The Future of Work Is Here

Business visionaries have predicted virtualisation of the office for a long time now. A popular book of the last decade “Remote: Office Not Required” gave examples of companies thriving without physical offices. For most organisations however, such changes were a distant future – until COVID-19 compressed these timelines by tenfold.

I am fortunate to have colleagues on every continent and work with people across many countries. Even though I used to go to the office every day, I was already meeting most of my teammates over video conferencing. Working from home, I keep a similar approach. But I imagine, for someone who’s never had similar experiences, last year’s changes were disruptive. Good news is, anyone can acquire skills for remote work. Let me share some tips to help scale the learning curve.

It’s Not About Either Or
Eager futurists predict that remote work will completely replace face-to-face collaboration. It’s doubtful that this will happen soon – after all, people are social creatures. That said, the balance between virtual and in-person time will flip for many. I’ve heard several business people who swear by building in-person relationships, say that they will now rather conduct more virtual meetings than travel.

The Right Tools Matter
Anyone with experience traveling business class will say that this improves the trip’s productivity. Similarly, “business class” tools can transform remote collaboration output in the new era. A high-quality virtual setup, which includes chairs, desks, cameras and collaboration software like virtual whiteboards, is a great long-term investment.

It Is Important to Stay Flexible
Just like on-site work has rules, it is important to understand what makes remote collaboration effective and adapt workflows accordingly. For instance, by documenting every step and conversation and allowing participants to contribute based on their timelines, the project team can work asynchronously rather than in real-time. If communication were key for face-to-face work, it is just as critical for digital collaboration.

Virtual Jet Lag Is Real
We feel jet lagged when traveling between continents. Working with colleagues across different time zones over virtual work meetings can lead to odd work and sleep hours, sometimes even over multiple days. Exiting these working sprints is similar to experiencing jet lag, and taking time to recover once they are over is as important as after a “red-eye” business trip.

Remote Collaboration Will Only Improve
We are in the beginning of work transformation, and the technology we currently work with is still primitive. Innovations such as Virtual Reality (VR) can make remote work more productive. Case in point, I used my VR headset to project my office applications to multiple giant screens and collaborate with my colleagues on a virtual whiteboard – this is in some ways better than my “real” office setup.

People Are Front and Center
Work has always been and will remain to be all about people, regardless of technology used. Since the dawn of ages where people sat in caves planning their next hunt, emotional intelligence, empathy and clear communication have been important, and they remain important when the future spacefaring civilisation coordinates its megaprojects across planets.

Being right in the middle of a major paradigm shift can feel disruptive and stressful. Historically however, such changes always led to more productive and fulfilling work lives eventually. This is our opportunity to deploy exciting new tech to transform how business is done – and have a lot of fun while at it!

First published in the IT Society Magazine from the Singapore Computer Society