I recently had a demo of a new collaboration product called Glue, which uses virtualized avatars in virtual rooms as a way to get around having to attend meetings physically. This application is far from the first application of its type I’ve used, and, as technology advances, each iteration brings us closer to having a functional way to intereact without traveling.
With the COVID-19 coronavirus currently causing havoc, most of us are being asked to work from home. Those of us not used to working from home are susceptible to having motivational issues, distraction issues, loneliness issues and the sense that we are left out of important events or decisions we would be part of if we were only in the office.
Given that many offices are currently empty, this isn’t the central problem; it is, however, when most of the people at the firm are present onsite. Still, there are ways to mitigate this problem, even when we are not under a mandatory work-from-home temporary policy.
Let’s talk about using this unique virus outbreak, which we can’t avoid anyway, to permanently shift from a standard of having to come into the office to one where you can be more productive, happier and safer working remotely.
Work at Home Benefits
Back in the 1990s, the firm I worked for at the time had an aggressive work-from-home policy, and I began to take advantage of it. What I found was I could be more productive because I had fewer people dropping by to chat, I had fewer distractions in the form of office politics and drama, and I could focus better on my tasks as a result. My productivity, which was already high, increased, and my aggravation with the company decreased. But I had lived alone for much of my life at that point and I was highly self-motivated (and an introvert), so the downsides others find working from home didn’t seem to affect me as much.
Other benefits were: I didn’t seem to get as sick as often (except when I traveled to events); I wasted far less time in traffic; I had fewer transportation expenses; and, rather than worrying about my pets or home, I was able to help stop neighborhood burglaries (I called the police; I wasn’t Batman!).
But with tools like Glue and more traditional video conferencing, you can get the face time you need. Managers who need to drive employees who aren’t self-motivated can make their check-up calls, and we do have tools that can effectively monitor and report on productivity.
Glue and Transforming Remote Meetings
One of the things we are currently dealing with is bandwidth and latency constraints because we push networks that weren’t designed to have so many people suddenly working from home. Video conferencing can be problematic, because users weave together multiple high-bandwidth streams, and, as I just discovered with an earlier meeting, this can cause the system to crash.
What Glue and other products do is they render an avatar, which takes up far less bandwidth, allowing them to maintain low latency and uptime while providing what seems like a better interactive experience. Yes, you are using VR goggles, which place you in a virtual world, but you also can share your computer screen and work off a whiteboard.
It did showcase for me that we still need to advance the VR hardware and not only move to instrumented gloves over controllers to make holding things far more natural, but we need to integrate the cameras in the latest VR goggles so you can better operate the tool in your home office. (I kept hitting my monitor when I wanted to grab something to work on the whiteboard.)
But, since most of us have to work from home anyway, we are developing the critical skills needed to interact with this new technology, so why not leave it in place and redefine how and where we work? In this way, we are not only better prepared for the next pandemic, but we can eliminate all the wasted travel and distractions that cut into our personal time and productivity through using the office mode. Other benefits are fewer and smaller offices and an improved ability to acquire talent from remote locations.
For decades we have been trying to get employees to use video conferencing tools to reduce the costs and risks associated with travel. The COVID-19 outbreak is forcing the use of these tools, and during the following months enterprises will significantly welcome the effectiveness of these tools due to the new skills and tool advancements that will make them far more acceptable to employees.
Rather than reverting to the past once the virus mitigates, why not leave the policies in place and regain a lot of the time and productivity lost due to unnecessary travel, both to remote events and to and from the office?
Something to think about this week. Oh, and if you get a chance, check out Glue; it is another product to consider while on the path to a future virtual office.
Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is a nationally recognized analyst and a longtime contributor to eWEEK.