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Working from home is testing our patience – and workplace collaborative tools

You’ve carefully chosen the corner of your home which will be your new home office, and cobbled together a desk and chair setting from whatever you’ve managed to find around the house. (Don’t forget, whatever you do, to boost up the height of the monitor so that you don’t crook your neck using a range of the biggest books you’ve never read.) But the question of how to communicate with your colleagues while you work in isolation is another challenge that is stretching how we work.There are a plethora of choices to pick from in creating our new remote offices, and different businesses are finding alternative solutions. One UK regional lifestyle magazine has sent its staff home from their office and taken solace in Slack, moving into the tech-enabled workspace for the first time and finding it workable – although the big test will come next week when they send their magazine to print online. Others have adapted Zoom, despite its numerous privacy concerns, and are relying on that. Still others are migrating wholesale to Microsoft Teams.

With great growth comes great problems

All of these apps have seen significant growth. Zoom added more than two million users in January and February, more than it added in the entirety of 2019. The numbers for March are likely to be staggeringly large, given that’s when the majority of the world adapted to the new work from home norm. 

And in each of these apps and services we’re finding faults. Universities are realising that Microsoft Teams doesn’t always record lectures as it promises to. Slack’s bells and whistles aren’t enough for some. And Zoom’s overly broad privacy rules mean every single movement you make and word you speak can be tracked for targeted advertising. 

The human cost is large

But it’s not just issues with the apps themselves – though there are plenty. We’re also recognising that one app often isn’t enough, and instead are duplicating multiple patterns of work across different platforms.

The home worker in 2020 will recognise the problem of a web browser laden with tabs containing each communications technology, each of them pinging and buzzing at different times. And that’s before you even check email, a separate, yet overlapping form of official communication. For those hoping to be more productive at home than the office, the timesink of checking notifications across five different services has replaced the talkative colleague that always swings by your desk for a chat every day.

That’s borne out by the data. Research carried out by NordVPN shows that the average number of hours the typical American officer worker carried out before 11 March was eight a day. After that, it became 11. The pattern is repeated across the world. A typical Brit’s nine-hour work day has suddenly become 11 hours long; workshy French employees are even online an extra two hours per day.

Putting the phone down

The challenge then isn’t just adapting to the challenges of home working based on the technological deficits – the things that we want big tech to do, but they don’t yet manage to. We also need to think about how to prevent the work-life balance tipping out of equilibrium.

That’s made more difficult by the fact that there isn’t a single workplace app that does everything we want. While it may be easy to close down the Zoom tab, Slack still pings away on our smartphone. Though you may shut down your email inbox on your laptop, Teams is still eager to let you know work is going on through your iPad. 

Working from home is testing our patience as we struggle with sluggish broadband connections and temperamental technology not quite doing what we want. But it’s also challenging us in a way we didn’t know it would: it’s challenging our ability to disconnect when we need to.

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