Is it more productive to sit next to a person, and work with them directly or post messages back and forth remotely? Most would agree being in the same physical space tends to be more productive. How do we try to make up for this when we are out of the office or remote? By using tools that help bridge the distance and are approximately equivalent to working in person.
I like to do mind experiments to help me formulate the best case scenario. Let’s try one. Imagine a world where technology has advanced enough where there is no difference from being physically in a room, or being in a room on the other side of the planet. Using this future technology we could work together in a completely seamless way. What would this remote work experience look like? Of course, we would have holograms that could also interact with the surrounding physical environment. Want to have a meeting? Open the hologram, and everyone is in the same room! Need help on a doc or some code? The user of the hologram can physically type and work on it with you, or they could use advanced speech to text to speak their exact words into your document. After the hologram meeting is over, all of the important conversation bits are automatically stored and organized by our AI assistants. They can be easily searched using spoken phrases.
You: “What was point #1”
AI: “The first important point in the meeting was…”
To protect privacy all holograms devices would need a pop-up notification, asking if the owner ‘Approves this hologram call’ and they would need to accept ‘Psychical presence approximation’ feature to be on. The hologram device would be within any electronic device, just like a camera is on most devices today. It would be GDPR compliant.
Now, how do our modern trends compare to this perfect remote work scenario? Not so well. We have a multitude of chat and video services, that just show if someone has their computer open. They could be working on your project, or could just be browsing the web. The only thing we know, is they have a computer or browser tab open. If we want to find out, we could send them a message; that is what these services are for. However, they could always actually not be there or have notification turned off.
Why chat? Even with modern technology we could just simply have a spontaneous remote call, and take note of important things in the call. It would be much faster. Most would say because chat is searchable, which without thinking about it much, seems to make sense. But if we wanted something to be easily searchable and stored forever, could we just not make a wiki? When you think about it, the whole search experience in a multi-user chat service is pretty poor. Too many messages, too many people. To find anything you would need to know almost the exact thing you are looking for verbatim. At that point there is very little point in looking it up, unless you need a related document posted with that chat message.
It is reasonable that short spurt messages work very well over chat. Things like: ‘Hey where is that blog draft?’, ‘Send the Github issue number to me’. Even mundane things like ‘What are you doing later?’ are much more efficient when the person is physically in the same space. No point in chatting it unless you absolutely have to.
Currently, having a virtual space is the best approximation to our imagined perfect case scenario above. We think facilitating spontaneous verbal meetings in a virtual space is much more efficient then having even the best imaginable text or chat service.
In My Digital Office you can chat as if you are sitting side-by-side, share open tabs and cursors to work on the same document or browser tab, in real-time and with just one-click. Of course, as technology increases virtual spaces will become more and more advanced, and most likely will displace chat services all together.
December 13th, 2019