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Remote working has changed the rules of the workplace, so watch out

Longer days with more distractions - what's not to like?
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director on
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Everyone has their own experience of how the working week has changed.

And there's plenty of research out there from companies trying to understand how things have got better – or worse. 

A little while back it was Microsoft bringing us the good news that we've created a third peak to the working day during the past two years – one at 10am, one at 3pm, and…one at 10pm.

SEE: The future of work: How everything changed and what's coming next

That's the result of the switch to remote working that has allowed us to spread our duties across the working day, which is good in some respects (it makes you more flexible during the day) and bad in others (you're still working at 10pm).

And now separate research from Asana has revealed another unexpected feature of the new world of work – one that is actually making it much harder to get stuff done.

Instead of doing the work they were employed to do, it claims that workers find themselves spending half their time doing 'work about work', which means chasing updates or switching between apps.

And for managers, it's even worse. They hardly ever get any work done, apparently.

"Excessive notifications are destroying employees' ability to concentrate by constantly vying for their attention, putting them in a state of near-constant multitasking while also filling up their days with menial micro-tasks and admin work," my colleague Owen Hughes notes in his story about the research from Asana.

For me the big issue is that while the tools we've introduced have fixed some of the problems that distributed teams create, they've introduced plenty of new ones, too.

We're still trying to work out the right set of behaviours for the new world of work and we're making some mistakes along the way.

SEE: 'Striking a balance': How one company is rethinking the office for hybrid work

After all, it's relatively easy to see if someone is working while they are sitting next to you in an office. It's a lot harder if you are working miles apart. That means now, working remotely, we're all keen to jump on any notification that arrives to prove we're actually at our desks and paying attention. 

Hence the blizzard of alerts that keep distracting us.

Part of the problem is that the teamwork software we use is often inspired by social media.

That makes sense – social media has shown itself (for better and for worse) to be very effective at building communities out of people who might rarely or never meet in the real world.

But social media companies have also worked really hard to design websites that make us want to keep scrolling and liking – and spending as much time on there as possible.

That's great if you've got the time to look through pictures of your cousin's pets. It's less great if you are trying to find some information in a corporate team-working tool.

Especially if you then find yourself agonising over whether to 'like' an update on somebody else's project, or figuring out which emoji to employ to indicate your approval of the sales forecast.  

This, in short, is how you can spend half of your time doing 'work about work' rather than getting on with your actual job.

And in some cases, this might be the most rational response.

SEE: Remote work vs office life: Lots of experiments and no easy answers

The danger is that, for some, the murky world of real-world office politics is being replaced by online office politics and your position in the team (and your chance for promotion) is going to be defined by who can do the funniest status update or dig out the right GIF to respond to the boss.

In that scenario, pouring more effort into your workplace digital identity might be more important than the actual work you do. Smarter teams and managers will be able to see beyond the frenzy of alerts and updates to see the real work you are doing, of course. But it might be wise to update your emoji skills, just in case.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening take on the week in tech, written by members of our editorial team. We're a global team so this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US, and 11:00PM in London.


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