Busting three myths about the future of work

These false beliefs emerged early in our thinking about the post-pandemic workplace. It's time to get real.

First impressions, gut reactions, and unexamined assumptions about the future of work become embedded in conventional wisdom. Even when they turn out to be false, people still believe them.

Here are the three biggest myths about the future of work.

Myth 1: Zoom fatigue is a real problem

When the first wave of pandemic lockdowns hit in 2020, and employees started working from home at scale, everybody started complaining about "Zoom fatigue."

And "Zoom fatigue" was real. The shock of isolation drove people to overuse videoconference tools. Zoom and its competitors dominated workdays, with most of the day taken up by video calls. And it spilled over into personal time, as people started having long video chats with family and friends.

This malady reminded me of the epidemic of carpal tunnel syndrome when millions of people started using PC-and-mouse combinations all day at work in the 1990s or phantom vibration syndrome when people started carrying smartphones in their pockets in the early 2000s.

You don't hear much about these conditions anymore because people have adapted.

The same is true for "Zoom fatigue." People have adapted. Meetings are getting shorter and crisper. Long personal video calls are on the decline. And people are psychologically getting used to videoconferencing.

A new Pew Research Center study found that three-quarters (74%) of surveyed workers who use videoconferencing tools are "fine" with the amount of time spent using them.

Yes, "Zoom fatigue" still exists. And, yes, superior replacement technology (namely avatar-based AR meetings) is coming. But it turns out that "Zoom fatigue" isn't the problem people thought it was.

Myth 2: You can only move to places with fast local broadband

The work-from-home, hybrid, remote, and digital nomad revolutions were built on a foundation of emerging technologies.

These came with significant advancements. The home PC. The web. Home networking. Mobile computers. Wi-Fi. Smartphones.

The two most recent big advances came from one company, SpaceX.

The company's Starlink satellite service, which charges $110-a-month for fast internet connectivity anywhere within its growing service area, enabled remote workers to work very remotely — in small towns, on distant islands, or way up in the mountains.

Starlink erased the need to live in a big city to access fast internet connectivity. As a result, the service surpassed a quarter-million subscribers in March.

Last week, the company made another giant leap.

It announced that for an extra $25 per month, you could take the service with you. So bring your satellite dish on the road or abroad, and you'll still get fast internet — as long as you're still within the service area, which includes nearly all of North America and most of Europe.

These two giant Starlink leaps mean that you can get fast internet — and do real work — in a vast area without worrying about connectivity. Starlink is yet another technology product that radically expands options for living and working as a digital nomad.

Best of all, the company keeps increasing network performance with improved software and additional satellites in orbit.

Myth 3: The Great Resignation is a disaster

More than 47 million people quit their jobs last year.

And the trend has continued into 2022. In general, job turnover rose 20% in the post-pandemic world and remains at that level.

And the reason is clear: Flexible work, the mainstreaming of remote work, and flexible living locations — especially the ability to relocate to more affordable regions — have dramatically lowered the penalties for resigning.

The headlines are alarmist, treating it like a crisis. But is it?

For starters, the scale of the problem is exaggerated. While 47 million quitting their jobs sounds catastrophic, it helps to know that 42 million people quit in 2019, before the pandemic hit. So the number of people quitting is higher, but not that much higher.

The most significant point is that recent job quitters are leaving because they feel empowered to improve their life — their job and their location — whereas before they felt too constrained or fearful to do so.

If anyone thinks that trapping employees in a life they don't want is some kind of corporate advantage, I would have to disagree.

Instead, it's far better for employees to have the freedom to choose the life they want, work that fills them with a sense of purpose, and for companies to work harder to improve the employee experience and figure out how to be the best fit for their workers.

The so-called "Great Resignation" is really an opportunity in disguise.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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