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Does the future of work mean abandoning human connections for internet connections?

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There’s no question that COVID-19 has propelled us into unforeseen circumstances. While the world stays at home, businesses across all industries are rushing to adapt. Whether it’s virtual touch bases or Slack brainstorms, our new reality is here to stay.

Some workplaces have slowly been evolving, as they prepare for the future of work — though nobody expected that it would happen so rapidly and under the current circumstances.

Employees have been suddenly forced into a new lifestyle, doing their best to embrace all that comes with it in one fell swoop. With that said, times of uncertainty have historically spurred collaboration, camaraderie, and some of the most significant works of innovation.

Think back to 2008, when the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression left people searching for new ways to earn an income. The need for new job opportunities coupled with the urge to reevaluate how we spend our money was the spark that ignited the emergence of the sharing economy. At first, the thought of renting out our homes to strangers or getting rides from others was strongly stigmatized. Fast forward to today, where we find Airbnb and Uber as a part of our everyday lives. We’re on the cusp of that same type of innovation for distributed work.

For our health and that of those around us, nationwide stay-at-home policies have been put in place, forcing a breakdown in the traditional office setup. Working from home has magnified previously unknown or unimportant stressors (like online chat overload and disorganized communications), and the processes that were previously considered essential (like in-person meetings) have been discarded. We are in the process of reinventing what a work “place” is regardless of location, and the way the corporate world navigates the situation at hand will determine the future of work as we know it. The companies that survive will be the ones that evolve at the same rate as the changing needs of employees currently navigating remote work life.

Modern teams will look more like online communities
The future of work will be full of software natives and knowledge workers, all of whom are diverse and distributed. The current pandemic has accelerated the growth and adoption of distributed and diverse teams at work by five to 10 years. For companies, this has created even more of a demand for workplace tools that allow for collaboration and communication that spans time zones.

We can also look to our past to determine the new ways in which people will be communicating post-COVID-19: think back to the internet, which has been diverse and distributed from day one. It created a place where people with common goals and interests could develop online communities, using forums to share, discuss, and make decisions.

While working at Facebook, I learned people are drawn to forums because they allow for open discussion, while also breeding support and inclusion within any given group. Just as most consumer trends find their way into the enterprise, how people share, discuss, and decide distributedly will be no different.

Essentially, online communities are the virtual meeting room. They're the place where people can have thoughtful discussions and not be penalized for being in another timezone, less outspoken, or having different opinions. It’s clear that as all work becomes online and integrated with software, the way we work needs to evolve in a similar manner. Tools available today are optimized for similar people in the same room; we need to now move towards tools that facilitate different people that are working from around the world.

Distributed work is a spectrum. Obviously, 100% of companies will not be fully distributed after COVID-19, but many more use cases and policies will be available that will create a more remote-friendly work culture. To further support the inevitable change, companies should refer back to how the internet has fostered this productive behavior and bring it to their own business.

What will the future of work look like post-COVID-19?
The business community has a long road ahead to make our new normal feel normal. While it’s been difficult, it has also presented an opportunity for us to experience work in a way that used to be considered impossible. Within our team at Threads, we’ve always had the option to work remotely, but we became fully distributed for the first time alongside the rest of the world. Scheduling virtual check-ins that have a less structured agenda and creating space in my day to participate in thoughtful discussions with my team has allowed me to see everyone with more clarity than ever.

This is a scary time, and there’s no way around that. While we get through it, I am choosing to focus on my online community and team, and how it has made the weight of this enormous transition feel lighter. It’s still being debated on whether or not the working world can go back to the way it was before the COVID-19 outbreak, but I feel reassured knowing that we don’t need to sacrifice inclusion and efficiency. The future of work lies with distributed and diverse teams. That future came quicker than anyone was expecting, but if we create the structures now to allow for successful distributed teams, will we ever need to require whole teams to return to an office setting? The innovation happening now to help businesses and workers succeed will determine how future generations make a living, and I can’t wait to explore what that looks like — from home, for the time being.

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