Not too long ago during the last winter, I had to commute across the city with public transport for a conference. It was a stressful journey in contrast to my typical walk, run, or peddling a bike to work with all that noise, disorder, tight spaces, unsaid excuse-me’s, coughing ‘n sneezing, braking and accelerating, pollution, bad air, sweat etc.
Despite the relative discomfort of my journey, the most striking discovery was related to the colossal kinetic energy involved. A good bit of it seemed like a perfect waste of resources (incl. time) in a very unsustainable manner. I mean, look at a person alone in a private car: does it really still take a 1 ton steel cage to move 70-80kg around?! Yes, if we say so, but I think there are options. Altogether, I couldn’t stop myself from to wondering that wouldn’t it just make more sense for all these people stay home and work from there?
The next paradigm shift is here
By far and large, in the global private sector business teleconferencing has been an essential part of communications for a good decade. It’s not hard to put the numbers together to find out how much companies save on travel expenses by reducing flying. It also saves time which is our most valuable asset.
The more recent shift in Finland however, has started to promote remote presence even if the physical interaction would take place relatively close, even the meeting room next door. There are many detailed reasons for this.
Undeniably, technology has had naturally something to do with this change, but most importantly the real paradigm shift seems to have taken place in working culture that has started to take baby steps away from 19th century industrialization work time management.
Acting as spearheads, a few but significant companies by size and challenging industry characteristics have gone from “Everyday physical presence absolutely required!“ to total “We don’t care where you work just as long as you do“. This change in mentality can be also seen in the way office spaces are being redesigned; more flexible spaces for ad-hoc collaboration and less fixed work stations with a someones name firmly on it.
Obviously, some people find tele and video conferencing uncomfortable for many reasons, be it unfamiliarity with the tech and equipment involved, impaired and saturated information exchange, or the demand for more organized way of running meetings.
Surely, I don’t exactly love remote meetings myself either, but they have started to make sense in increasing amount of different cases. We just have to adjust to new ways of connecting. Maybe random pre-conference mingle over a cup of coffee takes place in a virtual chat room instead? In our private lives this is very much already so, if you look at the popularity of online dating for instance.
..and the future?
Curiously enough, last autumn there was a some sort of a public strike in Finland. I cannot remember who and what specifically was in the center of it, but nevertheless it caught enough momentum to firstly make the transport labor unions support the strike and thereby put the entire nation to its knees.
Personally not belonging to any labor union, I was working that day and had to scoot through the city for a meeting. I was kind of worried about the other working half of the country having had to take their own cars to commute and thereby making downtown too thick of a mess to pass through within a decent time. Give the extraordinary circumstances, I decided to leave early.
What I feared to be a perfect disorder, it turned out that my assumptions and fears of total congestion were totally wrong! In fact, it was beautiful. No traffic, no hustle or bustle – nothing! Apparently people had decided and also been given a permit to stay home in fear of total logistical chaos.
All in all, that day made me realize, how profound the change of remote presence will have in the society. Granted, it’s difficult to imagine natural, on-site human interaction being replaced entirely by virtual meetings. Furthermore, some professions, like a nurse, a plummer, a barber, or a cook, require physical presence but they mostly needed around because of the needs of other people. Someone staying home will have a multiplicative effect on others. No people, no services and vice versa.
..and after the future?
After all these years, I remember walking out from the movie theater after having seen Matrix and feeling amused about that sci-fi action blast. I really liked the movie, however not because of visionary projection of the future, but because of the story that still those days appeared as just wonderful fantasy. Virtual reality seemed simply too far away to be considered seriously.
When Matrix came out in 1999, the world was in general terms getting more and more connected, but only in kind of a blind 1-to-1 fashion. To further elaborate on what I mean with blind, I am not only talking about us being limited to voice and short text content wise, but more significantly despite increasing amount of mobile (feature) phones people were not online. Today, a digital consumer owns 3,64 connected devices on average!