Vice President for IT at Ultimate Technologies Group. Husband, father, IT department enabler and aspiring professional troublemaker.
It’s about connections. It was always about connections.
The technology, the manufacturers, the software companies and the network providers have had a lot of the spotlight since the pandemic began, but it was always about the connections.
How the pandemic shaped connections
I remember looking at video conferencing equipment and systems in the 2000s and 2010s, and like many others, I thought they were an overpriced novelty. Depending on the organization and travel requirements, this might have saved some money, but given the overhead and support issues, we weren’t convinced by the inefficiency of these solutions.
The software-based conferencing systems were better, and we all got used to using WebEx (some of us before Cisco bought them) and several other new software systems. Shortly after launch, it lost its cool factor and the camera was turned off. The connection was better, the convenience amazing, but it was just a software tool. Once again the value was in the time and money saved traveling and not in the connection between us.
In autumn 2018 I saw the commercial for the Facebook portal. I think I rolled my eyes and felt like Facebook is going all out to sell technology. And they were, because good marketers know how to do it.
But a little over a year later, I heard story after story about people not being able to see their families. Families visit their loved ones in senior citizen communities by sitting in front of their windows. Alienated parents are unable or have difficulty seeing their children for extremely long periods of time.
Businesses reopened remotely and were able to “get their jobs done”, but what was once a company of employees became one of isolated workers. My extroverted friends became depressed because they struggled to socialize. As IT departments around the world celebrated their winning streak by moving everyone indoors, the culture and HR processes were once again overshadowed.
Congratulations to all the companies that saw the opportunity to innovate and deliver more comprehensive features and tools. I’ve seen musicians use special technology from WebEx to eliminate latency so rehearsals can take place. We have seen that the “free” nature of Zoom and MS Teams allows schools and groups to start rebuilding their cultures. I can’t tell you how many home cooking, drinking and arts events I’ve attended during the pandemic. It felt different than other times. I liked having my camera with me.
This is how you build future connections
What we missed during the pandemic were human connections. Being able to chat by the water cooler, have coffee with friends, huddle together at the whiteboard, and actually have “war room” issues was something we had always taken for granted.
While many companies are struggling to get their employees back into the office, employees are struggling to work remotely or hybrid; The key will be connections. You no longer need to be physically in a place to connect. Technologies have changed, but more importantly, we have changed.
When companies are trying to lure (or threaten to lure) employees into the office, make sure the human connection drives the strategy. That doesn’t mean adding beer taps to the kitchen, just easy-to-use, powerful video systems, huddle spaces, mobile capabilities, and virtual whiteboards.
We humans understand that. Most of us love it and appreciate it. Instead of pool tables and pickleball courts, perhaps outfit staff with new audio and video equipment and rearrange offices to encourage more connected meetings and remote discussions. Increase the level of technology ability. IT teams should love this because they need something to top their 2020 exploits.
Let’s also remember that the ability to connect remotely has led to massive engagement among employees with disabilities. Neurodivergent workers are not required to wear a mask Monday through Friday to adjust. People with mobility needs don’t have to worry about the barriers we still allow and build into our facilities. Diversity could increase because transport and geolocation no longer play a role in a person’s ability to work. You need decent internet. All of these improvements in our inclusion capabilities are unintended advances due to the pandemic and the connection innovation that has come with it.
How to successfully introduce video systems
Organizations struggle to implement these systems if they treat them like any other IT system. This can lead to poor quality meetings, which can affect acceptance or cause failure.
Many companies do not involve their IT and security teams in strategy discussions. IT learns right before implementation. With C-suite on board and driving adoption, IT has no choice but to prioritize other priorities. They then need to operationalize these systems with limited information in their service desk, systems administration, security operations, and risk management. This not only hurts adoption, but also creates resentment in the IT department – once again, someone is asking them to take responsibility without proper planning.
Also, without organization-wide communication about strategy, remote workers could be impacted by being locked out of pre- and post-meeting “meetings” and water cooler discussions. Employees may then feel left out, leading to a loss of collaboration, trust and results.
These new technologies must therefore be part of a larger, well-communicated strategy. As with most technology, if the intended consumers of the technology do not understand the goals behind the technology, it can prove doomed even if the technology works perfectly.
Remote working has brought so many things to so many people, but it only worked because we found a new way to connect people to people. That is ultimately what our culture and civilization is all about. Instead of abandoning the idea of community, we have adapted and renewed our cultural norms. It’s time for employers, education, healthcare and government to fully embrace and drive this transition forward.
Human connections are still needed and we have shown that even during the global crisis these cannot be replaced.
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