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What I Learned in 2020 About New Ways Of Working

By Craig Roth | December 29, 2020 | 2 Comments

Future of WorkFunDigital Workplace ProgramDigital Workplace ApplicationsDigital Workplace

I learned a lot about new ways of working in 2020, whether I wanted to or not.  Here are some of the learnings that stand out for me as this dreadful year comes to a close. For my 2021 predictions I will assume that the vaccines work, but that given the time to distribute they are more likely to ensure health in 2021 than to return everything to normal.

Conferences Weren’t Really About the Presentations

I used to think conferences were a collection of keynote speakers and breakout sessions with some meetings, food, fun, and random conversations on the side.  Working with my clients to reimagine their conferences as virtual events has taught me I had those reversed.

I learned that attending virtual conferences is more difficult than I thought. Traditional conferences provide shielding from daily concerns and blinders to distractions. How many of us signed up for a virtual conference in 2020 and started the conference day committed to sitting through a full, carefully planned schedule of sessions just like last year?  And by the end of the day, how many of us were checking Facebook, folding laundry, and learning the guitar chords to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”?  

In for 2021:

  • Free virtual conferences.  I think this will now be an expectation for those just wanting the basics, including the keynotes and a few sessions.
  • Maybe: More virtual reality conferences where you can still strike up a conversation with the avatar of a stranger while hanging out at the break tables by the conference hall.

Out in 2021:

  • Big expenditures on conference tickets, travel, and food just to learn what your favorite vendor is up to (as well as what your favorite 80’s rock band is up to). You’ll need a better justification for being there in person.
  • Colds.  Really!  I didn’t have a single case of the sniffles all year for the first time I can remember.  That’s not solely due to the lack of conference travel, but conferences often anchored my trips.

When I Said I’m More Productive Working At Home, I Meant ALONE

Many workers got their first taste of working at home this year. I’ve been working at home for twenty years now.  If asked, I used to describe how I enjoyed it; how I was more productive than in my old office days.  But until this year that didn’t include three other humans of various sizes locked in the house with me.  

In for 2021:

  • Acting as lunch chef and network administrator for my kids two days a week during “hybrid learning”

Out for 2021:

  • Casually relocating to different locations whenever the desire strikes for a change of environment 
  • Occasional travel to break up the monotony of seeing the same four walls every day. Maybe in 4Q 2021?

We Didn’t Know Exactly What Employees Were Doing Before Coronavirus

Our search analytics (see “Infographic: Remote Work Is Going Viral — Search Data Reveals a Powerful 2020 Accelerator”) showed a bump in searches on “employee monitoring” about two months after COVID hit. And searches on “productivity” nearly tripled.

My interpretation is that it took a few months after the panicked emptying of corporate buildings for the dust to settle.  At that point employers began to wonder what everyone was really doing at home.  Accordingly, there has been an increase in client questions about productivity metrics and usage analytics for knowledge workers. But what’s lacking is historical or industry context.  Determining the impacts on productivity requires knowing what it was before. Ay, there’s the rub.

In for 2021:

  • “Observable Work” and “Working out loud”: Work that is done in an open environment where others can see the state of the work at any time in order to contribute or monitor the effort.  
  • All forms of worker and productivity analytics and feedback cycles.

Out in 2021:

  • When it comes to knowledge work, more managers will question how work was done. It does matter how many teammates had input into a presentation or document, not just that it gone done.  

Collaboration = Video?

There was increased interest in all sorts of virtual collaboration tools.  For example, our search analytics show increases in workstream collaboration, content collaboration platforms, and collaborative work management.  But those increases pale in comparison to that of video conferencing.  Technically I consider video conferencing a communication channel, not a collaboration space.  But that little technicality didn’t keep Zoom from zooming to the top of the search stats.

In for 2021:

  • Purposeful asynchronous collaboration. What’s after “Zoom fatigue”?  Renewed interest in asynchronous methods for distributed teams to collaborate.  This may mean general purpose tools (content services, workstream collaboration) adapted to fit specific needs. Or more specialized tools meant for specific use cases, often tied to industries or common roles. But now there is a better understanding of the work that has to get done in a virtualized organization, which will result in a decrease of generic collaboration capabilities being deployed as the only solution.

Out in 2021:

  • Senseless meetings over video conferencing (well, not all, but a single digit percentage decline at least).  Note: this assumes not all meetings are bad meetings.

Yes, Digital Workplace Projects Get Approved Once the Need is Clear

Before 2020 I saw digital workplace products and projects proposed that were clearly better than the current way of working. But they often got delayed or postponed due to lack of budget or enough proof for the naysayers around the office.  It made me wonder if some companies would ever approve these projects tied to new ways of working.  Turns out they just needed a push.

In for 2021:

  • More projects to reimagine how work gets done. They will include new collaborative technology, but not be simple technology roll-outs.

Out in 2021:

  • Asking why you would ever want a digital workplace when the old analog type seems to work just fine.

I look forward to working with our clients in 2021 and seeing if my predictions come true.

Happy new year!

Comments are closed


  • the best part is Digital Workplace Projects Get Approved Once the Need is Clear! tnx for great article

  • Craig Abelman says:


    Happy new year.

    Some great observations. Like you, I’ve worked fully or partially from home for 20+ years and was already set up for it and understood how to manage time effectively. Of course, my kids are grown and while my daughter came home to teach virtually and not be isolated it was not a distraction.

    Your conference comments were interesting because from a sales and business development perspective it’s the face-to-face networking that was most missed.

    COVID certainly accelerated the development and instantiation of all things remote.

    I too am looking forward to the COIVD fog lifting as the vaccine gets into enough arms.

    All the best,