The future of business
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The global pandemic and the resulting shutdowns have changed the way we work. While key people in certain industries have continued their work in ways that are relatively familiar among layers of personal protective equipment, many companies have had to find ways to continue other work at “social” distance. In situations like this, employees need to find ways to continue working together like they did when they were packaged in cubicles, open floor plans, and all the other different patterns of modern office space.
Changes in the workplace due to COVID-19 are not going to go away anytime soon. Tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have pushed the return of office workers back well into 2021, and Twitter has stated that employees never have to return to corporate headquarters. Companies in other industries perform the same calculations as employees rethink not only the way they work, but also where they live.
All of this depends on the development of the tools that enable this remote way of working. For some of us – like everyone who worked for Ars – this is nothing new. As I mentioned earlier, I've been mainly working from home for over 25 years and am an early adopter of any technology that could reduce the distance to remote controls. This means that I've lived through the teething problems of collaboration software and distributed teams.
Enlarge /. Do you remember personal meetings? From the past?
Tom Merton / Getty Images
Unfortunately, it seems like the vast majority of them have been confused about how to use them until recently, even though companies have put in place collaboration tools. Previous generations of “collaboration” were about processes and structures – and they did little to reduce the need for out-of-band communication.
Whatever is considered “normal” over the next few years will demand a lot from collaboration tools as companies re-examine how to do their jobs and stay financially viable. In the new world of collaboration, companies need to emulate the unstructured interactions of the office and help employees feel part of a coherent team even from a distance. This enables social interactions and strengthens the team agenda when there is no time at close range.
Based on years of remote collaboration across different organizations and observations of things multiple organizations did over the past six months to make adjustments, here are the things that I consider key to successful team operations in both lockdown and post-lockdown See world.
In the beginning, “collaboration” software was mostly about communication. “Groupware” products such as Lotus Notes have shifted collaboration from simple e-mails to document and data-oriented communication. These functions – messaging, document-based collaboration, and easily structured workflow – remain the basis for collaboration in most companies.
It took a long time to get companies to move beyond these basic, unstructured collaboration tools – mainly because they are unstructured and flexible. Email has been declared dead hundreds of times over the past two decades, and yet we all use them to send document attachments and route work. And despite the September 11, 2001 attacks that briefly kicked off video conferencing, broadband Internet and the ubiquity of devices with built-in cameras – not to mention nearly another decade – were required for most video conferencing collaboration Make company pleasant.
/. Lotus Notes. "It's not an email client!" I can hear a thousand disgruntled domino admins howling. "It's a document-centric database!"
However, many of these technologies worked well early on. I was an early adopter of Ray Ozzie's Groove before it had a Microsoft label, and I've been a vigorous advocate of wikis, SharePoint, and other tools in companies I've worked for because they have made my work as a remote worker easier . However, there were simple reasons why these companies and many other organizations did not use these tools: It was money to deploy and maintain, and it took some cultural changes to take advantage of them.
That's not to say that Microsoft didn't sell a lot of SharePoint (especially to the government) a decade ago, or that companies didn't spend a lot on custom workflow systems. They did, but the results were usually far from collaborative. Like the major ERP projects of the past two decades, these early initiatives were top-down, compliance-focused efforts to fundamentally change not just the technology but the way people do their jobs. (And let's face it, who really enjoys using these kinds of tools? Show hands for everyone in the audience who really love SharePoint. Mmm-hmm. I thought so.)
What will be considered “normal” over the next few years will demand a lot from collaboration tools
However, the technological and cultural changes in recent years – and the necessity of the past six months – have reduced or offset the barriers to new forms of collaboration. Many of us already live in Slack, Google Docs and Spreadsheets, and various other ad hoc collaboration tools. Many of us had a taste of the future and we are ready for more. Others need training along the way.