Technology Bringing it home

Bringing it home

Ever had that dream where you find yourself at work in your pyjamas?

COVID-19 has made it a reality for some but RMIT University researcher Geoffrey Mann says technology offers tools to help us stay professional – and avoid embarrassment – in the era of social distancing.

We just have to be aware of their limitations.

“Working from home can be a real challenge for employees who find themselves doing it for the first time,” he says.

“To address this concern, many employees are turning to digital solutions to help them interact with colleagues and stay productive away from the office.”

The uses for which these are designed break down into three broad categories:

  • Formal meetings
  • Informal discussions
  • Team projects

Formal meetings are the first obvious casualty when colleagues are physically separated.

Most of us are used to using FaceTime or similar apps and dialling multiple parties into a voice call.

That isn’t possible with larger numbers, however, which is where video conferencing comes in. There has been a proliferation of VC applications in recent years.

Some like Skype and Microsoft Teams are incorporated into other, existing business platforms like Outlook.

Others, such as Zoom, can be downloaded free and operate independently.

But Geoffrey Mann cautions that online meetings don’t always deliver the same feelings of connection and empathy face-to-face ones do, especially when it comes to dealing with customers.

Video conferencing is even less suited to shorter exchanges of information – questions like, “have you sent that invoice?”

Such informal chats are more suited to instant messaging platforms or group chat apps.

A common tactic is to use Facebook messenger, WhatsApp or Google Talk but these can also be distracting and intrusive, particularly at high volumes, causing workers to lose focus and concentration.

Many companies have instead adopted Slack and Microsoft Teams, which offer instant communication without the distraction of social media.

Once again, however, these tools aren’t necessarily suited to building a genuine sense of rapport.

Research shows being authentic, realistic and making time with colleagues is a more natural way to build effective work relationships.

When it comes to team projects options like Google Drive and Microsoft One Drive allow colleagues to upload documents to the cloud and collaborate in real time.

These two platforms have already become industry standard for sharing documents, however, the same caution should be applied.

Face-to-face communication, when it becomes possible again, will always provide a more dynamic medium for conversations and brainstorming.

“There’s no doubt that the coronavirus has struck at a time when we have more digital options than ever before, giving a wider range of employees the opportunity to work from home with minimal disruption,” Geoffrey Mann says.

“But it’s also undeniable that people still need face-to-face interactions for companies to function at their best.”

No pyjamas at work, in other words.

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