Up until 2006, I had spent 25 years working for large corporations in large corporate offices as was expected and normal up until around that point in time for someone with my background and skills. Then I left that world to join the consulting world – not as an independent consultant as I had done briefly a few years prior, but working for a firm with a couple of hundred employees and a few offices throughout the US. One of my roles was to establish a New York City office and build the consumer products consulting business in the metro area, but still, I was expected to primarily work from home when not at a client site.
Thus began my work from home experience in earnest, which I am still doing today for SAP. Back then, the tools required to work virtually functioned well enough not to be an obstacle to getting the job done, most of the time. I have to say most of the time because I continue to be surprised and disappointed how many times the tools of technology prevent a successful meeting or transaction and can even dominate the discussion still today. It feels silly working for one of the most successful software firms in the world, and still struggling to hear the speaker on a conference call or meeting. More than once I’ve spent too much time struggling to share my screen in a status call. Considering how SAP has been an innovation leader by carving out paths in the cloud, on mobile devices and of course, HANA, when other software giants did not have the vision or guts to do so, makes the remote working challenges more frustrating. Still, you can’t beat the commute to walk from one room of my house into another and closing the door to go to work compared to rushing for the train, driving in traffic, paying tolls or maneuvering your bicycle through pedestrians and potholes. We keep raising the technology bar and take for granted that what we’ve become so used to and dependent upon will work as expected – all the time.
And that brings me to the main topic I want to hear your thoughts about – video conferencing. I’m not talking about those elaborate video conference rooms set up in corporate offices with secure connections to other branches, locations and even vendors and customers. Those seem like expensive, obsolete dinosaurs in the today’s world of FaceTime and SnapChat. I’m talking about all those phone calls, meetings and conference calls that the work from home crowd spends so much of our day doing.
I think that these calls will be replaced by video calls within the next five years. We can debate about how long it will take until video conferencing will surpass phone calls as the norm, but there’s no debating that it’s coming. Just like cell phones are replacing land lines and the internet streaming is replacing cable television. When video calling, you’ll always be able to hide behind a setting that does not project your image to the others on the call, but the expectation, especially in business during business hours, will be to show up and be seen.
How do you think that new normal will change the way we work? On one hand, I think that working from home will become even more widespread and accepted by managers and companies, Yahoo’s policy change notwithstanding. But how do you think it will change the way you work on a daily basis? So here are a few obvious things. You’ll have to brush your hair more often, especially in the morning. Oh, and you’ll have to get dressed with something cleaner and nicer than your night gown or white T-shirt with pictures of Beers of the World. I’ll have to start wearing my dress shirts again (hopefully over shorts below the camera picture frame 🙂 ). No more nail filing, email reading, making coffee, talking to family members, visiting friends or contractors while on mute, eating lunch, playing Words with Friends, walking the dog, brushing your teeth, sewing, newspaper reading, texting, cleaning the house, and so on, while on a business call. We will have to behave just like we are sitting in a real conference room in a brick and mortar office. And I think that’s a good thing, forcing participants to pay attention and engage as if in the same physical room. Granted, it will be more difficult to multi task to do legitimate work while a routine meeting drags on, but I think that video will force these meetings to be more driven and focused. How many calls are we on nowadays that last an hour that only has five minutes of value to many participants.
The other important impact of video conferencing compared to phone calls is that so much is communicated visually and with body language that is lost over the phone. Especially for an international company like SAP where there are employees and customers around the world from different cultures and native languages. It can be difficult to understand someone with a deep accent but seeing them speak and smile can make a very big difference between drifting out of a call that you can’t comprehend and getting the point through video. What do you think?