For years, we’ve been rethinking the spaces in which we work. We’ve all read about the “new workplace”—as defined, for instance, by the unconventional workspaces of Silicon Valley. In fact, how we conceive of “the office” has changed dramatically over the past two decades.
We are now living through the next step, in which we are moving away from regarding physical space as the sole way to measure and give value to our work. Cutting-edge tech now makes it easy to work from an apartment, or a coffee shop, or a flight, or a summer house terrace, or an office desk.
The result is a growing separation between work outcomes and workspaces. Not long ago, these things were linked: being “on the job” meant being seated in one’s workspace. Only there could you “get the job done.” Bad work might get you dismissed, but not being present definitely would. These days, on the other hand, a remote worker who forwards a supervisor a perfect piece of work, accomplished independently from any location on the planet, is a valued worker indeed.
Business and work cycles have also broken free of the physical. Nowadays, schedules are rarely built around the delivery of an overnight package, followed by the photocopying, distribution, and consumption of the contents on the recipient’s side. Sending a document from Boston to Tokyo, or from Dakar to Shanghai, is now effectively instantaneous.
Teamwork itself is increasingly virtual. You can have a face-to-face meeting online with someone on another continent as easily as you can meet with someone down the hall. Developments such as these—and the new concerns and restrictions occaisoned by the COVID-19 pandemic—are driving a reappraisal of what the terms “team,” “teamwork,” and “team member” can mean.
The tech that makes virtual teamwork possible is easy to use. But that doesn’t mean that the work in the future will be easier, since new tech brings new complexities along with it. Speed and efficiency can lead to more, whether for the better (more potential client contacts) or the worse (an overload of information that can proliferate exponentially). Workers who can manage such complexities are best positioned to succeed.
Then there’s the challenge with which every information-age worker is already familiar: the constant turnover as work structures, processes, platforms, and systems are replaced with newer, better ones year after year. Adaptability is key here, and will become more important as the meaning of work changes.