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The Digital Workplace Transformed

Updated: May 25, 2022

All around the world there is talk about re-opening and going back to work. What will it actually mean for the workforce? Also on everybody’s mind is the Great Resignation, with record numbers of people quitting their jobs to either change it up or opt-out entirely.

Both trends are going to impact the way we come back to work. It seems likely that climate change considerations will come into play as well.

Travel has been an essential part of doing business since the Phoenicians. We remain social creatures who crave the personal contact of a physical meeting, and for many, this need overrides any Covid-related risk. Until recently, there was never even the possibility of challenging this: face-to-face conversations between two people in different parts of the country or the world were the stuff of science-fiction.

Woman working from home NZ

Digital efficiency vs social contact

There is an interesting generational split developing. On the one hand, old-school entrepreneurs insist that they need to look people in the eye and press the flesh to close a deal. Despite the clear evidence that many kinds of business can be successful via video conference, there remains a fear of missing out due to not being on the same ground as your competitors. This is always a challenge from New Zealand at the best of times and especially so with border restrictions in place.

The other school of thought is that everything can be virtual, and moreover it can be better so. How many of us have been in the situation of being the minority person on a conference call while the majority were in a room interacting the old-fashioned way, in person? The people connecting remotely in that situation risk being disenfranchised from the meeting, missing the subtle interplay of people in the same space. Even if the camera is on, it can be hard to read the mood of a group of people sitting around a conference table via your relatively tiny screen, and hearing the various comments can be a challenge.

Many teams with geographically separated members are choosing to solve this problem by having everyone on the Zoom call, regardless of whether they are in the same building or not. It’s not unusual in open-plan office environments to see two people who sit within speaking distance participating in a call with one or more out of town. This puts everyone in the meeting on an equal footing.

Knowledge and skill barriers

There are many who still feel that virtual working isn’t the same and that video conferences are a poor substitute for the real thing. Of course, there were people who said the same thing about emails and text messages in the past as well.

Most of the resistance to any new technology comes first from a lack of familiarity followed by a limited empirical understanding. Recently, I arranged a meeting via Google Meet with a group of people that had only ever used Zoom previously. About half of the group connected fine, but there were a few who struggled because they were unfamiliar with the principles of video-conferencing - they only knew how to connect using Zoom.

Zoom Fatigue and other ailments

There is no doubt that Zoom fatigue is a real thing. It appears to be a combination of factors: back-to-back meetings without even a quick walk between calls to stretch your legs; having to hold yourself still on-screen; feeling self-conscious about your appearance; dealing with technology glitches; eye strain. Things have improved since the old audio conference days, but we still have some way to go.

Despite this, it doesn’t seem that remote-working is going to go away any time soon. I have had several instances in the last 18 months of working closely – and I like to think very successfully - with people that I have never met in person.

The future is here

Bringing back the pre-pandemic ways of working seems like an unattainable and often undesirable dream now.

We have sampled the remote working lifestyle more thoroughly than ever before, and many of us have found it to their taste. We are thriving.

Employers and bosses wanting to mandate their people back into the old mode of work have a major challenge on their hands. Overseas, this kind of pressure has contributed to resignations and the loss of valuable team members. We are not immune from this trend in New Zealand.

As with any major shift underpinned by digital technologies, there will be successes and failures; winners and losers.

It’s likely that as we become more practised at the use of digital collaboration tools that many of the current discomforts will dissipate. The tools themselves will also improve. We’re probably not that far away from genuine virtual reality meetings in 3D. As with so many digital innovations in the past, companies that stick with new ways of working will gain the benefits over time in ways that are hard to predict. Whatever happens, it seems unlikely that it will ever completely go back to the way it was.

How is your organisation going to adapt to the evolving digital workplace?

Ray Delany is the Founder of CIO Studio, a company built to partner with SMEs and help them solve the “strategy” problem and align their digital investment with their business outcomes.


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