It’s safe to assume that an overwhelming majority of the population has now participated in a videoconference. People who may not have even known how to start one six months ago now use them daily—and it’s all beginning to feel normal.
The technologies that we’ve all come to rely on have so seamlessly infiltrated our lives that it’s easy to overlook their impact. But when you consider the repercussions of remote working, you’ll see that these platforms have taught us more than just how to use them. They’ve made us better leaders, collaborators, employees, and employers.
The lessons that we’re learning from these tools go beyond our own workspaces and are actively changing the workforce for the better. How? Here are three lessons you didn’t realize you learned from the tools you use to work from home.
1. Transparency isn’t so scary after all
Many of us who came of age in the business world between the 1980s and the 2010s have an innate fear of letting a client see anything before it’s “ready.” As businesses, we are entrusted to lead projects that constitute millions of dollars in revenue, which has led to the belief that if work is shared with a client before it’s “perfect,” then that trust will be lost. However, after five months of remote work during the most unpredictable time in most of our lives, it’s clear that nothing is perfect and the notion that we need to pretend it is has no place in our minds.
Last week, for example, we created a Dropbox Paper file for a work-in-progress project and shared that link with one of the most senior executives at our client’s company. We continued to add team members and items into this shared file over the course of the following weeks. Changes were tracked, remote collaboration was done, approvals were made, and every step was posted in real time.
Our shared file guided our conversations through every step of the process, and we prominently featured things that we would have kept to ourselves in the past. By now, this file has been shared or viewed by nearly every department and vendor that worked on the project, including people who would normally have only seen carefully curated bits and pieces in the past. It turned out that it was some of the best work we’ve ever done.
The lesson? Being open and vulnerable in business isn’t the worst thing in the world.
2. Your value is no longer tied to your location
Good talent is expensive. You get what you pay for, and the best talent in the world is either totally undiscovered or very successful (hence the high cost). In my industry, good talent often means directors or editors. In yours, it might be an amazing consultant or strategist. But one thing that every industry has in common (or used to) is that employers didn’t know what they couldn’t see, so if you weren’t directly in front of them, they had no idea you existed.
The global pandemic has completely changed that. With budgets being slashed, offices closed down, companies shuttering, and the gig economy being revitalized, we’ve all been forced to realize that remote work works. As my own industry was hit, many of our favorite creatives left the big cities for smaller, more affordable towns, and many business folks were forced to realize that New York and L.A. no longer had a monopoly on hotshot, high-dollar talent. The past notions of “oh, they work in [insert overpriced city here], so they must be good” are gone, and as people across the country were able to refine their work-from-home setups and became familiar, even comfortable, with Slack, Zoom, Dropbox, etc., the playing field was leveled.
I’m hopeful that this migration of talent and remote work reckoning will afford talented creators and businesspeople from across the U.S. more opportunities and shake businesses clean of the attitude that someone is less valuable if they’re not in a big city. After all, in today’s world, if you have tech tools, Wi-Fi, and talent, you can get the job done.
3. Your collaboration skills might need some work
Between Zoom, Slack, chat, Messenger, texting, and a good old-fashioned conference call or two, there are endless channels for socially distanced conversations to take place. But collaboration is something entirely different, and it’s important to remember that talking is not co-thinking, and co-thinking is where magic is made. Put masterfully by one of my idols, Jerry Seinfeld: “Energy, attitude, and personality cannot be ‘remoted’ through even the best fiber optic lines.”
If you’ve spent as much time as we have enmeshed in Zoomathons, you’ve probably begun to notice a few things when it comes to collaboration. For example, Zoom (and pretty much every other video call platform) has managed to make it more obvious than ever how often team members speak over one another. It’s an honest mistake, but even the slightest lag has taught many of us to wait our turn, take a second, and make sure we’re not infringing on someone’s time to speak.
You may not have realized that’s the case (and not everyone has gotten the memo), but this small change many have unconsciously implemented has made all the things that feed innovative thinking—fluidly sharing thoughts in rough form, bouncing odd thoughts back and forth, pasting nonsense on the wall—that much better.
It’s easy to look back and feel like not much has changed since we first retreated indoors nearly six months ago. We’re sitting on the same couch, wearing the same clothes over and over, and nodding along to the same meetings. But the much less dispiriting truth is that as humans, we adapt. Sometimes it happens so quietly that we don’t even notice.
So, the next time you catch yourself waiting your turn to speak, being more vulnerable with a client or coworker, or not second-guessing your value, say a silent “thank you” to all of your work-from-home tech for helping you make positive changes from your couch.
Evan Slater is the cofounder and creative director of Caveat.