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Those of us on the East Coast fortunate to not face tragic circumstances in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy quickly realized that to varying degrees our work lives would be disrupted. This of course, often goes in tandem with concern and assistance for friends, colleagues and family members who were affected.
Climate change may lead to many more events like this down the road. I posit that this shift -- along with the new technologies and work styles now available to us -- means that we should prepare for a future of work that finds us often "bunkering" and operating independently while remaining connected to the gears and channels of an organization.
We are in a digital age that allows nearly complete untethered freedom from fixed locations and work environments. Collaboration and interaction are still very valuable, and Google chat, IM apps, Skype and Telepresence mean that a reasonable approximation of face-to-face interaction is possible -- from a distance. New screens, devices, and media, will all make this event easier. Technology can make future natural disasters much less disruptive to business and productivity.
In the aftermath of Sandy, co-working spaces in NYC sprouted up, offering desks, warmth, and WiFi. Charlie O’Donnell of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures used Twitter to organize available office space with the hashtag “#sandycoworking."
And for those of you who didn't lose power, Internet or cell phone service during the storm, I ask: What were you doing? It’s likely that you were mostly doing exactly what you would have at the office. Hardy digital, tech and marketing companies were able to respond with agility, verve and a can-do spirit -- with team members working from home or temporary workspaces, even coffee shops and bars (if their homes lacked power).
In a recent article in AdAge, Marc Brownstein recounts the steady stream of communication and emails from those who were able to collaborate and work from home. He also points to the benefits of working outside the office to brainstorm and come up with new, creative ideas, which normally get pushed to the backburner.
This is not, however, a simple rehash of the potential benefits of telecommuting
I believe there is a new reality to start getting used to. As of right now, millions of us don’t know when it will be possible to resume a normal commute to our jobs in Manhattan again even as a lot of the lines begin to operate. But what is possible is to work remotely, in your home bunker, and do a pretty good job to boot. Globally, companies report a boost in productivity and morale when they allow staff to work from home.
Many of us are clearly very “home-centered” these days anyhow. As trend-spotter Faith Popcorn noted way back in the 1990s, the evolution of technology (and, our desires) has led to “cocooning” and work-at-home preferences. For urbanites especially, you now need not leave home for much of anything. Hungry? Order from Seamless. Want to watch a movie? Try iTunes, Netfix or Hulu. Get a book on your Kindle. Stay connected through Twitter. And, check out all those storm pictures folks are posting and reposting on Facebook -- making them feel as if they are witnessing the events firsthand, without leaving the sofa.
What will the office of the future look like?
Imagine a future where fuel and transportation costs are high, and we travel less to reduce our impact on the environment. Those are good reasons to work at home. Perhaps an inadequate infrastructure and climactic upheaval also conspire to make commuting challenging. Those would be very good reasons to work at home. As well, consider the cost savings for organizations that need less physical space, along with the benefit of reduced productivity losses during a weather emergency.
We on the East Coast have just experienced a weather calamity that was anticipated and very well planned for. Emergency services have been exemplary, and our first responders deserve the utmost praise. But think about what many of us have been doing over the past days thanks to the technology and media surrounding our lives and homes.
We can't control the weather but we can take measures to do what we can for business, and not let it control us. Now, as we face the challenge of getting back to normal and getting back to the office, it will be good for us to remember these past few productive days in our bunkers. We may be seeing more of them in the future.