[Updated: 27 August 2020, now that #wfh has lasted for months, and will likely continue for many through to the middle of next year.]
Someone asked on a call back in April when we all were digging into our #wfh experience, “Is everyone busier than ever with all this working from home? My response was, “well, yes and no.” This was apparently a surprise because every other tech worker he’d asked had answered with an “absolutely! So many Zoom calls…”
Do I have more calls than before? Yes, no doubt. But does that increase in calls equal the amount of time I used to spend around business travel? Not even close. As business travel seems like a far-future activity at this point, it’s interesting to see how this “new normal” is really becoming normal. Work is truly adapting to an entirely virtual experience.
I’m a freelance contractor that works primarily with technical organizations run by volunteers. For the last nine years, I’ve made myself more valuable by being where the discussions happen – the hallways of conferences and meetings, anywhere and everywhere in the world. And that’s been fantastic – I have bridged across many organizations and working areas, helping people find other people doing exciting things in mutual areas of interest.
Business travel, at least to the extent I was doing it, was exhausting. Permanent jet lag, juggling clients, constant surges in workload around conference targets… Whew! It was something of a relief to step away from all of that and be able to smooth out my workflow. I’ve become more efficient across all my clients and ready to absorb the increase in calls without a blink.
But I miss those hallway conversations. The spontaneous brainstorming and coming up with new ideas to improve the Internet. The weird little digressions that turned people from names on a screen to real people that I would be more than happy to meet at the bar later. I miss all that. Social hour calls are all well and good, but it’s not the same as being at the bar, paying for an overpriced Scotch, and talking about The Meaning of Life (or at least, the meaning of scotch). Now that virtual meetings are the only way to fly (as it were), I need to make hallway conversations happen in other ways.
I’m reaching out via LinkedIn to try and catch up with old connections. I’m actively participating in any social Zoom gatherings I can. I’m thinking of ways to create new meeting formats that involve streaming informal conversations and inviting anyone in the world to send in comments during the session. And I can do this because I am naturally outgoing and have an established network. I worry about those people who find what’s almost a cold call to people they haven’t spoken with in a while. Those people who don’t have a network yet are equally likely to struggle. Our new normal has a powerful bias in favor of the extroverted, experienced individual. Someone who has good Internet connectivity, is comfortable with technology, and doesn’t have primary responsibility for children.
Working from home is everything I hoped it would be for me, but it’s not perfect. Growing my network is harder than usual, and my concerns about the bias in this new system is definitely weighing on me. I’d love to hear your suggestions on more inclusive ways to build a network! There’s not going to be One True Way, so any and all feedback will be appreciated.