Tuesday, May 2nd, 2023

Remote working: here we go again

Graphic of an office full of rows of desks with computers and monitors and chairs. Dotted among them are a bed, sofa, kitchen and dining table.

I’ve seen so many set themselves up as “Remote Working” experts, only to fall flat at the first hurdle.


This isn’t the first remote working party. Sure, it’s the first time it’s been done on this scale, but not the first time we’ve tried it. My first remote team was in the mid-90s running on Lotus Notes and working a 24 hour development cycle on 3 continents. We had communication, performance management and team building issues to deal with. How do you build an effective team with a shared purpose when the participants might never meet?

I was an instructor for Accelerated Value Method – the approach Lotus put together to build Notes ecosystems. My focus was Process and Transformation, and remote was an integral part of that. Those of us in the field lapped up Senge, Hammer, Champy, Peters, Lorimer, Nonaka and Takeuchi. All had case studies, warnings for management, experiences. We wove them together with more traditional approaches advocated by Drucker and Porter and Jones.

All of which was promptly forgotten.

Later we replayed the same debates as the Internet took hold and expanded. Many writers and practitioners offered their experiences and research in HBR, The Economist, Wired, Slate and many other journals and magazines. Management rediscovered the lessons of the 90s and expanded on them. Rarely was technology the issue holding business back. Each time a new tech reared its head, the experienced stroked their collective chins, murmured, “this is a bit like …” and dug back into the case studies and experiences they’d absorbed into their being.

Now I see so many “experts” making the mistakes we put behind us. Failing to appreciate the difference between home and office. Failing to address issues of trust, culture and security. Teaching “etiquette” for zooms calls and instant messaging that sounds wonderfully professional and fails miserably. They ignore the wealth of experience built up over decades because of accidents of birth. Arrogantly they declare this time it’s different. Then make the same mistakes we did.

My call to those who are exploring remote working in any form is not to forget the lessons of the past. Much of what is being peddled as new and cutting edge has deeper principles that are understood. Technology is not going to solve your problems, or create a better workforce because it never was about technology.

It always was about people. And for all the changes in technology we’ve seen over the past 30 years, the basic principles of growing remote teams and supporting the individuals within them haven’t changed that much.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.