As most of the business world adjusts to the reality of full-time remote work, we will discover both new benefits (no more sitting in endless in-person meetings) as well as challenges (can you really be effective drawing on a virtual white-board with your team scattered across 6 locations?). For those used to the pace and dynamism of in-person team huddles and spontaneous brainstorming sessions, the challenges of getting subtle points across online communication platforms will feel awkward and unnaturally slow. Of course, companies with teams in multiple locations have already addressed some of these challenges. However, many agree that even with modern online collaboration tools and services, people “dialing in” to a meeting will often struggle to follow the rapid-fire discussion in the physical meeting room, and be less inclined to interject/interfere. Does this period of forced quarantine (as I write this, the US government just advised all Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, and San Francisco has ordered all bars and restaurants closed) give us all an opportunity to “up our game” in remote collaboration?
Giving Mother Earth a breather
With factories temporarily closed, morning commutes reduced to [takout only] cappuccino runs, mad dashes between after-school sports and music practices ground to a halt, and many airlines cancelling 25+% of their scheduled flights, our CO2 emissions are diving to levels not seen in years. Imagine the unlikely scenario where required quarantines, lock-downs and social distancing measures stay in place in most countries for six months or more. Yes, the economic havoc will be immense - it already is; yet, at the same time, countries will find that they will hit CO2 reduction targets not in 30 years, but in 3 months! And if we can control the return to normal or, alternatively, create a “new normal” where we incorporate many of the forced behaviors into our post-pandemic reality, we can make significant strides toward our emissions targets. Globally, transport-related emissions contribute 28% of all emissions, and within transport, road transport accounts for 72%, and air travel 11% - total emissions have increased by 250% since 1970 (https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5_full.pdf, page 606).
The case for face-to-face
Many of you reading this weren't even born when the following United Airlines ad first aired 7L: United Airlines Commercial 1990 "Speech" (tell-tale signs of the age of this ad include the 4:3 aspect ratio, the male-female ratio, and paper tickets), but it struck a chord then - as it does now - to all product managers whose mantra is "listen to the customer." And it's not just time spent with customers - it applies equally to partners, colleagues and of course friends and family. When we were launching TeamViewer IoT, our development team was spread between Germany and Armenia, and our go-to-market team also extended to North America. Our teams met frequently online, and used tools such as Confluence and Jira to document and share information. However, it took two offsites with the entire team coming together in one physical location to break through not just technical or product misunderstandings, but also to develop the personal relationships that made future collaboration and cooperation more productive. Most people agree that there is no substitute for in-person interactions.
The "new normal"
So, the question for the post-Covid-19 age is: how can we best use new technologies and techniques to effectively replace face-to-face with alternative collaboration approaches? How can we combine the best of in-person with the best of online to rewire how we work effectively as teams? It's not for lack of available products: a quick Google search brings dozens of reviewed platforms (https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=best+collaboration+tools&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8). As an example, I love Zoom's bold step to offer its online meeting service for free to K-12 schools - as we know, this age group is the first to identify, adopt and adapt to new technologies. Can we turn screen-time into something positive for society and the planet? And Krisp's AI-enabled background noise cancellation tool (https://krisp.ai) can help drown out background noises (pets, family members in instant karaoke sessions) from interfering with online conference calls. I invite you to share learnings and best practices from the next few weeks [hopefully not months!] of forced separation so that we can all do our part to prevent rapid spread of future pandemics and save the planet at the same time. Please share posts on favorite tools, adopted new practices, successes and failures as you adapt to the new normal in the coming weeks and months.