For a vast swath of the American workforce, the widespread transition to remote work that occurred in response to the onset of COVID-19 earlier this year has been, quite literally, a life-altering shift. With no physical barrier between personal and professional spaces—and with many companies encouraging remote work into 2021 and beyond—the line between work and life is perhaps irreversibly blurred.
And while this turbulent change has created countless new obstacles, it’s revealed just as many groundbreaking opportunities.
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On-Site Work vs Remote Work
Back in 2018, only 3% of the American workforce was fully remote. On-site, in-person work was the default, and remote workers often felt overlooked, forgotten, or excluded from key discussions and decisions. In fact, over half of the demographic reported being excluded from meetings and missing out on important information because they were not physically present. Remote workers also missed out on the community, camaraderie, and sense of solidarity that comes from spending the majority of one’s time with a cohort, all working within the same physical space, day in and day out.
Of course, on-site work has always had its share of drawbacks, as well. Daily commutes took time of workers’ days and money out of their pockets. Skyrocketing rent prices inhibited entire demographics of candidates from scoring positions at booming companies based in cities like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. And most companies were not cognizant when it came to supporting workers who dealt with obstacles that toe the line between personal and professional, such as mental health struggles, social anxiety, or families to care for at home.
Today, more than 60% of employed individuals work primarily remotely. That’s a far cry from the 3% two years ago, and when an entire facet of life changes so dramatically so quickly, we have no choice but to evolve.
Companies Facing Challenges Around Communication Between Team Members
Assuming employees can figure out a workflow that works for their schedule and setup at home, individual work can translate relatively easily to a remote setting. However, one of the main benefits of the physical workplace was the opportunity for group work, including collaboration, group brainstorms, and impromptu discussions with coworkers. Now, companies are trying—and failing—to recreate that nonchalance around communication between team members.
According to Clockwise, remote workers are spending 29% more time in team meetings and 24% more time in one-on-one meetings since COVID hit. This new habit of constant virtual meetings has not only ushered in new problems—such as Zoom fatigue and the need for asynchronous work, as team members are increasingly distributed across time zones—but it’s also compounded on the deep-seated problems that plagued traditional meetings.
A study from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University tells us that in a typical eight-person group, three people—usually extroverts in more senior positions—do 70% of the talking, and early ideas tend to have disproportionate influence over the rest of the conversation. Additionally, public, collaborative forums often result in production blocking and evaluation apprehension, leading to significantly reduced productivity due to harmful group dynamics like groupthink, cognitive bias, and fear of repercussions in response to sharing an unpopular or unusual piece of feedback. These conventions didn’t disappear when meetings moved online, they just became more exhausting.
Insight Mobility: Succeeding In The New Normal
So how do we reap the benefits of remote work, while sidestepping the pitfalls that commonly come with it?
The answer is conceptually simple but practically complex: Companies must adopt a new approach to work, one that’s critical to success in this New Normal. It’s called Insight Mobility.
Insight Mobility refers to the concept of making space for insights to arise from anywhere, anyone, in a company by removing cognitive barriers, such as seniority, group dynamics, and implicit bias, as well as structural barriers like the aforementioned issue of scheduling meetings across distributed teams. This allows ideas to move freely through organizational strata, not based on where they came from, but on their merit. Insight Mobility has the power to give employees, regardless of seniority, a protected space to give feedback, voice opinions, and share ideas, while allowing companies to prioritize psychological safety and innovation.
Traditional workplaces commonly but mistakenly equate boldness, loudness, and seniority with merit and truth. But when 50% of people are introverts—and even more may hold back in collaborative settings for any number of reasons—how can that truly be the case? Imagine all the new, cutting-edge ideas that are being withheld simply because employees are afraid to share them.
Implementing Insight Mobility is the key to building a more productive, more equitable workplace. And just as companies have digital tools for collaboration, virtual meetings, product management, and so on, they’ll need one for Insight Mobility, too. That way, prioritizing and maintaining Insight Mobility on a company-wide scale will be a both light lift and a significant boon to individuals—and, ultimately, businesses as a whole.
This is the Future of Work: Remote-first, asynchronous, and harmoniously balanced between the personal and the professional. With the right mental and digital tools, company leaders will be able to unlock a widespread work culture of productivity, innovation, inclusivity, and passion—and they’ll undoubtedly see their business thrive.