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The Nature Of Remoteness

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cell.jpgMy fellow “Citrite” Tal Klein just provided a great insight in his comment on my recent “Eruptions” post. I hope he won’t mind if I replicate it and discuss it here, because it is evidence of a new style of thinking which (I have to say) I rather like. Tal’s comment was:

I think teleworking is now officially a part of my life. I’m even teleworking when I’m *in* the office because I have meetings with people all over the world and I honestly don’t care if they’re at home or in an office as long as they’re getting their work done.

I’m pleased to see this, because Tal’s insight is into the very nature of remoteness itself: remoteness means “remote from each other”, not just “remote from HQ”. This is akin to the shift from Ptolemaic to Copernican thinking; HQ is not the centre of the universe, rather there is no centre, just lots of locations, all some (possibly variable) distance from each other, just as stars in a galaxy do. So your organisation could consist entirely of one-person home offices, or (because locations tend to cluster) the offices could be cubes in one of many floors in one of several buildings on a campus, as part of a large multinational. Most companies are somewhere in between. But the crucial point is the shift in the basic, underlying assumption, from:

The world is basically centralised, and anything that’s elsewhere is a special case

to:

The world is basically distributed, with co-location of entities being a happy convenience

The centralised world is very tempting to live in, because it’s simple; but the distributed world is real life. So what’s to do?

Well, we can really only make the obvious compromise: let’s recognise and allow for the distributed nature of things, and exploit any benefits (which are, to be fair, huge), but we don’t really want to deal with all the complexity it introduces, so let’s try to hide as much of it as we can to make life simpler for anyone who has to plug themselves into this world. And this is what the computing world has been doing ever since it came into being: as the power of computers and the breadth of the communications between them grew, the more complex the applications that could be built, and the greater the need to simplify the user experience to keep pace.

Translating this into practical terms, organisations that wish to fully embrace teleworking should ensure that all their staff are as fully equipped as the homeworker with phone, computer, webcam and headset, so you don’t end up with the situation where our teleworker can’t use the power of the communications at her disposal because her co-workers back at the ranch don’t have the same kit. If two staff members happen to be co-located, either temporarily (say at a meeting at a customer’s office) or more permanently (working in the same building) then they are fortunate enough to be able to converse face-to-face as well. Having said that, many intra-office discussions are still carried out by email! So we shift from “face-to-face normal, webcam if needed” to “webcam, unless we can do face-to-face”.
I hope this doesn’t sound too pedantic (although I prefer the term “accurate”!); the difference in thinking might seem trivial, but the change in overall perspective is huge.

What’s your perspective?

Photo Credit: iammistletoe

  • http://www.renegadeyogi.com/ Eric Normand

    I used to work for the government. It’s not known for its efficiency, no doubt. I used to have 3 weekly teleconferences and fly out to DC at least once a month, sometimes for a few days.
    When people learned how much I flew out to DC (and how much each trip would cost), they would ask “why don’t you guys do more meeting remotely?” I would say “we do lots of meetings remotely.”
    The thing is, instead of replacing face-to-face meetings, telephones just added more meetings. And no work got done as a result.
    Not to throw any monkey wrenches. I think telemeetings can work really well, when done properly.

  • Darryl

    The nature of remoteness is not only being remote but working in isolation. A whole bunch of issues can arise from this environment. Telecommuting has been around for several decades. We should start to recognize and address the challenges of isolation as well as the benefits of this work method. Darryl Howard – Space Logix

  • Showphile

    I agree with the perspective. I think what has been a gradual evolution in acceptance of remote workers has suddenly revealed its true nature as a paradigm shift in today’s workplace. The core technologies are available and only those business willing to embrace the concept are poised to succeed. The potential rewards are enormous…true global reach.

  • dcaruzzi

    As a long-term “remote” worker, i am a HUGE advocate and really appreciate many of the points made.  We are certainly “together in our isolation”!!  When done well, tele-working allows for reduced expense and carbon footprint, broader reach, more flexibility, global working hours, and fewer distractions.  But like all shifts, it requires that we optimize it–that we have the necessary technology, skills, and personal characteristics….and that we find ways to build in the relationship-building required of humans.  As with a number of changes in our world today, we can’t just let the technology stand alone!

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    Very good article. I agree with every point.