Ideas: Being there – remote working, event attendance and presencing

Dr. Mariann Hardey, professor in marketing at Durham University Business School, shares her thoughts on remote working amid the challenges faced by organisations in dealing with the impact and spread of COVID-19

With global concern around the impact and spread of COVID-19, international events being pulled, workplaces ‘closing’, the new ‘normal’ is to expect further emergency measures. These will restrict the movement of people – asking us to work from home (where possible).

Before COVID-19, practices such as remote working and digital presencing were, often, regarded as secondary to in-person interactions. This meant requests from disability groups, or anyone with a caring role, to implement changes that allow individuals to ‘beam in’ were often challenged. Such actions are seen as ‘too expensive’ or ‘too difficult’ to coordinate and organise.

Amid COVID-19, the same barriers throw up common challenges. We have an opportunity, now, to make changes to how we attend and experience professional activities, and take forward how we work with each other.

The out-dated criteria for career promotion such as ‘number of international conferences attended’ in academia should be challenged to embrace new methods of finding and connecting to each other, allowing anyone with a disability or caring role to significantly improve their contribution and ‘prove’ their worth to organisations.

The willingness of people to swap global travel for greener and more climate-friendly alternatives is also meaningful.

Traditional accounts of work tend to concentrate either on overall levels of activity in the workplace, on things like international professional impact, or the long hours sat passively in an office or out in the field.

Up to now, there have been very limited resources in support of remote working or the ‘best’ or good practices that workers can implement. Guilt, feeling isolated, disadvantaging one’s career, or anxiety about missing out, frequently appear as barriers to remote work.

By focusing on ‘being there’, we have developed a fascinating display in the presencing of our ‘work’ and doing work in professional settings. Upon our actions hangs the future of international event attendance, work presencing, and ways we can sustain inclusive professional practices in the future.

Successful (and fun) methods to support remote working:

  • Use an online booking system as an ‘open door’ to your availability for virtual meetings – (reduces time using online polls or sending multiple emails back and forth).
  • Presencing, by checking in on colleagues through social media  – the equivalent to ‘gathering around the water cooler’ over lunch at work.
  • Disconnecting properly for periods of time to disengage from ‘work’.
  • Taking work outside – literally taking work/ideas/conversations outside away from the desk.
  • Reorganising presentations into material that can be presented as animated slides with or without video/voice-over – plus a cut down version with pictures and ‘questions’ to the reader/audience, and lots of links out.
  • Arrange informal meetings, such as virtual lunches – agree to a lunch date, where you both bring food and drink and audio connect.
  • Re-wire (or try to) those feelings of guilt/anxiety about physically not being there.  Re-evaluate how we use email and ‘behave’ in communications – not focusing on emails as a ‘to-do list’, but instead focusing on tasks for the day.
  • Top tip. Leave the house first thing. Whether it’s taking the children to nursery or school, or taking the dog for a walk, leaving the house and returning to do ‘work’ will enhance your remote productivity and wellbeing. Having a dedicated work space helps to, but often this isn’t realistic.
  • Finally, do not get distracted by doing home-tasks/DIY, or interacting with the cat.

For more business thought leadership articles visit durham.ac.uk/business/impact

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