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How Better Collaborative Technology Supports the Trend Toward Remote Work

Work from Home

Photo via Summit Business Technologies

This is the year, predicts Cisco’s Roland Trollope, that “’working from home’ will become just ‘working.’” How’s that? “The trend towards people working from home or other locations is unstoppable.” And the technology that drives remote work continues to improve. This does not mean the demise of the central office location, far from it, but it does mean collaborative teams will continue to develop across geographical distances, leading to a rapid decline of “‘place-ism,’ the discrimination against people who aren’t in a central office.”

As remote workers get their due, the ways that headquarters communicate with them will have to change as well. Older videoconferencing technology can be alienating and glitchy. Most remote workers connect through the web, but “pulling in to a conference room with a few co-workers and huddling around a laptop to connect a remote worker isn’t a good experience, Trollope writes. “People will begin to ask for more team-friendly tools in more work spaces.”

They’re already asking, as Microsoft’s Office blog pointed out in 2016. As technology enables more working from home, the trend then pushes technology forward. Younger workers especially, “expect high-quality video conferencing services… as an almost default collaboration tool.” A new generation entering the workforce has become accustomed to exponential advances in technology and easily acquires new tech skills with little need for training.

Apps like Slack bridge workplace communication tools with a more informal chat spaces, making the office even more mobile and adaptable. Of course, online videoconferencing tools all integrate chat features. Microsoft cites a Redshift Research survey that suggests the ways more business-oriented videoconferencing technology may increasingly integrate social networking tools:

Fifty-four percent of respondents showed interest in customizing the viewer’s experience with social media sharing tools. Twenty-one percent would prefer real-time language translation and pop-up bubbles that provide LinkedIn and Salesforce information on meeting participants.

As improved videoconferencing tech becomes commonplace in meeting situations, it also becomes standard for applications like job interviews, now frequently conducted remotely with out-of-state and international applicants. But regardless of actual physical distance, videoconferencing can create a psychological distancing effect, a “continued feeling of separation.” How do you stay connected with colleagues when gestures may be hard to interpret, eye contact difficult to maintain through a webcam?

Microsoft suggests that VR meetings might foster a greater sense of physical presence, and some experts believe VR conferencing will become the norm in a matter of just a few years. This all depends, however, Samantha Cole writes at Fast Company, on “where the trends in remote work go.” Some companies have turned against the practice, hoping to rebuild an onsite culture: “IBM, one of the pioneers for remote work, recently gave its scattered workforce an ultimatum: Come back to the office or quit.”

Nevertheless, most signs point toward businesses accommodating more remote working situations, not less, so that distantly-located employees can relax in their homes while still collaborating productively with coworkers in the central office. (As this happens, Trollope, writes, “the conference room will become the living room of the office.”)

The global videoconferencing market is projected to expand 7.9% between 2018 and 2026. And given the diffusion of projects among teams scattered over multiple states and countries, and the reliance on contingent employees and younger, tech-savvy workers, it seems that even corporate mandates like IBM’s can’t stem the tide of remote work for long, nor hold back the tech developing to support it.

 

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