This article explains how small changes to the way we use remote-work tools can enhance our wellbeing, and sets out some steps for improving remote-working culture by creating a more positive kind of digital telepresence (or in this case, sense of shared digital space).
Many of us will now have reached the point where it seems as if our home-working setups are as developed as they’re going to be. After all, we’ll surely be heading back to our respective offices before terribly long, won’t we? Can there really be anything else left to do now that we’re (mostly) kitted out and settled into our routines?
The answer – you may have seen this coming – is yes, and it involves using digital and cloud technology in ways that might not be obvious. Undoubtedly the much-sung hero of this experiment in mass home-working, technology holds the key to developing your setup and culture further to enhance your wellbeing and productivity.
There are some obvious ways to do this, which will involve doing slightly different things with by now all-too-familiar tools. Once that’s done, we can aim to develop our homeworking culture still further by thinking about how we use technology to create something called ‘telepresence’. Read on, or scroll down, for a definition of that term.
The obvious heroes, and how they still have more to give
This is truly stating the obvious, but hear us out. You may have heard advice telling you to set up your work-away-from-work in a dedicated corner and stick to it from 9 to 5? But that won’t work for everyone.If you’re finding your concentration slipping, consider changing locations every once in a while. If your normal workplace has dedicated desks, this is an opportunity to vary your work scenery – you can literally sit anywhere within range of your router. You could try sitting in one place in the morning and another in the afternoon, or even have different corners for different tasks.
- Video calls
Video meetings are, as digital technology goes, doing a lot of work to preserve productivity. This use case is ubiquitous, but you may find that video call services can still do more for your team’s morale. Scheduling (or in fact not scheduling, for added surprise fun) social activities such as quizzes, virtual happy hours, and team building games can remind people why else they look forward to going to work.
- Cloud working
As a workforce, we are more cloud competent than we have ever been. We all know how much time can be saved by replacing long email chains with shared documents, and digital workflow tools are keeping distributed teams on the same objective-based page. But there’s something else that cloud tools (and video calls) have to offer, which is that they can be a key enabler of something called ‘telepresence.’
What is telepresence?
Telepresence can be defined as a sensation of being present in or having an effect on another space – one in which you are not physically present – as a result of one or more technologies.
This is something most of us experienced regularly even before the digital revolution. In its most basic form (taking the definition broadly) telepresence can be experienced on a landline telephone when you’re concentrating more on your caller’s words than your surroundings. Today, digital technology creates a far more immersive, comprehensive and potentially productive sense of telepresence. Video calls give you a window into other physical spaces, while webpages and shared platforms create a similar effect but with entirely virtual spaces.
These are able to temporarily override awareness of our physical surroundings due to their position at the centre of our attention for long periods of time, and the presence of other users in the same virtual environments. The digital environments which occupy so much of our attention are even designed spatially, with a lot of emphasis on the user’s ‘journey’ through their constituent spaces.
The bottom line is that the technologies you’re using to work within the confines of your own home do have an effect on your perception of space, and this does have ramifications as remote-working culture continues to evolve.
How can telepresence improve home-working culture and wellbeing?
With the space altering effects of digital technology in mind, you can fine-tune your home-working culture and setup to foster a positive sense of telepresence. In other words, to create a more tangible sense of shared space that will increase camaraderie, morale, and ultimately productivity. Here are some steps you can take to enhance telepresence with technology:
- Use multiple collaborative tools
The first step to fostering telepresence is to stop thinking of remote working as, ‘working separately punctuated by video calls’, and start thinking about how your various online tools can work together and form a digital landscape. Online workflow trackers, shared digital sticky notes and whiteboard apps keep you on the same page and also add an element of shared tangibility to your online meetings.
- Camera placement and backgrounds
Consider what impression of your space is created by your camera placement. Where possible, position your webcam so that at least your head and shoulder are visible along with a decent portion of your physical background. If enough call participants take this simple step, your video call gallery view will create an impression of connected workspaces, rather than a row of headshots. This will also allow your colleagues to read your body language, which reduces misunderstandings.
- Virtual kitchens and watercoolers
If the websites and work tools which occupy our attention and enable our remote productivity are spatially designed, perhaps the same approach should be taken to replace office social spaces which are currently inaccessible. Dedicated social channels on chat clients or scheduled social video calls can reintroduce the social dynamics which digital workspaces may be lacking.
- Advanced level: mixed physical-virtual spaces
For those with the physical space and the bandwidth, an always-on video call in a dedicated space (perhaps away from your desk) can create a virtual collaborative space within your home that you can physically come and go from. In the future, this may allow a form of home-working in which the ‘hang-up’ button’s spatially divisive influence has been eliminated.