A century, a change
Each century in modern history brought with it a new working paradigm that changed work’s power structures and centers. Industrialism moved power from fields to factories, ushering a new era of prosperity, albeit with multiple workers’ rights abuses. Professionalism and offices brought the 8-ish hour work day, more employee protections, and moved economic power from factories to office towers. That ecosystem - our pre-COVID reality - held onto power for nearly a century.
The internet began to crack the armor of the office. Slowly, it began to reveal the negative sides of office life like decoupling wages from productivity and creating massive innovation while simultaneously skyrocketing inequality. On a fundamental level, the office world is now at the same precipice the industrial world was at right before the office seized power. Weaknesses are clear and the prevailing system is tired. It’s time for a new change.
Remote tackles geographic inequality
For all the scalability that white collar employment brought to our working world, every opportunity was geographically focused. If you wanted a good job, you had to move where those jobs were. In the case of office work, that increasingly meant cities, resulting in unaffordable cities where people barely scraped by as wage increases became detached from productivity increases and cost of living increases.
While there was significantly more mobility in the white collar world - you could climb the corporate ladder faster than you could expand the farm or build a factory - the office created new bounds of geo-centricity and perversely incentivized companies to suppress wages in order to maximize profits on their high fixed-cost office base.
Enter remote work.
Remote work drastically lowers the fixed costs of running a business. Even as remote companies pay for additional virtual office tools (plus likely more travel), these costs are more than offset by not having to pay for commercial real estate, office furniture, and commercial expense accounts.
This shift refocused the talent equation not on lowest possible cost but highest possible output. We’ve already seen this bump up salaries in some geographies and it’s likely that top tier companies will continue to pay top tier salaries as a talent land grab.
Async handles the irritants of remote work
Despite geographic centricity being a problem with offices, the traditional office environment significantly improved our ability to collaborate and innovate. The idea of working in brainstorming rooms, meetings, and individual work settings all within the same physical space no doubt fueled the earliest innovations that built modern tech hubs like Silicon Valley and New York.
When you truly embrace remote work, you end up with an innovation conundrum. The energy isn’t quite the same and scheduling meetings (especially with team members in different time zones) is a near-nightmare.
This is where asynchronous communication comes in.
Asynchronous communication - or “async” for short - allows remote work’s focus on deliverables to shine because it reorients innovation and collaboration into two discrete deliverables: consciously thinking and intentionally sharing. Where those two steps were merged in the office environment, async decouples them to thrive in a remote environment.
This isn’t to say all work must be async - there are a few instances where you need to sync up in realtime to hash through a conversation - but instead to say async as a default brings out the best of remote work while compensating for its more irritating elements.
Voice brings humanity back to the table
The additional challenge of a remote and async workplace is that humans like to talk to other humans. Or at least engage with them, whether that’s reading a note or hearing a voice. If you feel like you’re working with robots, you don’t get as much done and are likely to have lower motivation to work or passion for the company. That’s when loneliness can creep in, a legitimate issue for remote workers.
Voice messaging bridges that gap.
In specific, voice helps the people who want to talk because you can engage in walkie-talkie style conversations. It also helps people who like to read because transcription technology is stronger than ever and it’s easy to send a few written bullet points along with your voice note. If someone has vision difficulties, voice is an easy way to communicate. And documentation is built right in, a best practice for remote communication. In a few words, voice is more inclusive of all remote workers, encouraging people to ponder, think, and communicate in the way that works best for them.
Audio rebuilds lost community elements
Perhaps the final major issue with remote work is a (lack of) sense of community. In the office, you have the shared experience - good or bad. When remote, everyone is in their own physical environments and most virtual collaboration tools are sterile at best.
Audio tech is bringing community back into the equation. Using async by default and powered by voice, Audio makes it easier to have conversations, spin up insightful dialogue, and make sure the “room” feels like a friendly place instead of a cold, virtual techscape. Especially as companies prepare for the mental health fallout from COVID, it’s critical to embrace Audio as a way to build community.
The march of progress continues
In every major historical shift, critical problems were solved and new problems emerged. The challenge to date is that shifts were often done with a “we’ll figure it out later” mentality. We have an opportunity to fix that going forward. While COVID forced many people to go remote, many studies have shown it’s a more productive way to work (and most people like it). In order to ensure we don’t end up loathing remote work for its weak points, we need to anticipate and pivot around them. That’s what working async and implementing voice is all about; going to third order effects and solving them now so we can focus on creation, not management.