The future of work and education just got a steroid called COVID-19

Remote lecture from a JW Marriott in San Francisco using trashcan and lamp.

The technical capabilities for remote work and distance learning have existed for years. Numerous companies provide apps like Skype, Slack, Zoom, WebEx, and others so any organization can have remote workers, host meetings across time zones, and lead a classroom. But despite these technological abilities, wide adoption of remote work and distance learning has been slower than predicted.

But not anymore. COVID-19 is jumpstarting the future of remote work. This crisis is forcing companies to prioritize organization-wide projects that enable employees to do their jobs without being able or needing to sit in the same physical space.

For remote work or distance learning to be successful, it can’t be about the technology. It must be about solving a problem, not buying an app. Transitioning to a remote-work organization is a multifaceted problem that starts with the top leadership making it a priority, moves through the center of the organization by necessity, and puts new requirements that lead to implementations of technology. Along this journey to remote work, individuals with have to change their habits, priorities, workflows, personal preferences, and most importantly, their attitudes in a way that will ultimately make a dramatic culture change. This culture change will transcend individual companies, expand past industries, and become a natural part of our entire work culture.

Magic leap experimentations in the Reese Innovation Lab

Working in emerging technologies, the main limitation I see in remote work is the collaboration environment to solve difficult problems that require creative solutions and expand multiple disciplines. I have tested and tried various platforms like Cisco Teams, Microsoft Teams, our Slack/Zoom/Monday stew, and new experiences that use VR, AR, and Mixed Reality headsets. Each solution has its own technical or user experience limitations, but all of them will suffer without an organization-wide approach to remote collaboration.

With the threat of COVID-19 looming, we see multiple organizations from large tech companies, to universities, to Main Street entrepreneurs, make significant progress in trying to figure out how their organization continues to be on mission in serving customers and students while working remotely. This crisis may have jumped started the concept of remote work and collaboration across all industries by two or three years.

Oculus Rooms via Oculus.com

I wish I could say that emerging technologies such as VR and Mixed Reality were the silver bullet tools that ride this wave, but I think the tide is too early. Using VR like Oculus Rooms for collaborative meetings was fun but more of a novelty, and after a couple of sessions that way, we went back to regular video conferencing. The new HoloLens and Magic Leap do wonders for providing the ability of multiple people to see and interact with an object in 3D space, but it isn’t very easy to do more than that, and the headsets with that functionality are price-prohibitive to date.

So, let’s get practical. Here is how you can lead your organization to a mission-driven remote work environment?

  1. Communicate the need and priority. This crisis has already done a lot of that work, but you still need to lead through strong, clear communication, and this can be difficult when everyone is not in one place.
  2. Focus on the mission and the people completing that mission. What do they NEED to do daily? What can they do without? Who do they need to communicate with? How do they communicate? How did they talk before? Do they even need to talk? Can they just text?
  3. Prioritize the list and solve one piece at a time. Since you already have email, is Video conferencing the essential need? Should we have a group text? What is the most important? Find a solution and then use that solution to solve the next item on the prioritized list.

COVID-19 is changing the way we work in 2020. After this crisis subsides, we will see more remote worker jobs created. We will see new workflows and advancements in remote collaboration. We will see more flexible policies, and hopefully, we will have organizations better equipped to accomplish their mission.

Christian, Husband, Father and professor of multimedia journalism @UNCVisCom Chapel Hill. Former Editor @WashingtonPost. Creator @filmSyncApp

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