Due to COVID-19, a lot of big tech companies have made a decision to let employees work from home for an extended time, and in some cases, for good. While I believe technology allows a new and powerful dynamic to be explored, I do not believe the trend to have a vast majority of people to work from home indefinitely will yield positive results.
My view is based on personal experience, and that experience includes having managed diverse teams spread around the globe- sales, logistics, operations and engineering. After many years of managing, I can unequivocally state that technology has made everyone’s lives easier. I can also state that human interaction cannot be outsourced to machines.
Why can’t we outsource human interactions to machines? Because we are complex, highly nuanced, and built to interact with each other. Our big brains need the millions of data points to conclude more accurately what we are doing, who we are doing it with, why we are doing it, etc. We need to know that John drinks weird herbal tea, that he gets in late, but works late and that Lisa is a yoga fanatic and a true boss when it comes to doing whatever is needed. All of that data plays into our problem solving and creative work. As does body language and a myriad of other subtle physical cues we do not perceive on a video call.
As a society we complain about “social media” and the divisiveness we see every day. Part of that has to do with the lack of human interaction on social media. Since we do not truly interact on social media we see bits of data but not the whole. Would it not be be foolish to think that we will not see more of this dissonance creep into corporate cultures if we only interact via “corporate social media” with tools such as Slack or Zoom? Why would employees not eventually act in a divisive or unproductive manner at work as they do socially?
Sports highlight this concept. When I was a young man, I ran cross country at a very competitive level. I suppose we could all have run on our own but running on the team made us better. Whenever one of us was off, another would be push pace. It got to the point that to this day I could see a runner fairly far away, maybe just their silhouette, and without a second thought know which teammate it is. Can you imagine doing a Zoom practice for football or basketball or any other sport?
The truth is that companies are trying to achieve very hard goals, much like a sports team. Thinking you can just “call it in” is a mistake. Teams work best when they know each other very well. That deep knowledge brings a cohesiveness that is hard to quantify but whose results are evident. The NASA space program, the success of a Goldman Sachs, and the iPhone are prime examples what working in teams, in person, are capable of and while technology played a role these teams worked closely together in large part.
Tech can make things more efficient, it can save us some busienss travel (cost and environmentally friendly) but in the end it is a tool and our interpersonal relationships are what drive innovation and success and those cannot be as full and rich over a Zoom call.
Here is a good article on that: https://fortune.com/2020/08/10/remote-work-from-home-cost-zoom-innovation-google-goldman-sachs/
Or if you have Apple News: https://apple.news/AEuKi_3PkS2KNRg7vZm6REQ