Like it or not, some of us are stuck at home, working and collaborating remotely. For the audioXpress and Voice Coil editorial teams this is not exactly new, since we've been all working remotely for the past six years. For me, the difference was that I wasn't stuck at home, but rather traveling and working from trade shows, hotels, and airports, and while at home I was mostly on my own. My music could play as loud as I wanted it, and I didn't have to worry daily about house management or order groceries.
Working from home with other family members sharing the same space brings a lot of new challenges. And we are isolated and basically limited to the tools and resources we have and the things with which we are familiar. As we learn, the rest of the world is all slightly different. We can work more or less efficiently with our own circle, but not with everyone else and the rest of the world. Clearly, no one planned or organized this.
They look great in a corporate leaflet, but now they are working from home, and they don't know how to update the anti-virus software...
Suddenly, a massive percentage of the world's offices were shut down and working employees (the lucky ones...) sent home. In the process, a few took their own company laptops (98% Windows), which they also used to play games and browse the Internet, and were surprised to learn that they were not able to use the company's IT systems, because their machines were infested with malware and virus.
Others, just took their desktop systems in a hurry and a battalion of exhausted IT personnel had to risk their lives by working extra hours to assist everyone in setting up their remote posts at home (and they are still doing it as I write this). Of course, in the middle of the concerns with setting up network connections, adding some level of security, making sure the software was up to date and able to connect remotely to servers and cloud services, while establishing new organization rules, passwords, and extra collaboration software tools that were not needed before... no one had the time to even think of meeting solutions or those marvelous UC&C systems, and most were simply left disconnected in the now empty buildings.
And suddenly, the wonderful world of personal habits inevitably clashed with the corporate cultures, when employees started to create "informal networks" using WhatsApp or WeChat, Facebook Messenger, or even really obscure social media tools and apps (as they always did), to communicate with fellow workers and freely discuss business, exchange internal documents, etc. And many companies, quickly resorted to using "free" videoconference tools such as Zoom, without any afterthought about security or productivity.
This forced quarantined at home also intensified problems that we knew were there but we never thought they really mattered that much, such as the inability to universally connect with others. Contrary to the generalized perception that everyone is at home happily video chatting with each other "on the Internet," and having remote meetings, we have a generic communication problem, first and foremost because of bad quality audio resulting from the inadequate use of resources, lack of adoption of (existing) standards and technologies, and deficient integration - a topic for another article. But we also have a problem because we have a huge diversity of communications channels and there isn't a common protocol to "call others."
In the past I could simply get a number from a phone book or directory (I know, I'm getting old) and call that company or person (by phone, I think it's implied, but maybe not to everyone). Today, to be able to communicate with a company or organization where people are all working from home - and there's no longer a phone operator at the reception... - I need to establish extremely sophisticated forms of connection until I clearly identify who I need to talk to. In the most desperate situations, it all starts with an attempt to reach someone from the organization, send an email, and hope someone replies and is willing to help.
That, or resort to "non-official" methods, like requesting a connection on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, sending a message to ask "can we talk," before effectively connecting. Even when I already identified the person I need to reach and established some form of contact, I need to determine what tools the other person uses, and which one that person is willing to use. Phone calls? Not unless that person carries a company phone, and even then, under restricted conditions, because after all, they are home.
And somehow, companies worry a lot about having their employees doing Zoom meetings with each other every day, but not so much about how other people get in touch with the company itself, other than offering a useless "bot" on their homepage, and a contact form, which is sent to an email of someone no one remembers who it was, because it was defined like that by the guy who built the company website...
For better or worse, we're limited to working from home and collaborating remotely. And as temporary as this situation might be, it's important to think about what went wrong, what worked, and what didn't. When you see those hilarious mosaics of Zoom meetings with 16 or more screens that companies have been sharing on social media, just to show "we're here and open for business," you have to wonder if they do actually understand each other or if it's basically one person preaching to all, or a repetition of those famous "Practical Alternative to Work" corporate meetings.
Are You Lonely? Tired of working on your own? Then Call a Meeting!!
Point with a stick
All on company time!
We're all learning how effective - or bad and unreliable, depending - our communication and remote collaboration tools can be. Personally, I still use Skype a lot, because our company team is connected that way, and most of the authors and contributors to our magazine know Skype and are happy to use it. And while all the business-focused meeting solution companies had to make "free" versions of their software in order to convince people to register for the service, Skype was already downloaded more than a billion times (!) and the software is so simple that everyone knows how to "make a call."
Instead of "inviting" people for meetings using complicated calendar "invites" that do not understand the world time zones (good luck with that), Skype works like all the phones always did. You call someone anytime and they take the call, outright deny, or simply text "call me in five minutes," all in the same simple UI. I can "call" an email, "call" a regular phone number, or "call" a Skype username. In the same app that works across all devices, I can do videoconferencing, audioconferencing, collaborate with someone sharing a computer screen, text, message, and even share documents and almost any type of files.
Strangely, Microsoft seems to ignore that they are the global market leader with Skype, and continue to push users toward using other tools like Microsoft Teams, which is a completely different application and infinitely more complicated to use. And it's not as universal as Skype.
The companies behind software like WebEx, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, etc., seem to be inspired by an obscure reality - as real as the "corporate models" used in UC&C solution leaflets - where people have to learn to use what they create. Those applications are definitely not user friendly nor very efficient, and they impose a certain type of organization that isn't necessarily what works for everyone.
When it comes to using those meeting and collaboration tools to connect people working remotely from home, the problem becomes even more obvious. They don't actually accomplish anything more effectively than simply sending an email, or making a phone call.
Now that we are all at home, we have to struggle with those systems and the lack of a communication protocol, forcing us to schedule a meeting on an online calendar, and wait for the other person to accept the "event," so they "meet" each other on Microsoft Teams, or whatever. Of course, they go to Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc., instead and CALL. Who needs "a meeting"?