In 2010, I opened up my laptop by a pool in Corpus Christi. I was on vacation, and my geeky personality could not be without a computer. Using a Clear WiMax USB stick, I was able to remain connected to the Internet my entire trip. It was at this moment that I dreamed of working from anywhere in the world using a laptop.
Later I discovered that was called Remote Work and that many were doing this already. With my idea validated, I began to dream of one day working by a pool for companies around the world.
It takes a particular employer to let you work from anywhere. The Digital Nomad lifestyle is only possible if your job trusts you enough to be reached by phone and your computer only.
The coronavirus seemed to push many employers to open up to the idea of working from home. With a computer, one can accomplish most meetings and tasks, and that computer could be anywhere.
There is a small problem, though.
One reason for bringing people physically together for a face to face meeting could be due to the limited attention spans many naturally have. You have to get in front of people and direct their attention. One can ignore an email or not be able to visualize a concept over the phone.
Communication and the ability to draw attention to particular topics become challenging remotely. One can no longer walk across the hall and explain, pointing on screens and communicate via body language, how important something is. For this reason, screen sharing is vital to a thriving remote work environment.
But screen sharing is technical. That means that all parties need to complete all their work on the screen—no handwritten side notes or off-screen tasks. Also, all parties must be comfortable navigating the user interface to use the video chat successfully. How many times have you witnessed someone struggle to log in or be unable to find the icons needed to initiate the conference call?
And then there’s fragmentation—the fragmentation of people working in different time zones on different schedules within those time zones. Mutual availability becomes limited, and phone tag delays a project’s progress. One team member may prefer phone calls. Another team member may prefer emails. And another team member may prefer instant messaging. Multiple communication tools fragment communication across mediums and creates the opportunity to overlook messages further delaying the project.
Another form of fragmentation is the plethora of apps that are separate but achieve the same result. Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, Skype, and Microsoft Teams, just to name a few. At least all phones can communicate with all other phones, but these apps are exclusive to themselves. Most businesses are not likely to pay for these, so freemium models are needed to encourage adoption.
So mutual availability, scattered attention, varying computer literacy, and delayed communication can make remote work ineffective—any tasks or information off-screen can impede discussion.
And if a job must be completed by several team members simultaneously because each holds exclusive access or knowledge, mutual availability and choosing a universal communication medium can become debilitating factors.
So there are certainly challenges to remote work. I had envisioned a perfect world where my laptop untethered me from an office desk. But there is a reason for environments like this to exist.
When working away from your office, there are many distractions. For those with kids barricading yourself into a bedroom to concentrate can be difficult. And if your home is messy, clearing a space to work can be challenging. At the office, one has a designated area to work. Using the kitchen table to both work and eat is a disaster.
I believe many are coming to these conclusions while working from home due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.