We have all shifted quickly to online platforms for many of our interactions. It is easy to see some of the challenges with this. Technical barriers. Cognitive confusion leading to “zoom fatigue”. There are also some powerful benefits online that were not as obvious before.
For “knowledge workers,” most everyone is doing their work distributed, and I have noticed an equalizing aspect to it. The two dimensions that I see the most are geography differences being lessened, and more balance between those that are outgoing versus more introverted. When everyone you work with is in an equally sized video frame right in front of you, geography is only notable to the extent that it may be evening where they are and morning for you. I’ve had many team members share with me that they have never felt more connected with the members of our various offices. And perhaps more powerfully, our team members in other offices have felt like they can contribute and engage better with the rest of the teams.
This reinforces one of my beliefs about remote versus centralized teams that it is hardest to do both. Fully remote is a considerable leveler, and everyone will have to accommodate. Entirely local is the default that humans have used for millennia. The tricky part is doing both. My hope is that we can take the learnings developed during this pandemic and apply it to improvements and empathy going forward to keep these benefits in place.
Large group gatherings have also surprised me online. They work very well, as long as you keep the time short. And one of my favorite parts is that you can successfully engage in Q&A with the audience. I’ve held team all-hands meetings for decades, and I long ago decided to not open up time for Q&A because the chances of someone asking a question were near nil. The social dynamics of being that one person in a room of 250 that stands up with a question are just too challenging for most individuals to navigate. Online tools though by necessity must create a feature to do this. They have to enable it. And in doing so, they remove the barriers that inhibit people. I’ve found much more engagement than I’ve ever seen in in-person large group meetings.
Last weekend was supposed to be the annual Minnebar unconference. Minnebar is one of my favorite events of the year. Over 1,000 technologists, collecting around community-led topics with about 70 sessions throughout the day. Minnestar, the non-profit behind the Minnebar, pivoted online and held mini Minnebar and I thought it was great!
The event was hosted on Crowdcast, and it was impressive. The event had a single track, versus multiple parallel sessions as it usually has. That was just fine to me, and it made me think that there could be five or six events like this throughout the year and get the same quantity of content to an even broader audience.
However, the big win to me was opening the event to a broader geography. One of the sessions I realized my brother would like. He lives three hours away and would usually never be able to attend Minnebar. But since it was online, I sent him the link, and he was on in 5 minutes. The event drew people from around the state. Minnestar has debated for years about how to reach people outside of the metro area. I know from dozens of board conversations. We considered for years bringing our events to other cities, but getting them online and opening up globally brought the program there. There was even a person from Turkey who attended Minnebar!
I also felt a lot of energy from the event. It hit me how important it was that the event happen, in some form. I needed the connection to the technology community to still be there. It was so great to see comments in the stream from friends and give a 👋 to them. It filled my day with energy to connect and so what if we couldn’t do it in person with happy hour, we still did it. It reminded me how vital these connections are, and we all must forge ahead.
A New Way to Mourn
My last observation on this topic is from an episode of the Daily called A New Way to Mourn. I highly recommend listening to this. It is a touching story with a powerful message. In short, this highlights that many funerals are being queued into the future. “We will get together to remember Bob when we can connect as a community.” There is a massive problem with this. These are essential rituals and are vital to loved ones and friends going through the mourning process. Deferring them to some unknown future date is going to cause significant problems.
This story about mourning and celebrating a departed loved one online is incredible. And again, I note the accessibility component. Some people can’t travel for various reasons and may be unable to attend a traditional funeral ceremony. Typically they would be excluded from this critical aspect of the mourning process. Hosting a visitation and funeral over Zoom opens up new avenues and accessibility for loved ones to be part of the process.