Do you remember that line kids say when they’re playing hide and seek? “Ready or not, here I come?”

That’s what the future of work is saying to us right now: Whether we’re ready or not, it’s coming.

I’m sure you can guess what I’m talking about: how things are going to be in the world of work as we emerge from the COVID crisis.

All of us collectively have a major new project ahead of us: building the new normal.

Will we be returning to the office? Working from home? Doing something in-between?

Will companies have two staffs – one in the office and one remote? Or will most workers divide their time between home and the office?

We have a lot to sort out and we’re going to have to do it on the fly.

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, the vast majority of people have gathered in central workplaces to do their jobs. Suddenly we’re looking at shaking that up – as a result of the pandemic –with the aid of all the wonderful remote-collaboration tools we have now.

In thinking about this issue lately, I keep coming back to a few key points:

One, whatever we do, we need to be sensitive about everyone’s needs. There are legitimate priorities on all sides.

It’s natural and reasonable that companies want to have work arrangements that allow them to be as productive and competitive as possible (to the extent they can figure out what those are).

It’s equally natural that employees are afraid of getting sick, need to care for their dependents, and might have a strong preference in some cases to continue working from home.

Let’s take everyone’s needs into account and look for the win-win here, as much as possible.

The second point I keep returning to is, bringing people back to the office is going to pose a lot of challenges – and I mean a lot of challenges.

In place of the old question about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, we’re going to have a new one: how many employees can you safely fit into an elevator?

There will be questions about physically configuring the workspace, scheduling employees, setting policies about physical attendance, and navigating through everyone’s preferences.

There’s a debate underway about whether employers are allowed to ask employees if they’ve been vaccinated, so that might also become an issue, in some form.

The third point I keep coming back to is one that I think is getting short shrift these days: the benefits of face-to-face collaboration.

I understand that work from home was a critical necessity during the acute phase of the pandemic. For some people it may remain a critical necessity into the future.

However, I think a lot of the positive attention being showered on work from home is driven by media interest as the shiny, new thing.

We shouldn’t confuse the media’s love of novelty with our true needs and interests as human beings and organizations.

You can definitely count me in as one of the people who likes interacting with others the old-fashioned way: in person, rather than through a plastic screen on a dodgy video link.

You get more traction in person. People aren’t sitting stiffly in front of the camera. They’re more real, more themselves. Everyone can see everyone else’s body language, which is so important for full communcation. You can see the little gestures that say, “After you” and “I have a point to make.”

You can move around a room of people, getting updates and sharing ideas. You can ask that something be done and the person will stick their head in the office 15 minutes later and say, “Done.”

And have you ever tried telling a joke or story during a ZOOM meeting? If so, you know you know the meaning of the word “futile.”

You know how it is when you’re talking with someone over a bad phone connection: You drop all the subtleties and take turns shouting at each other in short sentences, using third-grade vocabulary.

To me, as amazing as the technology is, there’s a similar dumbing-down with ZOOM interactions and conference calls. Personally, I think it’s difficult to interact and collaborate with people richly and efficiently in that sort of environment.

I have a lot of appreciation for the new collaborative technologies. As inventions, they’re phenomenal. During the pandemic, they’ve been indispensable.

We recently held our second big virtual event, and it was incredible. It was a great success. There was a great demand by people to connect with each other, and they were able to do that to a surprising degree, even through the barrier of computer screens.

But even so, in my view, there’s nothing like collaborating and networking in-person. To me it’s the difference between seeing a commercial for Disneyland and being at Disneyland.

That’s why I hope we don’t lose sight of the benefits of face-to-face collaboration as we’re figuring out our new normal.

It’s also why we at DRJ are doing everything we can to make our conference planned for Phoenix this fall truly come off as a live, in-person event. DRJ Fall 2021 will be from Sept. 19-22 at the J.W. Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa and the theme is “Resiliency in a Time of Rebuilding.”

Nothing would make me happier than to see that beautiful venue full of business continuity professionals connecting, networking, catching up, and sharing experiences, whether it’s during scheduled events or informally over breakfast and at coffee breaks.

I’ll admit it: I’m gregarious. I’ve missed the action, and I look forward to seeing everyone in person.

I hope we’ll be able to count you in for the conference as well. To learn more, visit https://drj.com/fall2021/.

In the meantime, let’s get going on figuring out the future of work.

Let’s make sure that future is safe, productive, efficient, and humane – and let’s not forget about the unparalleled benefits of face-to-face Collaboration.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Arnold Bob

Bob Arnold is the president of Disaster Recovery Journal.

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