Ride On Time
Thoughts on the future of the future of work
I stumbled across an interesting report from the Remote-First Institute titled ’44 Remote-First Predictions for 2023’ which echoed a number of points I’ve written about (basically, it had lots of bits I agree with!).
Darren Murph, Head of Remote @ GitLab, opens up with his observation that, having decoupled wok from geography, we’re now decoupling it from linear time, which has the power to transform how we design our lives (a point also made by Chris Herd of FirstBase many times before).
He then says employees who operated in human-centric organisations are 3.8 times more likely to be high performing (Human-centric work models encompass three guiding pillars: flexible work experiences, intentional collaboration and empathy-based management.), which is great to know but not that surprising if you think about it. Oh, and human-centric organisations will thrive, to which, Der!
Jim Kalbach, Chief Evangelist @ Mural points out that work policies have been chucked at team managers, who also face greater demands from those below them. He observes that “Middle managers are caught in the middle, without the skills and bandwidth to address this new set of complex challenges”, which I spoke about in last week’s missive.
Mika J. Cross, Workplace Transformation Strategist and Futurist says “The “Zoom Ceiling” may become the new Glass Ceiling in 2023”, pointing out that bringing workers back to the office impacts people differently. Or as I have put it, discriminates against women, minority groups, the less-abled and those with caregiving responsibilities and in favour of able-bodied white men. I’d go further and say that any company that doesn’t have a remote or fully-flexible policy isn’t being about serious DE&I.
Chase Warrington, Head of Remote @ Doist says asynchronous work will become a standard, which I totally agree with. The benefits are just too compelling for organisations to ignore, even the current refuseniks.
He goes on to say "Large organizations waste $100M per year on unproductive meetings, and this number will only increase if async is not adopted. Teams don't have to go fully asynchronous, but they will need to move further down the async-sync spectrum as the future of work becomes the present.” (My emphasis). This is not an either-or argument. Everyone is going to have to get a little bit async. In fact, most people are, they just haven’t realised it yet.
Finally, Kristi DePaul, Founder and CEO @ Founders says “Work-from-Anywhere increasingly becomes 'Work Whenever’”. This is a natural progression, as people are untethered from space and time and can blend work into their life fully. We saw some of this happen right off-the-bat when everyone had to work from home during COVID and now people have seen what’s possible, they want that freedom and flexibility. It means organisations get the best out their people too.
A couple of other predictions that caught my eye were around skills, highlighting that virtual communication skills and facilitation skills are going to be key to the future, and more generally that a lot of training is needed to prepare people for the emerging future of work. I’d add written communication skills to that, as documentation is key to async working, as is concise communication.
As with any crystal ball going exercise, some of it will be wide of the mark but I actually thought most of these predictions were on the money. In fact, we can see these trends happening now, if you look close enough. Although I’d ignore anything about AI and the metaverse because no-one has a clue where that stuff is going - including (somewhat alarmingly) the people working on it.
I really can’t see the ‘Metaverse' having much of a role in the future of work, at least not the much-hyped sort of thing that Facebook is working on (Of course, they have changed. their name to ‘Meta’ to show they are working on this, which is, well, a bit meta, don’t you think?). It seems many others agree with me as interest has plummeted, according to Google search traffic.
One of the flaws I see with it is that it is putting the office into the virtual space, like some futuristic skueomorph. It assumes we will be working synchronously, like we do now, when I think we will mostly be working async.
The other problem is the need for total absorption in the virtual realm, currently through a VR headset. Now, I can’t see people wanting to wear a VR headset for several hours a day, which is not comfortable and is going to make people long for the days of Zoom-fatigue. OK, it may be a transitory problem but it’s very relevant for the next several years, which is when this tech needs to be adopted. It’s also not an option for everyone - I mean, accessibility anyone? I wear varifocal glasses and that could make it a no-no for me. There are all sorts of other conditions that might exclude usage.
But more than that, total immersion is just not natural to us. ‘Wait’ I hear you say, ‘aren’t we actually totally immersed in real life?’ Well, yes … and no. I mean, when you sit in a meeting, are you telling me everyone is ‘totally immersed?’. No, they’re checking their phones, looking out of the window, observing their coworkers, thinking about their plans for the weekend, staring out into the middle distance …
We are rarely totally immersed in what we do. We’re invertebrate multi-tankers & distraction seekers. It’s just how we exist in the world, how we work. If we were totally absorbed in everything we did, it would be exhausting.
I could be completely wrong about this and I haven’t tried it or used the headsets for an extended period of time. In fact, my only experience is doing the VR experience at the Van Gogh Immersive Exhibition, which I found pretty cool (even if was a bit basic graphically and slight blur because I had taken my glasses off!)
Also, it might be natural to the kids entering the workforce, whilst it seems alien to an old git like me. But I have seen lots of tech come and go and it’s the practicality of its adoption that determines its success. Generally, if it’s easy to use, doesn’t require a big change in habits and offers clear benefits, you’re on a winner. Not sure the metaverse ticks any of those boxes.
And a final thought. There’s a lot of talk about ‘psychological safety’ as being essential to high performing teams and collaboration but how safe are you going to feel with a headset strapped to your face? Would you do that in an open office space? How about a coffee shop? Or your own home? If you are not already, now imagine you are a woman. Or someone with a disability. And you have valuables in your possession. How safe are you feeling now?
Shiny Happy People
I know some people who think the future is in holograms, giving you a physical presence without you actually being there. You can ‘attend’ the meeting in a more rich and visceral way.
Clearly the technology is coming on leaps and bounds but I still think there is a limited use case. I can see it being a niche, high-end offering that would be used for very important meetings and meeting of VIPS (which are also the former, by definition!). You know, the board meetings for major corporations, high-level governmental meetings.
Here’s why. That’s where video-conferencing started out. It used to require very expensive, dedicated hardware and large data connections. It needed to be housed in a fixed location, in a custom-built studio/meeting-room. It took a lot of resources and specialist knowledge to set-up and operate.
Today, it has busted out of that space and we all do it from anywhere. That happened because of a massive expansion of low-cost, high-capacity data and ubiquitous terminals (i.e. smart phones and other devices) that put the means to video-conference everywhere, in everyone’s hands. We don’t even think of it as video-conferencing, we think of it as a group Facetime, or a Zoom or Teams call. We can access the apps and the platforms everywhere. We can even do it from bed!
I can’t see that path to mass adoption for holograms. Data will continue to get cheaper and more of it available but there are still issues of computing power (and energy) to drive the tech. I’m not sure the capability will get built into smart phones and other devices (at least, not for some considerable time yet). And I’m not sure there’s going to be a widespread demand for it.
My case for the last point is Zoom. In theory, in person meetings are much richer, more engaging and a better experience for us humans. In practice, we found we could move a lot of the routine ones to Zoom without any great decline in effectiveness and upsides in terms of convenience (and as I posted recently on LinkedIN, they could actually be the preferred option to meeting in person). Will a hologram offer you a significant advantage over a Zoom call? I can’t see that it does except in a rare number of cases.
And no-one wants a hologram of their boss in their bedroom, right?
Baby, I Love Your Way
So what might be a winner on the virtual front? After all, we’re not going to stay stuck with Zoom and Teams forever, are we?
Despite my scepticism, I accepted an invitation from Chris Moeller to tour the virtual space his company, TOTAL ORION, uses. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Besides, I’d connected with Chris over LinkedIN during lockdown and I thought this would be a good opportunity to speak to him in person and get to know him better.
He showed me around the virtual work world that includes his work campus but also fun stuff, like going for a ride in a speed boat. Although it’s been branded a ‘Metaverse’ (I mean, why wouldn’t you, after Facebook spent all that money promoting the term?), the technology was created some years ago by Virbella (founded in 2012) and has been used by major organisations for some time.
It’s not a fully immersive experience, it’s more like ‘The Sims’ or that sort of gaming world. You can access it through your browser, so even when you are ‘in’ that world, you’re still in your own world. The graphics are fairly basic (by today’s standards) but they do the job.
Chris showed me around and how there were different spaces for meetings, training and conferencing, as well as are ‘labs’, collaboration spaces and virtual ‘workstations’. Much to my surprise, I could see myself using this, certainly in the first three use cases.
Chris explained how some distributed organisations, such as ones that have agents around the world, had their ‘head office’ in this world. I can see how it would connect and support those agents in a way that just isn’t possible physically.
See, I told you I can be wrong sometimes!
Obviously, this version of the ‘metaverse’ can already go to mass market because it’s using existing infrastructure. However, what really makes it different, I think, is that the company was started by a group of behavioural psychologists, who have brought a deep understanding of how humans function to the project. The contrast with Zuckerberg and his tech bros’ could hardly be starker, could it?
So I guess I’m a convert. Sort of. Anyway, Chris is collaborating with Dave Cairns to run some speaker events on it soon and I’m going to go along and get a ‘real life’ experience of it. I’ll report back what my impression of actually using it is.
Say What You Want
In other news, there’s a new edition of Work Punks coming out on YouTube next week, so keep your eyes peeled if you follow me on Linked IN - or even better, subscribe to the Work Punks YouTube channel.
And I’ll soon be announcing a ‘Decrapify Work’ webinar, so you can get to see me ranting and rambling (and probably waving my arms about). More to follow on that.
Otherwise, if you’ve got anything else on your mind, get in touch! I always enjoy speaking to people and hearing their take on what’s crap about work - and helping them figure out what to do about it. Email me at Colin@decrapifywork.com, DM me on LinkedIN or tweet me @colinnewlyn.