Tired businesswoman in the office
What if remote working at home never took that long?
As someone who has worked alone in an office for decades, I’ve wondered about the benefits of teleworking for some time. I recently read a new book on AI and automation that made me wonder if working remotely was right for me.
I’ve wondered for years why it feels like I’m never quite on the cutting edge of the office conversation and I find it so difficult to get contextual information.
Little did I know, as an example of a recent role, that a colleague actually had a minor injury to her leg and ankle and was wearing braces. You don’t know that from a Zoom video chat. In another instance, I had no idea that the main office had free cookies all day and breaks in the break room. Must be rough!
We seem to be missing out.
In his new book, Futureproof, respected New York Times columnist Kevin Roose (not to be confused with Digg founder Kevin Rose) explained what really happened. When I read it, I stopped on the side.
“People who have regular personal contact with their colleagues have an advantage when it comes to doing the kind of deeply human work that we will have to do in the future,” he writes in the book and goes on to say that we “Frustrated at how difficult it is to generate creative ideas, build teammates, and recruit new employees through Zoom calls and Slack threads. “
In the book, he notes that executives at Adobe and Netflix are not advocates of long-term remote work. Roose even explains how Reed Hastings plans to bring employees back to the office “twelve hours after a vaccine is approved”. I’m not going to spoil where Roose takes it from there, but he cites several studies and explains how what I would call “work by osmosis” is key to the future office landscape.
“One of the reasons people who work remotely are more productive is because they tend to work longer hours,” he told me on a recent clubhouse chat. “But there are compromises when it comes to things like creativity and collaboration. People tend to solve complex problems when they are in the same room. Something is lost when working remotely. “
He also says that our global economy is moving towards softer human skills as “pure game productivity is increasingly being done by AI”.
What he means is that as we move further away from the home office and no longer work personally with people, we are more likely to become endpoints. We are increasingly competing with AI, which is highly automated and is intended to replace human work.
Roose said he learned about journalism early in his career just because he was with fellow writers. He heard conversations around the water cooler and on the phone.
I always thought of this leg rest. What am I still missing? The brilliant idea someone mentioned in a parking lot chat. The times when a person moves from accounting to marketing and mentions a funny story from an article that leads to the invention of a whole new product.
Osmosis is more valuable than any of us think. With technology, ideas are always linear. Information goes from point A to point B and never travels far from this route. With human interaction, it moves in seizures and starts (in a good way).
In a recent chat on a podcast, the author who introduced the concept of EQ (or emotional intelligence) by the name of Daniel Goleman explained how there is a form of EQ called cognitive empathy. This is our ability to speak and communicate in a way that interests us most about someone who understands us, not what we know.
It’s fascinating because we don’t pick up on these clues in a video chat, which means our cognitive empathy has changed very little. We only transfer information. That’s why I’ve always hated Skype calls.
What are we doing about it?
I doubt Roose would want everyone to return to an office tomorrow, but maybe soon. What he says in the book is that we need to address the problem. He suggests changing your role or finding a way to stop competing with automation. My suggestion is just as dramatic: if you are feeling like an endpoint, as Roose suggests, it may be time to pick up your laptop and get back to the office. Before it is too late.