I’ve been in the business of “remote work” all my working life. It wasn’t by design at first. In fact, when I was in college I went to work putting a catalog online for a business that was hundreds of miles away. I did the work from my home, communicating with my managers over the phone and email. It was my first experience working outside the traditional office. It was my boss’ too. In those moments, we both learned the value and challenges of remote work which has impacted my career in ways I may never have imagined back then.
What Remote Work May Put at Risk
That early experience actually evolved into my MBA thesis which, you guessed it, was on managing a remote workforce. Looking back on that body of work, I reflect on how much more I understand now about remote working, and what is truly at risk. In short: the value of collaboration.
You see, I’ve delved for years into the importance of the remote worker’s user experience. How to improve productivity. What can drive performance. How to enable users to work how they want, when, and where. In fact, I helped trademark the “anyplace workspace” term as far back as 2008, when working with Cisco and NetApp on a desktop alliance that helped to empower the remote workers.
Yes. User experience is important. But it’s still missing something vital. Something that really didn’t strike me until six years ago when I worked in a company where being in the office was required most of the time. There’s magic that can happen when you’re in a room brainstorming together. The energy of collaboration. The human spirit that gets unlocked when you break bread together, laugh, joke, and engage.
Collaboration is the Heart of Innovation
Pointing out what can be lost when independently working from home might sound funny coming from a CEO of a company that’s mission is to securely enable a remote workforce. Don’t get me wrong. Remote work is vital to the future of digital business. It will never go away. We just need to embrace remote work with a clear view into what it may change or how it might impact business-critical areas including innovation, employee loyalty, or passion.
As a leader of highly virtual business, I’ve seen the effect of employees working independently from their homes. I feel IGEL has been successful in helping to keep employees engaged and productive through the pandemic era. I also know that during this time we’ve all felt loss and loneliness through isolation and seclusion.
Now, as we slowly go back into the office or meet in person I can feel the energy lift. I recently completed a whirl-wind roadshow of our in-person DISRUPT Unite event and the elation in the room that came from seeing everyone face-to-face again was unmistakable. We needed to connect. We needed to break bread. We needed to laugh, joke, and engage. We, humans, are social animals. Something extra happens face-to-face.
The takeaway? Remote work can’t be adopted at the expense of collaboration. And collaborative work can’t be simply achieved through a video screen. The success of a business comes from people – and the success of people comes from connection. As we embark on the remote work journey of the future, let’s vow to remember the importance of togetherness. It’s this collaboration where magic happens. Let’s stay human.