We have been quarantined for more than a year. This period has resulted not only in activities of a large amount of virologists (tens (if not hundreds) of thousands), but also in a new reality for a huge number of people. It’s not just about the fact that wearing of face mask has become compulsory once you leave home. And not just about the new rules of conduct that require to greet with our elbows and keep the distance. It’s about online, an amazing world that has now become common for almost everyone.
Meetings or international calls are possible in Zoom or Teams. Team can be managed via private group chat. To review the president’s message, you need just QR code with a link to the presentation. Now we have online school, online reception rooms, online offices, and even online embassies may be available soon. They say, the further, the more, because our future without online is inconceivable. Usual offices and shops seem to be the remnants of the industrial past, just like a kerosene lamp in the period of total electrification. CEOs of large international companies and numerous business experts say about the approach of an amazing new world.
But is it actually so new and amazing? And, most importantly, is overall online activity a real panacea?
In 1979, IBM (iconic company in IT business) started an unprecedented experiment of that time: its five employees got the opportunity to work from home all the time. The experimental approach proved to be effective, and by 1983 about 2,000 IBM employees worked remotely. As early as 2009, IBM reported in its annual report that 40% of 390,000 employees in 173 countries had no office at all. Thus, the idea that everyone stays home, and offices are not needed is not totally new.
However, the further developments are even more interesting.
In 2017, IBM unexpectedly announced that it wanted to bring thousands of its employees back to offices. Why? The research found out: if efficiency depends on teamwork, the lack of contact has a negative effect. It appeared that cooperation required live communication. And the office revealed to be the only communication technology that created opportunities for stable and, most importantly, diverse communication.
Recently, a colleague sent me a message from the Telegram channel of Viktor Ivashkov, CEO at BBDO Ukraine & CA (a large international network of advertising agencies). He notes relying on his own experience that the team spirit and the feeling of a big team are lost, if all members of a team work remotely for more than two months. Stable micro-connections between individuals that remain obviously are not the same as team connections.
The research also found out: a person who works remotely all the time usually works more hours than someone who works in the office. In some cases, the employee even may work more efficiently. However, the constantly increased load sooner or later results in emotional and physical exhaustion, burnout to prevent which is much more difficult for a manager in the absence of constant live communication.
To say nothing of setting tasks, monitoring their implementation, and quick mistake correction.
Another interesting fact. It is an old and widely spread thesis in media that the future of education will be based on online learning. The various Coursera or Prometheus courses have the same status as state diplomas, when a candidate applies for a vacancy. It’s great to have such opportunities.
However, once an online school had been introduced in Ukraine, this thesis was rejected by another one. To put it crudely, “we will get a nation who did not go to school”.
To adapt life to trends or vice versa?
Does it mean that we should give up online completely? No. We just need to consider it differently. It should be viewed as a tool, but not as a single option to organize the workflow. A tool that will simplify employees’ work and increase overall efficiency.
For example, it is a common practice for many companies for a long time when certain employees can work remotely 1-2 days a week. That is great. After all, a person ceases to perceive the office as a mandatory single workplace, on the one hand, and remains a team worker, on the other one. Because she or he has the opportunity to communicate, drink coffee, exchange ideas and experiences with his or her colleagues on other days. This makes the team a unity, and team goals become everybody’s goals.
Would it be possible to work effectively without online tools? No. But would it be possible to create a fully effective team only using online tools? I doubt it.
We need to understand that one of the tasks of CEO is to analyse, to determine which trends would be appropriate for the business model and business processes and apply them, to see and use the opportunity, and to implement trends in business processes.
In fact, the same applies to Sustainable Development. The company chooses those goals from the UN Global Compact that are relevant for its business model. In other words, the goals that will make manufacturing process cheaper and more efficient, and communities (including employees and their families) better.
LED lamps vs candles
Online is great. It gives us many opportunities to make life (and work as its integral part) easier. However, we should not forget that a person is a social being. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote, the only real luxury is the luxury of human communication.
Therefore, in my opinion, online will never be able to completely replace our office life. Just as LED lighting failed to displace candles and incandescent lamps from bars and restaurants.