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What we are missing – The Office Environment

My son says he loves to work from home and is much more productive without the distractions of an office, but for others discussions around the coffee station or as the Americans call it, “those Watercooler moments” are essential to the collective, community of an office. It is not all gossip and back stabbing (do you remember the TV serial The Office?). Most discussion helps employees work through issues they come up against and get other views. Working from home removes that possibility. Technology has offered a ready solution for some types of ad hoc conversations during the pandemic. Facebook and Instagram Lives, Reddit Live, Discord, Twitch, and Omegle (a programme that facilitates video chats with strangers) allow people to drop in to events like a yoga session, or an influencer’s “ask me anything” session. But replicating chance encounters at the office is more difficult over video chat, where meetings are planned ahead and attendance is restricted. For those that rely heavily on networking to fuel their days, the last few months have been excruciating. MIT’s Sloan School of Management has developed Minglran open-source software that anyone can download and use to meet with people who indicate they are free to chat. The interface is like AIM and Zoom rolled into one: the left panel shows who’s free, along with an avatar and relevant information such as title and conversational interests; a middle panel lists a queue of people who want to talk with you now; the right panel shows another list of people who want to talk in the future. Another solution is  Assemble Network, which organizes small groups of up to 14 participants to meet on Zoom once a week for a month. Google also offers Google form which starts with with some basic questions—what do you want to talk about? what time zone are you in?—and, on the basis of the responses, slots a time to chat with people individually or in groups.

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Alastair Tempest

1 Comment

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