Internet

Innovation and empathy in the remote work epoch

An honest guide to coping with the pandemic-enforced digital workplace

I remember when I was growing up in the US in the 1990s, our household had one desktop computer, a dial-up internet connection and long-distance phone calls to my grandmother in China was an expensive luxury we scheduled twice a month. Today, our consciousness partially exists online through every single one of our smart devices. Sometimes it can feel like we are overly connected, particularly in the way work invades our life by tethering us to our projects and our colleagues and our employers at all hours of the day.

But all complaints of over-connected, overly digital life suddenly ended when the coronavirus put many of us under abrupt house arrest, and now, every digital connection is a lifeline to the outside world, one that is somehow simultaneously precious and inadequate. Technologies that promised to overcome physical distance and make remote collaboration seamless are being stress-tested with a rigour no was prepared for, and it is clear we are far from ready to join the digital singularity and abandon our earthly shells.

Zoom, a modest enterprise video conferencing app, found itself being used to host everything from wine-tastings to lavish wedding ceremonies to school lessons to funeral services, and scrambles to keep up with soaring traffic as its servers are overloaded, as well as security breaches galore. Internet usage is surging everywhere, causing frequent slowdowns. On top of this, workers unaccustomed to suddenly losing their offices and daily interactions with co-workers find themselves distracted, unproductive and in low spirits.

Everyone who is working from home is wondering some version of the same thing: “Is this the best we’ve got?”

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