “today” they will stop eating X and instead eat Y. Good for them! The decision, act of will, and follow-through set them up for success. It will be bloody hard – cravings, withdrawals, and all that – but they’re in control.

Counter that with having your cupboard raided and fridge stripped of all of X and replaced with Y… Situation is the same, but the circumstances, and certainly the frame of mind, is not.

There will be other companies like WP Engine out there. They had their proverbial office-centered fridge cleaned out and decided to carpe-diem their way through it and embrace the opportunity.

Looking further out though, I would think that human nature and our willingness to slump back into what’s easy will see far fewer companies than I initially thought take up the remote work banner. Too many companies, big ones in particular, will be just waaaaaaiiiiittttingg for the day they can just get back to normal. For many of them this is fair enough. They have experienced some serious whiplash.

I’m sad for the bad-taste 2020 will leave in many peoples mouth around remote work. However, I am excited for what can happen for the companies, and the individuals in them, that are finding a way to make a move on remote – that thing they were “going to get around to one day” and that was forced upon them.