Something profound has happened to how we think about knowledge work – “office work” dealing with intangibles – as a consequence of the pandemic.
I’m beginning to uncover pieces of the new paradigm.
A realisation today was that, for most office workers, knowledge work was seen before as a dance, a physical activity to be done together. I will come to your meeting if you’ll come to mine, shake your hands and do-si-do your partner.
Sure we have video conferencing facilities, but incorporating remote workers into a meeting is painful. You often can’t hear them properly or they can’t hear everyone in the room properly. They can’t see the whiteboard. You have to make special allowance for them. The remote people get neglected, left out of conversations within the room. It’s frustrating for everyone.
Then lockdowns came and suddenly we were all remote with nobody co-located. There was a revelation that video meeting works just fine when we are all remote.
Work is no longer seen as a dance where we need to move around each other in space. Online, work is a choir where we join together in sound, and to a very limited extent in sight of each other.
Now, nobody wants to return to the hybrid with some in a room and some remote, some dancing and some singing. (As an aside, if we are trying to mix remote people with those together in a building it’s sometimes better to put everybody on a camera and not even try to get some together in a room).
So now people are thinking that either we all stay remote or we all have to go back to the meeting room, and many don’t want to go back. The most gregarious amongst us are keen to mingle, but the majority are not. I’d rather sing from home than commute to a dance.
So many benefits to remote meetings, so few disadvantages. Advantages:
- work from anywhere
- no travel time (we don’t all work for the company)
- less pain if the meeting is cancelled.
- digital collaboration on Miro is actually better than a physical whiteboard. We all contribute at once. Shy people get input. The results are stored and digitised. etc
- psychological safety for the neurodiverse
- no hassle with meeting rooms
- infinitely scalable
- easy to bring others in at the last minute or even during he meeting…
- easy to have back channel conversations without disturbing others
- harder to talk over others
- back channel conversations
- hard to hear sometimes
- connectivity problems
But one downside is a monster: humans need to share air in order to property bond. At a lizard level, we need to come together.
I believe the money we save on office space can be well spent on paying for regular collaborate events. Or we can just do the one day in the office per week or month.
I really think the best model is for everyone to stay virtual, except for regular bonding events.
Use a virtual whiteboard. For collaboration I now prefer it to a real one. I’d only use a real whiteboard now if only one person was writing.
And perhaps all stay at your desks use a camera and ear buds, so it’s a level playing field of engagement.