Working from Home. #11 #cong20


 The future of work will be driven, as it has always been, by a need for teams to be successful. Working from home has its place and there is no doubt that some or all teams will do some work from home – but there is no one-size-fits all answer. Just another fascinating facet of technology in our lives.

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About Joe Kearns

Joe Kearns is an Intercultural trainer who runs his own small training company. Joe originally qualified as an engineer and after time in France and Ethiopia began his IT career in the mid-80’s. Joe worked at a number of multinationals including Nixdorf Computer and Hewlett Packard in roles from programmer to IT Director. He also studied for his Computer Science degree at Trinity College during that period. In recent years Joe has focussed his energies on Intercultural matters particularly cultural issues in virtual teams and the influence technology is having on national cultures.

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By Joe Kearns.

– why it is tough to get right, why it is not always good and why Big Tech wants you to buy in.

Out of the Covid19 crisis there can be few topics that generate more discussion than that of remote or virtual working. The topic has moved from one of interest only to some in team management roles to one that is discussed in “popular media”. The consensus seems to be that most people will move to mostly virtual work and be happy to do so. I disagree with this consensus.

Those of you know me know I am not a fan of virtual work – in fact, I hate it. When I express that view, I get a variety of responses. Some immediately agree with me. Some seem to think I just don’t get it. And then some react like I had just insulted their religion or told them their baby was ugly!

Those who think I just do not understand it assume it’s due to my age – because I am an “old guy” I don’t understand this brave new technical world. Well, I have been in the tech industry since 1985 and I worked virtually from 1999 right up to today. I have presented on the topic at international conferences and led week-end workshops on the nature of virtual life. I get it.

Interestingly some of the cheerleaders for the new world of working-from-home act more like religious evangelists. I heard someone at a recent session make the following statement, about those who say they don’t like remote working “…they are not believers yet”.

It is hard to get it right if you do work virtually

For those of you who have tried to work virtually in recent probably know it is not always easy to get right.

Here are my top three things – in reverse order – that lead to success or failure:

The Work: I think it is probably self-evident that the kind of work involved will dictate how successful a remote-virtual environment will be. In my experience the more clearly defined the tasks and the less “human emotion” needed the more successful the team will be. To explain the extremes on the spectrum of: suitable to unsuitable, activities I ask people if they would like to be married to someone and only have a virtual existence? That’s one end of the spectrum and technical projects are probably at the other.

The Technology: It is my contention that in about 5 years we will look back and laugh at how primitive the current tools will seem. Rather like dial-up-internet to fibre internet. Tools like Zoom, Teams, Webex and others are in their infancy and Covid will drive huge improvements. But for today the most important factor to consider is how level the playing field is for the team. If one of your team has team has a specially built office of 50m2, overlooking a lake, with 1GB broadband, two or three large high resolutions screens, a comfortable chair and no “home” interruptions and another of your team is working in a cupboard with a laptop on their knees with the sounds of dogs and children in the background, they are not likely to perform the same. In an office environment all employees generally have the same technical level playing field. Imagine holding an office meeting where one of the attendees had to sit under the table with a paper bag on their head and talk though a towel – how much would they contribute to the meeting?

But I guess many companies are tackling the technical side to ensure their employees have good screens, cameras, and microphones. But there is not much they can do about the family setup or the physical environment.

There is another tech-inequality that can disrupt team performance – that is where some of the team are in an office face-to-face and others are calling in “virtually”. This is one I have had to deal with myself as a manager and we eventually had everyone call in with the same technology regardless of whether they could sit in the same room together.  A tech level playing field is vital.

The personality: This is the most important factor and one we can’t change. For some people, and it is not a function of age, working virtually is hell and for others it is heaven. Why is that? Some of us value the direct contact, interaction and insights that being with real people brings. For some of us being deprived from that is downright painful. For others, the less they have to interact with real humans the better! This is a huge topic, too big to go into here, and deserves further study.

Big Tech -why they want you to “believe”

Who benefits from a positive spin view of “working from home”? Well primarily the big tech companies and internet providers. Have you noticed any of the ads on TV for broadband? They always show cheery happy families all working away – the mother talking to her team in the office, the son playing a war game, the daughter doing online research and so on. Everyone is so happy. Don’t get me wrong, if I was trying to sell the product, I would create similar images. But the images are just that – an image. The real-life realities are probably not so much fun.


The future of work will be driven, as it has always been, by a need for teams to be successful. Working from home has its place and there is no doubt that some or all teams will do some work from home – but there is no one-size-fits all answer. Just another fascinating facet of technology in our lives.

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