The Importance of Being Present in the Future of Work
By Pete Rawlinson.
A few short months ago, a normal Monday dawned and millions of people across the world woke, showered, dressed, and left for work. We crammed into buses and trains, and drove cars on packed roads, all making our way to various buildings in which we toiled for the greater part of our day. During our time in work we attended group meetings in offices, visited the desks of our colleagues, and had quick discussions in hallways. Some even chatted by an actual water cooler. We congregated for lunch. We gathered, we communicated, we worked. Then we went home. Same as the day before, and the day before that…
Well, Mondays have changed. Mondays, like every other working day, are now atypical. For millions of ‘traditional’ office-based workers, Mondays still have the waking and working elements, but everything else has been utterly revised. Monday roads are relatively empty in the morning, while cars sit unused in driveways. The buildings where we once gathered are quiet; the offices lie dark.
But the sense that little work is being done is a false one. In truth, millions of homes have become the buildings where we do the same work we always did, where kitchen tables, dining areas, and spare bedrooms have been turned into micro-offices. These Mondays we wake, we shower (yes, we should), we dress (yes, we really should), and we shuffle down the hall to prepare for our first meeting of the day or finish that due report. Some of us might even have time to grab a coffee from the kitchen. (The sage advice is that turning on the TV is bad, but the radio is good.)
Only when we sit at our desks does the true impact of remote working hit home.
Humans are social animals. We crave personal interaction. The biggest challenge for the millions of ‘home office’-based workers now is isolation. Though we are physically doing the same work we did every other Monday, now we are doing it at home – that haven that used to lie beyond the reach of the office. Without social engagement with colleagues we face the threat of becoming distracted and disconnected. Suddenly, the most important location in the traditional office seems to have been that water cooler rather than the boardroom.
Businesses themselves are not immune to the threat facing their isolated staff. On the plus side, remote work offers the opportunity of reducing the overhead of renting and running offices. Far outweighing any such cost saving is that having a decentralized workforce means productivity and focus are at serious risk. Understanding the physical needs of workers – the hardware, the network access, etc – is not the start and the end of it. Firms must be aware too of the necessity and benefits of ensuring that no worker is beset by boredom or, more likely, distraction.
So, we have millions of isolated workers craving social interaction and hundreds of thousands of companies worried about a plunge in productivity. It’s clear that the previous connective tissue of email is not enough to forge stronger links in the age of remote working. Furthermore, technologies such as Slack and Zoom are missing a key component.
Clearly, what is required is the informal medium of an intranet coupled with a compelling social aspect, one that mirrors how people engage and communicate outside of work. Social media is popular because it allows people to gather virtually, chat informally, and bond naturally. Now that work has come home for millions of people, it makes sense that communication must go the same way.
A business that engages with a social intranet stays ahead of the challenge facing workers and companies alike. They can and must connect their workforce in a way that mitigates against key issues. In the new way of working, firms must replace dry, formal email threads with a space for compelling, creative comments; they must swap direct messaging for group chats; they must allow their staff to once again gather around the (virtual) water cooler to test ideas, get advice, chat about the weather, or just shoot the breeze.
In short, have fun. Because these are the interactions that create solid working relationships upon which people become engaged, focused, productive, and above all connected with each other, with their company, and with their work.
Yes, Mondays used to be so much different, but if more and more companies implement a social intranet then people who work alone will be more than happy to gather in a virtual office space.