The work-from-anywhere revolution has something of a kick-starter problem:
- New workers: Many inexperienced employees joining a virtual company realize that they haven’t joined much of a company at all. They’ve logged into a virtual room that calls itself a company but is basically a group chat. Small talk, passing conversations, even just observing your manager’s pathways through the office may seem trivial, but in the aggregate they’re far more valuable than any form of company handbook.
- Building new teams: Remote work made people more likely to hunker down with their preexisting teams and less likely to have serendipitous conversations that could lead to knowledge sharing. Though employees could accomplish the “hard work” of emailing and making presentations from anywhere, the most important job of the office is “soft work”, the sort of banter that allows for long-term trust and innovation.
- Generating disrupting new ideas: Teams who worked virtually generates fewer total ideas and external raters grades their ideas significantly less creative than those of the in-person teams. In-person interactions foster complex, free-flowing discussion. Collaboration requires trust, and trust implies a kind of intimacy, and it’s hard to build true intimacy via video and chat. In many contexts, remote work without physical-world reunions can flatten colleagues into simplistic caricatures and abstractions. We need to see our colleagues as whole people, not just two-dimensional avatars.
Despite this, I’m an optimist who believes the corporate world can solve these problems, because I know that many industries already have.
Source: Work In Progress, The Atlantic