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21st Century Work Life and leading remote teams

Brought to you by Virtual not Distant, the 21st Century Work Life podcast looks at leading remote teams, online collaboration and working in distributed organisations.

Join Pilar Orti, guests & co-hosts as they shine the spotlight on the most relevant themes and news relevant to the modern knowledge worker.

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Apr 21, 2022

In this episode, Maya and Pilar discuss the mental health challenges in returning to the office space, the evolution of communication in the workplace and the reasons why many people do not want to work remotely – in Spain and other places.

The set up of a hybrid workplace continues with its challenges. In episode 106 of My Pocket Psych, guest Dr. Hayley Lewis talked about how she was working with a government organisation whose chief exec wanted to reduce the office space in order to cut down on public spending. 

However, when she looked into the living conditions of some of the employees, it was clear that asking (or offering) people to work from home would end up with some individuals working in difficult conditions. 

While we’re making sure we can have the conversation so that people can work flexibly, there’s also a need to help people speak out when they feel they can’t use their homes for work.

In any case, saving money by reducing the office space might not be as straight-forward as it looks. According to a set of yet to be released data that Maya’s had access to, to make remote work permanent in some organisations, they will have to invest heavily in IT and cybersecurity, etc. Something they maybe didn’t do during the pandemic.

09.45 MINS
The return to the office is bringing some unexpected challenges and this article covers a few of them: Everyone Is Not OK, but Back at Work Anyway.

For example, the dynamics of a team that used to be colocated might have changed when it went suddenly remote. And now that they have to return to their previous workspace… it might not be easy. Many people have changed, and had different experiences of working remotely during the pandemic. 

We need to continue talking about how we’re doing, we’re still in transition. What medium people prefer for being open about how they’re feeling might vary. For some, the best medium might be face to face, others might prefer to tell you how they are on Slack, there’s great diversity in this. 

Different people and different teams will figure it out as they go along. What’s common is that there is still a lot of uncertainty around what the future of the workplace will look like, and still around the pandemic. (And have you heard of “Schrodinger’s Covid”?) 


19.00 MINS

On a lighter note, Slack has published this article about how written communication at work is changing and becoming more informal: From jargon to emoji, the evolution of workplace communication styles.

Instead of business jargon, people prefer to adopt more informal ways of talking to colleagues, using GIFs and emojis. Is this a hangover from the way we were taught to write “properly” at school? Or is it that we communicate much more in writing with colleagues and therefore can adopt more informal and playful ways of doing so?  However, we can’t let informality bring a lack of clarity (Maya’s words!) and we still need to adopt formal ways of writing when needed.

Pilar doesn’t like emojis that duplicate a message, like the article with a smiley face followed by “enjoying” in the text. Sometimes it feels like information overload. But some of these emojis have a lot of energy behind them, and they have their place. 

Different teams will evolve their own ways of communicating, even how you react to messages, or even having their own designs. 

(Let us know what you think of this!)


29.20 MINS
We move on to a recent article about how telework is being adopted now in Spain, post-lockdown, “Dos años después del confinamiento, ¿qué pasa con el teletrabajo en España?”(It’s been two years after lockdown. What’s going on with telework in Spain?). It’s been written by regular guest on the show Eva Rimbau-Gilabert.

(You can hear her talk about the state of remote work in Spain pre-pandemic in episode 214 The View from South Europe.)

“The most prominent reason why there is not as much teleworking as possible is that a large part of the people who could telework prefer not to do so (58.5%). The reasons for wanting to work face-to-face include disadvantages of teleworking such as lack of social contact with colleagues, difficulties disconnecting from work or work overload. Added to this is the fact that the private home may not be suitable for teleworking.”

This reflects much of what we were talking about earlier and we’re sure this is not the case only in Spain. It’s still difficult to disconnect from work, this sometimes has to do with culture, sometimes with individuals, and mobile phones don’t make it any easier!

This research says 58.5% people don’t want to continue teleworking, which is similar to what we heard from previous guest Laurel in episode 298, that the number of people in the US asking to work remotely hasn’t increased, it’s just their negotiation power has changed.

“The majority of people who have ever teleworked indicate that, once the pandemic is over, they would like to telework every day (23.5% without ever going to the workplace, and 24.7% going occasionally), with an average preference of 3.8 days of telecommuting per week.”

Even though we hear that the main reason for going back to using the office is to see our colleagues, it looks like a decent percentage of people don’t have a need to go back to the workplace. It’s a minority, but it’s there. (Maybe it was always there, but we didn’t know about it…)

Finally, the article talks about complex vs simple communication, and how they benefit from different spaces. It helps to define “communication” and “collaboration” when we’re talking about how to best do it. 

Some people might prefer the office for complex communication, while others might prefer to do that kind of communication away from each other, taking their time. (Thanks to listener Pedro for this latter point of view, the conversation on LinkedIn is here.)

Different spaces are more suited to different kinds of interactions, and these will vary between teams, and even at different stages of the work. Coworking spaces don’t seem to have gone mainstream yet in Spain, even though they can provide a good alternative to working from home. 

To talk about all these different things takes time, so it’s worth thinking about moving some of our more transactional, simple team communication to the asynchronous space so that we can use our time together to talk through the next iteration of how we work. 

Finally, a shout out to Omnipresent and Oyster for their April Fool’s memos! They almost got us!