Fulfilling the promise of an officeless world
For nearly 20 years, we’ve been made promises. Promises that haven’t been kept. We’ve been promised a revolution, a new way of work, a new way of life. This is the promise of the virtual office and mobile work. AT&T’s great “You Will” ads ran in 1993. They showed us a future where we could join meetings from anywhere, open our front door with our voice, and even send a fax (!) from the beach.
By now, office buildings were supposed to be ancient relics of a barbaric time. We were all going to be working from home, or wherever we are, and the whole concept of “the office” would be redefined. And yet, it’s 2013 and many of us still trudge to the office every day, buying homes near where we work, feeling chained to our desks.
Two things haven’t happened, actually. First, our culture hasn’t caught up with our vision yet. There’s been a lot of discussion about how the company culture needs to fully commit to remote working. But something else is at work here too — remote working isn’t just a change in how we do business, it’s a lifestyle change. Like any societal change, it’s going to take time. It’s going to take time for our culture to respect people who work from their home as much as we respect the office warrior. There’s still a stigma when you’re the guy who works from home in his underwear every day:
This needs to change.
The other thing that hasn’t happened yet is that the technology just hasn’t been good enough. Today, we get by with tools like WebEx, Skype, and Google Hangouts. Working together remotely requires new tools that are designed not just for presentation, but for actually getting things done together. The new tools will take advantage of the bandwidth and computing power that we have accessible to us today. They’ll consider how work gets done on desktops today, and will get done on mobile devices tomorrow. They’ll think about the user experience in ways that encourage and invite human connection, even when we’re not sitting next to each other.
Great technology is going to be at the heart of fulfilling the vision of the distributed workforce. With Screenhero, we think we’ve taken the first step towards a tool designed to enable remote work in ways that weren’t possible (or were too annoying or painful) in the past.
The revolution isn’t dead, by any means. Teams are becoming increasingly distributed — DHH of 37signals quotes a stat that the number of remote workers grew 73% from 2005-11. Everything seemed hunky-dory on the path to mobility, but then a wrench got thrown in the mix. Yahoo and Best Buy banned working remotely. This brought out voices on both sides of the aisle, from staunch proponents of the remote work vision to remote work skeptics that support the bans.
It was actually fortunate that Yahoo and Best Buy made that choice. It opened up the conversation. It got people thinking about where we are today, what works and what doesn’t work, and why we haven’t gotten where we want to be. The world is becoming more distributed — in both work and life. This is happening, and it’s inevitable. But we need to be conscious of our culture, and keep working to build the technology that’s going to enable us to fulfill the promises of the past 20 years.
Edit: Join the discussion on HN.