In late 2020, months after the pandemic-related disruptions to our normal way of working, the company where I now serve as Chief Executive Officer, Qumu Corporation, decided to implement a “work from anywhere, whenever and forever” policy. We went all out, closing our offices in Minneapolis, London, San Francisco and India, and empowering our hyper-distributed global team with the technology to enable our decision and embrace the future of work.
RESOLVE TO “IF EVER”
We have guidelines in place to help our employees navigate the “whenever” part of this new shift in particular. We had to adapt better to the new realities of work and personal life, which suddenly became much more intertwined. Among other things, those policies promised no pre-scheduled internal meetings or conference calls on Fridays, established a “zero expectation-reply” rule for emails received at an employee’s location after business hours, and established a Slack channel that Wellness Tips and Tricks is dedicated to helping people balance work and life.
I believe our launch of Work from Anywhere, Anytime, Forever after almost two years has been a tremendous success for retention, recruitment and overall employee engagement and satisfaction. The question now is, where to go from here? Based on what we’re seeing at Qumu, I’m making two predictions of what’s next for the workplace and one prediction of what’s next for our time outside of work.
1. THE RISE OF THE PURPOSE DEVELOPED DESTINATION FOR BUSINESS RETREATS
No business leader I know would completely discount the value of face-to-face meetings, which have become a rarity over the past two years. However, it will be a long, long time before I will willingly sign airfares and hotel rooms to bring people together in windowless conference rooms just for hour-long internal meetings.
I assume others share this view. Because of this, I anticipate an increase in purpose-built corporate retreat destinations. I envision campus, resort, or even wilderness environments that enable unique experiences that simply cannot be replicated in traditional meeting spaces or virtually. The place and its staff — which could include outstanding educators, facilitators, and subject matter experts — would be an integral part of the power of experience. The emphasis would be on focused, intentional activities – uniquely possible because of the location and its people – that would generate unparalleled engagement and unforgettable insights.
For example, consider a team building session in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, taking place during the summer run of the Grand Teton Music Festival. Spectacular landscapes for outdoor activities during the day, fantastic music afternoons and evenings and the opportunity to learn how to work – and play – together from virtuosic musicians from all over the world.
2. THE END OF THE TYRANNY OF THE EMAIL INBOX
I believe email is on the rise as the primary means of communication in the workplace. There are too many better alternatives to suit the medium of the message.
Need a quick answer to a specific question from another colleague? A text or instant message is probably better. An update for a project team? You probably have a Slack or Teams channel for this. Do you need to clarify the confusion surrounding an issue? Please pick up the phone. Want to send a call to action to colleagues across the organization? Capable of capturing nonverbal cues, pitch, inflection, intonation, and behavior, an asynchronous video message can express so much more—and express it more effectively—than what is communicated through words on a screen. For this reason I did not send an email to remind our employees of the healthy bonus available for referrals when our company needed to act quickly on some important new engineering hires. I recorded and distributed a video message to emphasize the importance and urgency.
Email will not disappear from the business landscape. But I think it’s becoming more of a notification mechanism than a means of communication. As for email’s role as a “paper trail,” I expect remote teams will leverage the other channels available to create the documentation essential to align, inform, and connect teams.
3. A REBIRTH FOR HOBBIES
My third prediction is not related to the workplace but to our absence from work. I believe the rise of remote work should give us time back if we are careful about work encroaching on face-to-face time. How much time? According to the US Census Bureau, Americans spend about an hour a day commuting — and even more in major metropolitan areas. What could we do with another five hours a week?
I predict that we will learn again to embrace the hobbies that bring us happiness and make us whole. While I know some find commute time useful for transitioning from home to work and vice versa, you should consider what you can do with that time once it’s more under your control. Now is the time to crack open that fat book, plant that garden, pick up that guitar you gave up in college, dig up that art supplies or knitting needles that used to be your favorite activity, or just take a longer walk around the neighborhood that brings you to your 10,000 steps. I think you’ll be a happier person if you’ve given yourself the hour or so that you got back. And chances are, you’re a better colleague because of it.
Debates over the merits of full remote work or a hybrid remote/in-office configuration will continue for years to come. I welcome the dialogue. But I also believe that the greater personal freedom and fulfillment possible in a remote world persists for knowledge workers and their employers. Indeed, as my thoughts here on corporate retreat goals, the demise of email as a business communication channel, and a hobbyist renaissance suggest, I think we’re only just beginning to explore the possibilities remote working opens up.