During this global pandemic, we are bombarded with more questions than answers on a daily (if not hourly) basis. The landscape of human interaction has been drastically altered, and we are navigating this uncharted territory the best we can during these uncertain times. With coronavirus-attributed job losses possibly reaching 47 million and the federal government projecting that the unemployment rate could potentially hit 32%, being afforded the opportunity for remote working is no longer considered a flex option but has become a necessity.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, five million employees (3.6% of the workforce) were classified with a work-at-home status for half time or more. During these difficult times, the good news is that more than half (56%) of employees have a job where at least some of what they do can be done remotely. Also, 80% of employees expressed that they would like to work from home at least part of the time, granted they may not have imagined having their children home during this time, a unique situation that has strained the remote work balance during the recently issued statewide stay-at-home orders.
Remote working applications:
Long gone are the days when we envied those who had the option of remote working. Now, many are getting to experience the home office setting, but with the bonus of the entire family being in the same vicinity, which although cozy, can pose some unique challenges when trying to maintain a professional appearance to others.
Thankfully, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Duo/Hangouts and FaceTime all come equipped with an easy-to-access mute button. Zoom even has the capability, with its green screen feature, to transform the tiny, dark closet you’ve wedged yourself in to get away from all the distractions into the most elegant home office background one could imagine. Microsoft Team has a feature to blur the background, making that untouched pile of laundry on the couch appear as an abstract color pallet that even Claude Monet would be impressed by.
The plus side is that, with social norms being completely reinvented during this time to accommodate our complicated situations, many are more than understanding of the barking dog or guest appearance by your cat in the middle of a conference video call. And in the end, we are all getting to literally view one another as more complete individuals instead of compartmentalized colleagues, which may forever change how we interact and work with one another for the better.
On an even more futuristic front, advancements in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are generating a novel virtual office setting that offers the potential of bringing remote workers directly into a shared physical space.
Startups like Spatial are joining the AR/VR tech movement by building out platforms for office communication and collaboration via virtual worlds where coworking avatars attend meetings and manipulate digital objects in real time by global participants.
Companies like Tandem are also offering rich collaboration tools for distributed teams. Not to be left behind, big tech companies including Apple, Google, and Microsoft are reportedly creating headsets that could catalyze the transition to entirely virtual offices.
Recently, Google launched an updated edition of its Glass AR headset with an enterprise focus, and Microsoft released its business equivalent product Hololens 2.
Apple garnered a number of AR/VR tech related patents in 2019, potentially signaling the arrival of its highly anticipated augmented reality glasses, which some hope will launch in 2020.
Keys to managing a dispersed team
When crafting an effective approach to managing a virtual team, there are mechanisms that must be considered in order for the company to continue to thrive when no longer contained in a brick-and-mortar structure. Much like when working together in a shared space, similar virtues continue to hold true. Having a management team that is able to prioritize tasks that target special expertise and knowledge of the department by placing continuous emphasis on teamwork skills, seeking and promoting self-leadership, and fostering and embracing a global culture will increase the potential for achievement among the entire dispersed team.
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