June 1, 2021

Remote Is Good Enough, Make It Great

          Most knowledge work is abstract. It’s the recording and manipulation of data to accomplish a task, whether that’s tracking a customer relationship, executing a repeatable operation, or assessing the value of an asset. But human interaction is not so easily abstracted, even for knowledge workers. That’s why we, until recently, worked in offices and interacted as people have for millennia: in person, using words, intonation, and expressions to convey information about urgency & relationships, on a spectrum of subtle to overt. Sure, we abstract thoughts through text and mood through emojis, but the particular sound of a certain colleagues’ hurried footsteps heading towards your desk is not so easily captured by the tools we have today, and that’s a gap. In fact, that gap combined with the dozens of others [1, 2, 3],combined with the frictions between, say, opening one’s mouth and asking a colleague whether he or she saw the latest Dallas Cowboys loss, are accumulating in this new remote work paradigm to drive teams apart [4].

          Turnover is expected to explode this year [5],despite a widely held preference for distributed work [6, ‘Finding 4’], and the high productivity of remote workers [‘Finding 1’]. The latter point is important: COVID showed us that remote workers get the job done, and they know it. Remote isn’t an option for the prospective employee, it’s the baseline [7],and then a team or company must win & keep them with vision, purpose, and rewards [8].Remote workers do get more work done, do engage more with their communities, and do experience significant quality-of-life improvements from reducing commutes, matching windows of energy to work hours, etc [9].However, they do also suffer from lack of cohesion, bottlenecks, and overwork from poor boundaries [10].The benefits outweigh the costs, but those teams that improve upon the costs will have the greatest advantage, as their teams will be the happiest and most cohesive. Persistent messaging and videoconferencing alone have been good enough for this societal shift to remote work to stand upon; that speaks to the power of the model [11].Right now, we have good-enough remote work. Great remote work will look like the GIF in the header. Builders are obliged to get us as close as possible.

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