Technology Ruins the Remote Work Experience

There’s no question that technology has improved the virtual work environment. Conference, cell and telephone calls are now (usually) reliable and easy to use. Video conferencing and webinar platforms allow us to see the same content at the same time. (We can also see each other!) File sharing platforms provide a way for teams to easily co-create materials asynchronously or in real time.

But do these tools and opportunities ever do any damage?

I talk (a lot) about the fact that every day people make choices. And at the end of every day, the results of those decisions – both good and bad – belong to the individual.

• If you choose to stay up late and watch your favorite movie, the fact that you’re tired the next day is your own fault.
• When you study hard and pass a certification exam with flying colors, you should be proud of the fact that your sacrifices paid off!
• If you get a speeding ticket on a road that (you swear) never has a cop on it, you’re still responsible for your choice to break the law.

“I couldn’t hear very well, so I didn’t chime in.” – Remote Worker
“She didn’t say anything. I don’t think she was listening.” – Traditional Employee
“They never consider my opinion.” – Remote Worker
“We can’t put her on a team because she never contributes.” -Traditional Employee

If you don’t feel heard, speak up. If you want someone to contribute more, ask them to participate. Maybe you can’t think of a solution “in the moment” but there’s no reason you can’t follow up with an email or a phone call. If communication isn’t going as well as you’d like it to, do something about it. Whether you’re the remote worker, leader or traditional employee, it’s your decision.

Whoever makes the request can carry it through.

• The remote worker can ask people to repeat themselves if she can’t hear them.
• The traditional employee can ask the remote worker directly to respond.
• The remote worker can ask to talk to her team leader or the head of a project and express an interest in contributing to a certain part of the project.
• The traditional employee can give the remote employee clear deliverables and make them an integral part of a team.

Technology does sometimes provide an excuse for remote workers… and traditional workers to underperform. Can we say, “The technology made me do it!” and be excused? That’s up to the people behind the technology.

My advice to leaders is this:

1. If the technology connecting remote employees doesn’t work well, fix or replace it. Not an option? Find another way to communicate. Don’t give people an easy way to hide or an excuse for bad behavior.
2. If employees (remote or traditional) are multi-tasking or having side-bar conversations while people who can’t see them are talking, ask them to stop. Set the expectation that all employees be treated respectfully.