The Future of Work: Remote and Paired

Rita J. King
March 4, 2020

How will remote work impact meetings? My position is that pairs will drive the future of remote work.

2020 always seemed like the year of the future, and it sure is. I gave a keynote this morning about the future of work for Hacking HR. This post includes some notes from the the talk and some thoughts about remote work. I was scheduled to deliver this keynote months ago. The conference was always going to be virtual, and my keynote delivered via video. With 11,000 participants, conference founder Enrique Rubio demonstrated that the format works.

People joined from across the United States, Peru, Brazil, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Croatia and Nigeria. These days we're all realizing just how small the world really is.

Remote Work

I'm the EVP for Business Development atin Manhattan, where our main business is a framework called Model Meetings that brings clarity and focus to meetings and, if practiced well, ultimately emphasizes the essence of business itself.

How will remote work impact meetings?

Coronavirus fears have led to a surge in remote work. Companies have been slow to adopt remote work for many reasons, but this needs to change and it is now. Long after the virus fades, the trend toward remote work will remain. Remote work enhances productivity, but it has to be done well, and people working remotely need to be crystal clear about how their individual and team contributions connect to their employers' missions and goals.

My position is that pairs will drive the future of remote work. It's simply much easier and more effective to work this way. Pairs have their own chemistry and energy and can learn from each other without all the politics and bureaucracy of dealing with larger groups. Pairs can cut across functional silos.

To achieve this, pairs must understand the purpose of their work.

Years ago, I led a global team for a couple of years. I had staff in Australia, London, New York and San Francisco. We delivered our project on time and on budget, but we never met all together a single time. I paired with everyone on the team and distilled the essence of each pair's output down to concise communications. They paired with each other without me. When you work this way, you don't have to schedule a lot of meetings. You can ping each other as you need and end the interaction when you've reached your goal.

At Science House, I work with different clients constantly. They're all over the country and world. Pairing with people, especially on video calls, is the most powerful way to get the work done. The more people get involved in an interaction, you can sit back and watch your dreams of speed to market get siphoned off in the most painful way, and you can forget about depth of thinking and understanding.

Pairs also enable the practice of the scientific method. In a group, people feel looking foolish when they're wrong about something. In a pair, it's safer to fail, to be proven wrong, and to explore a better path forward.

Soft Skills Aren't Soft

Soft skills are the most difficult to achieve. Candor, and the ability to listen and learn. Communication, and the ability to understand who needs to know what. Self-awareness, and the ability to know how to manage your emotions when your ideas are challenged in a truly diverse and truly setting. Clearing the clutter to focus on what matters. Understanding that creativity is everywhere and finding ways to apply it to even the most mind-numbing processes to improve them. Accepting that failure is inevitable on the road to success, and that even success can be a dangerous illusion because there's always another challenge up around the bend.

Imagination may sound like a soft skill on the surface, but it's the most important. We need to know how to collaborate with each other and our own creations. We need to think through which problems are the right ones to solve. There are lots of ways to do anything, and we have an obligation to think hard enough to choose a path that strikes a balance between good for a company, good for society and good for individuals.

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