By Av Utukuri
Regardless of when a vaccine is found or how we get our societies back to normal, millions of people around the world have been forced to take part in an unprecedented experiment, and there is no going back. This will change not only how we live and interact with one another, but also how we work. Overnight, all of us have been embracing ubiquitous online platforms for everything from kids’ karate lessons to multimillion-dollar financing meetings.
But is this the new normal? Are we going to spend endless hours in front of our screens and exist completely in remote and virtual environments forever? How will businesses and work evolve to cope with the challenges we face today? What will be the new, new normal?
Even though video conferencing tech has existed for a long time in one form or another, we never really embraced it. We never felt in our bones that remote conference calls were productive; more importantly, we never thought that remote team members dialing in to a meeting had the same value as those at in-person events, or contributed equally. Also, there were a lot of technology, connectivity and bandwidth issues that made it difficult for them to contribute, but our shared belief was that we had to travel and be in the same room together to have our voices heard. People who attended meetings physically were assigned higher priority; others were just passive observers. So the only option was to travel, travel, travel: whether to make the customer happy, help a supplier feel confident, or ensure that your design team was aligned.
Suddenly the world changed, and we’ve been forced to adapt. Everything is done by conference call now. Restrictions on travel made us all remote workers, and value distinctions between physical and remote presence have been discarded. All attending are on the same level; we democratized the meeting.
There are a lot of advantages to this new normal. Including but not limited to reduced travel, the idea that we must travel for a day just to meet a customer for an hour seems so 2019 now, a cleaner environment, greater productivity, money saved across the board, better work-life balance and less sickness (not just Covid-19).
In contrast, however, there are also plenty of drawbacks. It’s hard to focus, people talk over each other, there are long pauses, and to top it off video calls are more tiring than real life, it’s true! Turns out according to published research, on a video call your brain must work harder to interpret non-verbal cues like body language and tone of voice. Besides, is it really a video call if no one is sharing their video?
The next normal
The reality is that the “new normal” is not sustainable for a lot of people and for a lot of tasks that we professionals face on a daily basis. Not every conversation and problem can be parceled into a video conference call and not all complex problems can be solved in the allotted hour so we can jump into something else. Many researchers are already warning us that problem-solving and creativity will suffer when teams are isolated from one another. How do we ensure that the ‘anywhere team’ can be as effective as the face-to-face team of old? How do we make sure that everyone continues to have the ability and opportunity to equally contribute?
Forget the home office, we need to transition to the “Home Boardroom.” Home offices have as many negative connotations as positive, essential for some, impossible and overrated for others. Maintaining professionalism and figuring out ways to communicate will be critical for the home office worker. What new furniture is required for this Home Boardroom? Implementing small interactive whiteboards and third-person room cameras that allow one to stand up in front of the virtual audience and do formal presentations to create the same engagement as if they were face to face will be critical.
We also need to reinvent our concept of a remote meeting. Our existing video conferencing tools have not changed in decades. Every platform is identical in capabilities, with maybe a tweak here and there for usability. None of them offers anything more than simple screen sharing and camera sharing.
If we are going to foster a remote team culture that results in efficiency, we will need software that allows anyone to express their visions, visualize and share their ideas, and revise them during the meeting as input comes from others. This will allow them to be as creative remotely as if they were face to face in the same room.
About the author:
Avanindra Utukuri is Co-Founder and CEO of Vizetto. Previously, Avanindra founded Nytric Ltd in 2000 as well as Baanto in 2009 where he serves as CEO and CTO. His twenty years of extensive business and technology experience includes the development and commercialisation of high-tech products for commercial and consumer applications. Avanindra is a graduate of the Engineering Science program of the University of Toronto.