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  • John Walker

Innovation and Adaptation: How we work is about to change permanently

The coronavirus pandemic has many of us locked in our homes wondering when things will get “back to normal.” But I’m not sure that’s where we’re going. I think we’re about to embark on a period of rapid innovation and adaptation that’s going to permanently change how we work.

Where we are now

The coronavirus crisis hit us as a swift shock that sent us quarantining to bedrooms and missing the comradery of work- those of us lucky enough not to have to work outside our homes on the hazardous front lines of this crisis. Many of us work remotely using Zoom and Facetime and email and sometimes, even, the phone. And we feel stir crazy and we wonder when we can get back to the old way of working.

But what if we don’t go back to the old way of working? Maybe we can’t. And maybe there were parts of it that sucked.

The Trump Administration just announced a phased reopening of the county that won’t be quick. So we’re going to have to start adapting now. Also, who wants to go back to long commutes, expensive gas, traffic, or the bland, unproductive minutia that comes with office work? This working from home thing can be pretty good so why not keep it going, at least for some of us.

Yesterday I spoke to a friend who runs a sales team in Denver, CO for a national technology company. His office lease is up in a few months and he’s not going to renew it. His team has been working remotely over the last month and doing very well at it. This has been enough to convince him that he can save rent, and maintain productivity and he’s going to do that.

Adaptation is starting now.

Where we might be going

As I use Zoom and GoToMeeting and the other remote working platforms that keep me connected through quarantine, I remember browsing websites in the 90’s with their animated gifs and their hit counters. They were primitive and slow but all we had. I think this is what we have with the current digital video technology. It’s crude but if you don’t like using it, just wait. Some major things are going to happen.

First, 5G is going to increase the speed and capability of these services. For reference, 5G is 100 times faster than 4G. That means, for example, you can download a two hour movie in ten seconds, not seven minutes. So what’s blurry and buggy today, may get remarkably better quite soon. Additionally, the added capacity of 5G networks is likely to launch entirely new applications that we can’t even imagine now.

Second, the technology on the market today is unrefined because it hasn’t had many generations of user input with which to improve the user experience.

Why are websites so much better today than they used to be? Part of it is that they have been tested, refined and redesigned many, many times. The same is true with any product that’s had a chance to evolve. Ford F-150’s are great to drive because you’re sitting inside a design that has been refined thousands of times; every feature meets some need that at one time was unknown but now is built in. So the point is that remote-working technology, and its user experience, are going to get a lot better.

Next, some of the trade-offs that we haven’t been willing to make around remote work, are going to happen whether we like it or not. For example, if innovators can find a way for more doctors to treat more patients using telemedicine, that innovation will likely get adopted quickly because any trade-offs that might have been hindering adoption will be more than out-weighed by the new urgency of social distancing. Or, if a sales manager can save tens of thousands of dollars a year in rent, he may have his team start to work remotely.

Innovation is starting now

I believe that the coronavirus crisis will unleash a dynamic wave of innovation in remote working starting now. The need is there and the technology is too. Lots of innovation will happen in other parts of society as well. I think this will happen because it has to for us to continue to thrive and we’re actually really good at this type of innovation. We were built to innovate and adapt.

But our challenge, more than ever, is how to do this so that technology helps make us happier, not just more efficient. Being around other people feeds us and we can’t do without it. I’d like to see remote work keep us healthier, cut commutes and give us more time to do stuff we love.

I know we’re going to innovate. I know we’re going to adapt. I just hope it will help us be happy, not just efficient.

This post was written by John Walker, principal consultant at J. Walker Marketing. Contact John today to discuss your thoughts on business innovation.

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