Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Distributed Collaboration, Distributed Minds - Challenges/ Problems Of Remote Working

Today I'm meeting with folks from all over the four corners region to discuss a variety of topics, including Distributed Workforces, or what some have called: remote working. I've been thinking deeply on this topic, and have come to a few conclusions:

  1. The technology is there, but the human isn't
  2. Leadership is still challenged with remote workers, but culturally
Let's focus on each one... 

The technology is there, but the human isn't... If you haven't heard the Fresh Air interview with Sherry Turkle concerning her book Alone Together, then you had better buy the book. In this article, Turkle speaks about the habits we've formed as parents and kids, or generally, as technologists. For example, many kids complain that their parents are too "plugged in". For example, parents are more apt to text at the dinner table teaching their kids that someone else is more important. Or parents are too overbearing when it comes to location-based-kid-tracking. In other words, the kid gets no alone time. So we are teaching our children to fear being alone, that it is something wrong! But when you think about it, the cell phone (with texting at the very least) has only been around for about 15 - 20 years, and we've already evolved to a culture of alone-ness?? Seems awfully quick to me... So my point is as humans we aren't really prepared for the impact these devices bring to bear on our emotional state. 

Leadership is still challenged with remote workers, but culturally... One of the most difficult challenges of any leader is to maintain the culture of the organization. Without seeing it, or feeling it, leadership often breaks down. That said, however, according to a Harvard Business Review blog post, most remote workers are even more engaged that their in-store counterparts. And the article sites a few reasons for that: 1, they have to try harder to engage; 2, they have to develop the personal and really listen; 3, most in-store workers use email anyway and don't engage their co-workers so the attempt matters more from in-store to remote. But that isn't my point... The real challenge comes from leadership. Is it me, or do leaders have to work extra hard here? I'd say extra hard! They have to connect on a whole new level... Leadership needs to be clear in communication, and use more emoticons :) But to turn the ship towards a new horizon this requires all the faculties of a leader. Let's face it... Most of our leadership ideals come from military movies. One man leading a team up hill, together. So how does one do this without the team there? Hard... 

I love this video by Jason Fried, co-founder of He brings a unique perspective to remote working and creativity. 

Here are the questions I plan to speak to at the Economic Alliance meeting in Ignacio, CO today...

  1. With a distributed workforce, will the office space culture cease to exist? And, if so, what will that mean to Durango's real estate market? Will the small office rental become obsolete? Will solutions like Durango Office Space gain in popularity? 
  2. With remote network tools, manufacturing centers run on computer and HD meeting tools, do we actually need vacation time? Don't these tools change the nature of what paid time off really is or isn't? On a side note, should we, instead, call it unplugged time? The space you allot your brain to actually tune out? 

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