Working in a location-agnostic world: The good, the bad and the ugly (but mostly the good)

There is widespread acceptance for a remote work model. Customers, employees, employers, and stakeholders are becoming more comfortable with it. In their minds, even as pandemic restrictions are relaxed, this is no longer a stop-gap arrangement. Be prepared to hear investors and boards routinely quiz you on your remote work strategy and for potential recruits to ask, “What is your remote work policy?” A whole bunch of experts and advisers, analysts and implementers will spring up around this question and expertise in “Remote HR” will become a prized capability. What is the bet it will turn up on CVs of human capital management professionals within the next six months? However, as the head of an IT company and a tech junkie, I find the technology that supports this massive global cultural shift intriguing. If you are among the millions of people sitting in a comfortable pair of pajamas, hitting your KRAs, you have technology to thank for it.

A location-agnostic work model is a game changer. And it will, like any new way of life, business process or cultural development, have a fair share of good and bad, positives and negatives, silly and serious, comic and contagious. Here are four technologies related to remote work moving the needle for all of us, one way or another:

Make video calls more fun: Facebook, Inc. developed a range of devices in 2018 that do video calls under the brand Facebook Portal. These devices can use calling apps like Zoom, Webex or GoToMeeting to keep you connected, integrate with Alexa to keep you hands free and — I like this the most about them — they have a smart camera that automatically tracks you so you can move around freely and multitask without anyone missing you. As a bonus, they have AR masks and backgrounds to add to the fun of working from home. And you guessed it: While few had heard of Facebook Portal until 2019, sales went by 10X since March 2020 and, expectedly, the company is dropping prices of the device. Even though I have webcams on my desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile, and TV, this one is coming home just to make work from home more interesting.

Cut out the embarrassing sounds in video conferences: I am a dog lover. They often voice their opinions during my video conferences! I can request them to keep quiet, but what about times when my colleague’s cats, dogs, parakeets and horses can’t be stopped? The solution is noise cancellation from both ends. I know that noise cancellation is expensive and available only on high-end headsets and earbuds. Krisp, an AI-driven app, removes noise from both sides of the conversation, eliminates room echo, and supports over 800 apps (Zoom, Teams, Skype, Webex, Slack, Adobe Connect, Vowel, WhatHaveYou). A free version of the app is available, and I will recommend it for all our Scrum meetings. It also sounds great for the times I am in an online call and the pressure cooker goes off in the kitchen! Do not forget to check out other similar noise cancellation/reduction apps like NoiseGator and Noise Blocker with features that may be better suited to your needs.

Monitoring employees: HR folks and delivery teams have a tough time keeping track of what employees are doing during work hours. Let’s cut them some slack — it is natural to worry about employees goofing off during work hours when we cannot even see them. That is why many remote work monitoring tools from Teramind to EmpMonitor are gaining traction. There are scores of employee monitoring tools with varying features ranging from recording every action on a computer screen to taking snapshots at pre-determined intervals of the user. Many are employee friendly and help boost productivity, some help meet risk compliance objectives, others are invasive — sometimes without your knowledge. But, as I said earlier, the good comes with the bad.

Bring back whiteboards into the workflow: We all miss the whiteboards in office. They made collaboration so easy. Many online whiteboard tools are now available, ranging from Miro to Conceptboard. This is truly a time for digital whiteboard technology to become innovative. There has never been a greater demand for them. I mean, after the video calls are done, we do need to get down to actual work, right? And we want tools that can help us collaborate, swap files, co-develop presentations, annotate documents, teach students, and be accessible over a mobile device. Look around. I will not be surprised if you use more than one type of whiteboard.

I can imagine a time when boardroom meetings will go virtual. The demands of board members will then drive new types of devices and applications. There will be specialized groups and professions — such as designers of apparel and footwear — that will need new tools using 3D and AR to mimic fabrics and materials, so that working in a location-agnostic world is simplified. The world is changing, fast. Before we know it, technology will have changed work cultures around the globe.