There certainly are minor irritants with Zoom and other work-from-home technologies. In the long term, though, these bugs will be repaired and the trend of telecommuting will leap forward.
What are some of the critical success and risk factors that will enable the off-site workplace?
Cal Newport, a professor of computer science at Georgetown University, makes some powerful points on the subject in an essay in last week’s New Yorker. It describes the history of telecommuting, going back to the 1970s.
More important, it focuses on workflow enablement as the key success factor for working efficiently with a distributed workforce. It turns out that many of the small decisions that move a project forward are still made face to face. Without the ability to stick your head in a colleague’s office or run into them in the hall, overall productivity suffers.
Newport gives an example of a domain that already has a higher percent of distance workers: information technology.
“Software development is one of the few knowledge industries to have had success with remote work, in part because its programmers and managers have deployed an unusually systematic approach to organizing their efforts,” he says in the essay.
For example, software firms have several agile project-management methods that are elaborate, with stand-up meetings and coding sprints to track and assign tasks to avoid overloading individuals or duplicate work.
“Leveraging these systems, carefully organized teams of coders can operate smoothly without the informal productivity boosts that come from working in the same space,” Newport said. “The extensive efforts required to accomplish this feat, of course, only help underscore the importance of offices for everyone else.”
Newport suggests in his essay that organizations will create roles such as chief workflow officer to create standard systems of organization similar to how chief information officers came to be the backbone of digital operations.
This also suggests that the agile methodology will increasingly be used in service environments, not just in software development.
Isaac Cheifetz, a Twin Cities executive recruiter and strategic résumé consultant, can be reached through catalytic1.com.