The next killer app is the one that figures out how to effectively replicate the brainstorming / bulls**ting / hallway moment session virtually.
I’ve read countless think pieces over the last couple weeks about how this is the stopper for work-from-home. These thoughtful people cite countless examples of how/why WFH can’t work because of these sessions. Because hallway encounters are vital.
They cite IBM and Microsoft and all kinds of places that have tried it and it simply doesn’t work.
At Microsoft, BillG repeatedly told me that physical proximity was essential. These hallway moments were the core of creativity. So we built an endlessly enlarging campus, and constantly moved teams around to promote and rearrange these opportunities.
But now in the age of a pandemic, we’re all finding that — for a lot of brainpower workers — WFH is not only workable, but even more effective. No commute time, fewer distractions, more flexible hours, etc. WFH has proved it really works.
It works so well, it has companies like Twitter and Spotify saying they’re going all in. Other brainpower-heavy organizations will surely follow. And I’m sure people at Microsoft are questioning the wisdom of the $4bn campus rebuild they’re in the middle of.
But these “smart thinkers” say this move to WFH is a fad. That companies will move to WFH … then retreat to their expensive campuses. People have tried it before, they say. It doesn’t work long term, they say. What about the “hallway moment”, they say.
These smart people don’t see the sea changes. They seem immune to the obscene costs of living at headquarters. They overlook the proliferation of great tools/internet for remote workers. They don’t see the comfort in the younger generations with virtual life.
These systemic changes mean WFH has real legs. This time, it will stick. If for no other reason than it will save both the companies and the workers a fortune.
But there are cultural implications. Companies will need to relearn how to build culture remotely. They will have to learn to recognize talent at a distance. They will have to be sure that distance doesn’t impact promotions and compensation.
And of course they will have to figure out how to make up for missing “hallway moments”. I see two good ways:
1) make serendipity possible remotely
2) make brainstorming great again
The first is cultural, the second requires the killer app.
To make serendipity happen just requires that a virtual meeting be as easy/comfortable/quick as a hallway chat. That’s cultural.
Just make it so the “hey got a minute” virtual chat is part of your culture. Managers can do that. Set the example. If managers do it, several times a day even, the “hey got a quick sec?” video chat, it will become normal. It will make employees more comfortable doing it with them, and with each other. Part of the culture.
But what about brainstorming? That’s where we need the killer brainstorming app.
Zoom/Teams isn’t it. Too formal. Too stilted. Even if not functionally, it’s still how it’s used. I know lots of apps have tried. But there is something missing. The casual, bulls**ting, ribbing each other is missing.
The app that nails that will win. They will take over a huge piece of virtual turf. Maybe make a fortune. And will fully enable the remote work that brainpower organization CEOs (and CFOs) want to live.