How technology has transformed my working life
“We’re sorry to announce that the 07:12 Thameslink service to London St. Pancras International has been cancelled. Please stand by for further announcements. We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused to your journey.”
A few years ago, my working life was very different. For six years, I spent four hours each day crammed across six trains, commuting to work and back. It was financially and emotionally draining, but it was simply the way that things were done.
It was only two and a half years ago, when I joined Microsoft as editor of its European news centre, that I realised that the traditional way we work, and our accustomed routines, could be different. Today, I have the freedom and flexibility to work from home, with my cat Meze purring away beside me.
I want to share my experiences here, not because I work for Microsoft, but because I’m truly passionate about this new way of working, and am grateful for the hugely positive impact it’s had on my life. This is my future of work.
On my first day, I had some reservations. They say that no man is an island, but in a professional, geographical sense, I come pretty close – I’m the only one in my direct team that lives and works in the UK. Others are scattered across Germany, Ukraine, Turkey, Bulgaria, and even South Africa – not to mention all the other people I work with around the globe, from the USA to Singapore. Bar the occasional business trips, I attend meetings and work with everyone remotely. It was a daunting prospect. I worried about being isolated, and the quality of work that could be achieved with colleagues that were hundreds of miles away. Would I feel close to them? Would I achieve my best work? Would I make friends?
Three years on, I look back on my first day jitters and realise that they were totally unfounded. Thanks to Teams, I truly feel like I’m working in the same office with my colleagues. A quick question or discussion is a mere chat window away, allowing me to instantly solve problems and give/receive advice – not to mention sending the occasional cat gif or two.
Beyond ad-hoc chats, we use video calls – a prospect which I found daunting, until I actually tried it. There’s something vulnerable, I feel, about putting yourself on camera, and I was worried it would be a distraction. In fact, I’ve found it’s the opposite.
Being able to see the people you’re talking to increases personal connections and engagements. It transforms someone from an ethereal voice to an actual person, and it doesn’t take long for the technology to melt away and become invisible. You’re just a group of people, in a room, having a chat – nothing more, nothing less.
The world is my office
I remember the first time I had a meeting outside. I was in Amsterdam for an AI conference, and was struggling to find a quiet place among the bustling throng of attendees. Desperate to find a spot, I ventured outside, and spotted a park across the road. Strolling across, I found a quiet bench, next to a pond, and joined a meeting in the glorious sunshine.
Since then, I’ve mixed up my working environment to keep things fresh. I’ve had calls walking around the park near my house to squeeze in some mid-afternoon exercise. If I want to get my head down and carve out some solid writing time, I go to my local coffee shop for a change of scenery. When a video call comes through, I can even use Team’s background blur feature to keep only myself in focus, eliminating any environmental distractions for others on the call. This is also a godsend for those days where my flat is cluttered too.
Collaboration made simple
Beyond communicating with people, Teams has also opened up a new way for me to work on projects. Often, the stories I write involve multiple people, across different fields. In the past, this would’ve been a convoluted, messy process, with newer versions of documents being emailed across with comments and revisions, with multiple versions making it easy to lose track.
Today, each project has its own Teams group, and members can upload documents and files to a dedicated space, accessible directly from the group itself. Hosted in the cloud, revisions and changes are made in real-time across single files, and this has had a dramatic impact on the speed and efficiency of my work.
The ability to show presentations and even share my screen with others has also made collaboration a much smoother process. Sharing my screen and going through things step by step truly feels like I’m working with someone in the same room, cutting out any misinterpretation or confusion.
Embracing the future
Thinking back to my first day, I don’t chastise myself for feeling nervous. It’s natural to fear the unknown, and jumping away from a way of working that’s been ingrained into you your whole life is a daunting prospect.
Having embraced the flexibility that technology has offered, I can only say that I’m looking forward to what the future of work will bring me tomorrow. Thanks for reading, and feel free to share your experiences with me on LinkedIn and Twitter. Oh, and here’s a bonus cat gif for making it to the end: