If nothing else, these past few weeks we've learned that as a whole, Americans are quite resourceful when it comes to figuring out how to adapt and stay productive, even in extraordinary circumstances. You have to admit that it's impressive how well millions of Americans have adjusted to working from home. OK, maybe "adjusted" is a little generous, but we've made it work for the most part.
One of the biggest questions is what happens when things get back to "normal?" Or, maybe more important, what will normal even mean? A report Microsoft released on Thursday suggests remote work is here to stay, and the company has the data to back it up.
Some of that data is pretty incredible. For example, Microsoft says it saw an increase of 12 million users in the first week of stay-at-home orders. That means there are now over 44 million people using Microsoft Teams to stay connected to their, well, teams.
At the end of March, Microsoft says the number of minutes of meetings held with Teams increased threefold over March 15, for a total of 2.7 billion minutes. In one day. That's a lot of meetings.
It's also a lot of people getting a lot of work done, all without the structure of an office. There's no doubt that while the shift to working remotely has been a challenge, tools like Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams have made it relatively easy to stay connected and productive. And those same tools are likely to play a big role in how companies figure out how to keep their employees productive.
Microsoft points out that in areas of the world that have started to return to work, many people continue to work remotely. There are probably a variety of reasons, including that people may just be hesitant to return to an office when it's hard to know if it's truly safe to do so.
But there's also a case to be made that if we've proven many types of work can be done remotely, why go back? Working remotely just works. It is, in many cases, better for both the employees and the company. It allows people the freedom to choose the type of schedule and work environment that helps them thrive.
There are plenty of small and mid-size businesses that were already mostly, if not entirely remote. There's no question technology has provided us with tools that make many of the reasons for an office mostly obsolete. For example, I manage a fully remote team, and we are able to collaborate and communicate as well as if we were working in an office--maybe even better.
I tend to think Microsoft is right, that the shift is more than just a trend, but rather a rethinking of what it means to be productive. We've reconsidered how to balance productivity and flexibility. At some point, life will return to some form of normal. Like Microsoft, I won't be surprised if that doesn't necessarily mean that we'll all return to the office.