The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard for millions of people around the world, but it’s also presented entrepreneurs and innovators with an opportunity for transformation—a chance to rethink how we work and interact with others. Millions of businesses that never would have otherwise considered operating remotely switched to a remote work model as a precaution to keep their employees safe (and/or comply with local lockdown orders), and countless employees have discovered that working from home is not just luxurious—it’s also more productive.
And to be sure, there are many benefits to working from home, both for employees and employers. Employees get to skip the rush-hour traffic and lengthy commutes, they get to spend more time with their families, they have more control over their workspaces, and in many cases, they have more flexible hours. Employers get to save on costs, minimize employee turnover, and benefit from increased productivity organization-wide. These benefits are so powerful that many organizations are considering switching to working from home full-time.
All of this is made possible thanks to modern technology; we have reliable, fast internet connections, amazing devices and software capable of advanced functions like streaming video and managing stable audio, and thousands of platforms that can help us stay organized. The unfortunate thing is, working from home isn’t universally more productive or beneficial—and it’s this very technology that’s responsible for the downsides.
There’s a clear threat to the remote work culture that’s been developing for the past several months, and it stems from several interrelated problems with the technology we’re using to manage it. This threat is dangerous because it’s lurking surreptitiously; it’s not obvious on the surface, but it’s slowly chipping away at our ability to work and interact with each other in an effective way.
Let’s examine some of these core problems, how they’re affecting our remote work environment, and how we could overcome them to build a better future for ourselves.
One of the biggest problems here is what we’ll call “poorly optimized substitutions.” In the physical work environment, we’re used to doing work in a specific way, but this isn’t always possible or productive in a digital work environment. For example, let’s say you held a team meeting every morning for 30 minutes, wherein you’d all touch base, set an agenda for the day, and split off to different workstations.
In a remote environment, you don’t naturally run into each other, nor do you have a physical meeting room. Many businesses respond to this by providing a substitute: in this case, a 30-minute video call. The problem is, this video call won’t work as well as the in-person meeting; you’ll be dealing with inferior video and audio, less consistent participation, interruptions, and other issues. In the end, this forces you to spend more time, get less done, and keep up routines and rituals that you probably didn’t need in the first place. Instead of reinventing work for a digital environment, too many employers are simply substituting inferior options for what they had before, and it’s wrecking productivity.
Working from home is possible in part because of the sheer number of communication platforms available to organizations. Employees can stay in touch with each other using project management platforms, instant message platforms, emails, chat rooms, video calls, and regular phone calls. It’s great, because each medium has its own pros and cons, and you can call upon different mediums for different situations and needs.
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