by Ronn Levine
There’s apparently a new concept called the Square which, according to Fast Company today, is “an artificial window, created from an LCD screen that goes on the wall next to your desk. When you raise the shade, you can see a coworker, or two, working right there next to you.” And it may be coming soon to a remote office near you. “This isn’t just for a conversation, this is a desk mate,” said the founder.
In a Sidebar survey a couple weeks ago, we asked, "If you are a first-time, full-time working-from-home person, how are you finding it?" Almost 40% of respondents checked, "I actually like remote working and will do it more when offices reopen." That's no surprise. In comments on Associations Now last week, Sunil Prashara, president and CEO of the Project Management Institute, said that workers' increasing comfort with remote work and videoconferencing will outlast COVID-19. He also believes it can increase productivity. (Similar comments were made by four media company CEOs in a Connectiv webinar this afternoon - it will be posted shortly.)
We've all been disrupted to different degrees during COVID-19. But when we do return to some sort of normalcy, remote work will only expand its former presence and, by then, initiatives like the Square may just settle in right next to it.
Here are other elements that might remain prevalent post-pandemic:
News hubs/microsites. "We put our COVID content in front of the paywall on March 3rd and saw an explosion in website traffic (153% increase) and a modest increase in subscriptions (9%) since the same time period last year," said Stephanie Williford, CEO of EB Medicine. Publishers and associations alike were quick to create a coronavirus news hub, a collection of content and resources focused on implications for the industries they cover. Kathryn Hamilton, vice president for marketing and communication at NAIOP (the Commercial Real Estate Development Association), and Marlene Hendrickson, senior director, publishing and marketing, American Staffing Association, both talked about theirs on an AM&P webinar earlier this month. "From a communications perspective, my biggest takeaway [from an initial call with our leaders] was that we... needed to create a microsite where all this content could be easily found,” said Hamilton. Coronavirus sites have brought excellent engagement—and goodwill. Of course, we all hope that nothing takes over our lives like COVID-19 has. But the success of these hubs could provide a blueprint for future news hubs around big-ticket or charitable topics.
More collaborative meetings. People are getting more comfortable with their cameras being on for meetings and making comments. In a webinar last October on managing remote employees, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, a division of the Financial Times, said that "frequency of cameras being disabled has become an issue that we've tried to address. We are encouraging people to use the video component." Added Prashara: "It's very difficult for people to talk on top of each other because the system can't handle it. People will give people the opportunity to finish a sentence before they talk and etiquette starts to get creative. You don't even have to define it—it starts to happen."
Better retention. "There are people here that we would've hated to lose if we didn't allow them to work remotely," Fink said. But I've also seen companies where working remotely has not been greeted as warmly. Judging from this afternoon’s webinar, that will change. "It can reduce turnover," said Heather Farley, COO of Access Intelligence.
Thought leadership. "What we're doing editorially... is making sure we're putting out as much thought leadership as we can," Jonathon Whiteley, CEO of Incisive Media, said. "In our financial portfolio, we're doing a lot more senior opinion format style interviews. Our financial portfolio is quite technical because we are often dealing so much with regulatory issues, so we're doing a lot more longer form explainer pieces around the implications."
Better listening. With more people working remotely, the sense of being "left out" of meetings may dissipate. Said Prashara: "There could be 30 people watching, but I'm just seeing your face and you're just seeing my face—therefore, it's a bit more intense. There's more of a likelihood that you're going to be listening a little bit more attentively."
Better platforms and tools. Zoom, of course, has become hugely popular, and other similar platforms will follow. Copyrightlaws.com, has been having great success with their Zoom On Ins, begun prior to the pandemic. I just read in Fast Company today that Google is removing a payment barrier with a new tier of its Meet platform that’s available to anyone who has a Google account. “As with Zoom’s free version, meetings are limited to 100 participants. But Meet’s maximum meeting length for freeloaders will be an hour, vs. 40 minutes for Zoom. And Google won’t begin enforcing that limit until Oct. 1, so people stuck at home during the pandemic don’t have to keep an eye on the clock.”
Making these platforms part of our everyday—even in the best of times—will only improve what we offer. Money-Media was quick to order "kits for a number of staff who were having difficulty being efficient in their home work space; things like a mouse, keyboard, monitor, office chair, etc.," Fink said. "Most of these items are pretty inexpensive on amazon.com but go a long way to helping staff be productive and letting people know how much we appreciate their hard work during this crisis."