Once You Go Remote, You Should Never Go Back
While the entire world is working to reopen everything from shops and factories to entertainment venues and sporting events, the general theme is “getting back to normal.” I am left wondering – why? I have been working from home for close to 18 years in the tech industry and not just as an analyst, and it has been great. My only disappointment is that the tech industry often fails to use its own technology effectively. Just like any other design or manufacturing industry, companies in the tech industry often operate in the dark ages with days filled with in-person meetings and endless trips to attend conferences, work with partners, or participate in sales calls. Once again, why? Unless you must be in a lab or on a manufacturing floor, working remotely is so much better!
I started working at home because of an incredibly busy travel schedule and then transitioned to working completely remotely to aid ill family members. However, I could not have estimated the benefits. Besides being able to take care of family members, I spent more time at home with my family and friends. I also had the opportunity to participate in my children’s childhood at a level I never expected. With my two boys being homeschooled through high school, working remotely allowed me to spend time with them every day. Instead of taking a break from work to talk to colleagues, which I still did over email or phone calls, walking around the facility, or checking messages and the news, I would take breaks to have Nerf wars with my boys or take a quick swim in the pool. I also worked as I drove them up highway one through California, camped out in Yellowstone, and visited the O.K. Corral in Tombstone. Not only was I happier, I was in great shape because of it. I realize that not everyone is homeschooling their children, but even being able to spend time with them during school breaks, or spending time with pets, friends, and family still makes every minute worthwhile.
Unfortunately, I was still stuck with the travel to a seemingly endless list of company events, industry conferences, and in-person meetings. With the COVID-19 outbreak everything has changed, and everyone has been forced into the remote world. That means all the conferences and meetings are through video conferencing apps like ON24, Teams, WebEx, or Zoom, or traditional conference calls, which are still an effective way to communicate. In fact, the number of meetings I attend has increased. Our greatest challenge at TIRIAS Research is scheduling all the meetings, especially when everyone seems to want to schedule events and meetings in the morning. While the meetings have proven effective, the events/conferences still need a little fine tuning and could use help from additional technology, which I will save for my next article. In general, however, the tech industry has continued rolling at an incredible pace and while I enjoy places like Barcelona and Maui, I do not miss the travel.
To be fair, I know that many people are going stir crazy being sheltered in place. I made the transition to living in a secluded mountain area a few years ago, so other than reducing my trips to town and wearing a face mask when I go, nothing has changed for my family and me other than spending more quality time together. And, I know that others have found ways to continue exercising and socializing while still maintaining social distancing. While I would agree that it will be nice to regain some of the social activities, there is no reason to go back to the dark ages, especially for businesses of any kind.
From what we have seen in the tech industry, attendance at industry events has increased by making the events virtual. Registration for many of the industry events has risen by 2-10 times the number of the in-person events. The virtual world is a way to reach a much broader audience and if used effectively, to develop new relationships. The same is true for healthcare as people start leveraging more telehealth/telemedicine services. And, think about education. Rather spending millions on brick and mortar expansions, the major universities can potentially reach many more students in every corner of the world. In fact, I’m a bit disappointed the Arizona State University (ASU), a university that claims to have the broadest on-line programs and that had one of the first confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., is not continuing offering all of its programs online, while many smaller colleagues are making the transition. This is forcing some students, including my oldest son, back to campus in the fall when its not even clear if it will be safe to do so. And as for traditional businesses, the virtual world continues to reach a much broader customer base and/or expand their business models. Through the lockdowns, many restaurants have offered more takeout and delivery services and/or started selling goods like a specialty grocery store. These are services they should consider continuing even as their traditional business returns. In addition, visiting some traditional businesses like auto mechanics and auto parts stores has become more convenient offering curb-side pickup or the staff is greeting customers in the parking lot to keep you safe while saving time waiting or wandering around a store. It reminds me of the full-service gas stations if you can remember those.
The point is that the pandemic has pushed the world to finally reconsider how people work and live, especially through the use of technology. And it is pushing technology to live up to higher expectations. Telecommunications companies and countries are pushing the rollout of 5G networks for greater connectivity and broadband, software companies like Microsoft and Zoom are improving their platforms around usability and security, cloud service providers are adding capacity and performance, and the rest of the tech industry is rolling out some of the most impressive PCs, TVs, routers, webcams, VR headsets and other devices that bring the world to the consumer. While we will never replace hiking through the Alps, visiting Disneyland, attending a concert, tailgating at a football game, or other activities we desire in our life, we can work and live smarter. And guess what, there is an added benefit – saving the planet by reducing consumption of petroleum and decreasing pollution. The remote/virtual world isn’t perfect, but it is here and improving rapidly. Don’t go back, go forward.
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