Covid-19 Is Boosting Remote Work?! Really? Why now...?
Autumn 2019… does anyone remember that? Another world! As a graduate founder at the Founder Institute Berlin, I presented our project timz.flowers about a dozen times and tried to explain to the audience that remote work is not a niche but a megatrend rolling towards us.
Then Covid-19 hit, and the statistics, which predicted a remote share of 50 percent of the total workforce for 2027, were outperformed. If we ask today why remote work is suddenly so ubiquitous, the spontaneous answer is Covid-19!
But is it true? Or is there something bigger behind it?
Well, here it is worthwhile to take a look at the studies of the futurologist and economist Leo Nefiodow, who has spent decades analyzing the so-called K-Waves. These are the long-wave movements in market development that became famous through Nikolai Kondratiev‘s prognoses and on which Joseph Peter Schumpeter based his Nobel Prize-winning innovation theory of creative destruction.
According to the K-waves, the industrial development of humanity since 1780 moved in five cycles until the present. Now we are about to enter the sixth cycle, and according to Leo Nefiodow’s prognosis of 1996, one topic will dominate this phase: psychosocial or holistic health. We can discuss what exactly this is.
Covid-19 is a significant event that may represent the fulminant entry point into the sixth cycle. There are voices among Kondratiev analysts who interpret holistic health more broadly, and this is precisely where the connection to the phenomenon of remote work arises.
One of the significant psychosocial problems of recent decades is burnout, a syndrome tied to our current corporate culture. Uniform, artificial office structures impoverish the sensory experiences of workers. In compulsive rhythms—eight hours a day, five days a week, eleven months a year—they are forced into lifestyles that dramatically contradict their biological origins.
Work-life balance currently means that workers go to the office for a set duration, then fill their leisure time with sport in the evenings or at weekends to further increase their performance during office hours. The younger generation, in particular, realizes this concept does not meet their expectations of a fulfilled life. Many do not want to be imprisoned in such a context.
Is it a coincidence that we speak of work-life balance and differentiate between work and life or a mistake?
So What's the Alternative?
It sounds like an irony of fate that a dangerous virus will free the working world from these malicious methods. With this event, the eyes of the world are turning to the subject of health. As a side effect, many destructive processes are being corrected that have no place in an age of holistic health.
However, I don’t want to discuss the CO2 emissions of nations and their climate goals here but rather focus on remote work. Of course, in many professions, remote work is already an alternative to the work processes described above. I assume this will soon also apply to jobs where it seems unimaginable today, such as medical diagnosis and treatment discussions with patients and experts, where remote input can boost the knowledge of a situation.
We are only at the dawn of a remote world, and we need to develop an idea of what this means. For example, the following questions arise:
- How can the employer trust that the worker is working? Or is this already an outdated understanding of roles?
- How do human connections and trust develop when coworkers hardly see each other?
- How does alignment in terms of goals, methods, products, and values come about?
- Is the coworker able to manage his time responsibly?
The answers to these questions lie in the concept of people that we cultivate; it is the question of the remote readiness of collaborators and teams.
The Remote-Readiness Diamond
We built timz.flowers as a remote-only company. In this way, we learned how to create an ideal remote tool. When new team members are onboarding, we try to understand the remote readiness of each applicant. For this process we have developed the following diagram, the Remote-Readiness Diamond.
In an era of holistic health, we must work with a holistic view of humanity to connect as a company to the general development. Following Ken Wilber’s quadrant theory, we have defined twelve characteristics that a person or organization needs to be remotely capable.
We noticed that especially the opposite pairs in the diamond are powerful complementary partners.
Self-Responsibility & Representation
The upper left quadrant describes the Inner-Me—those aspects of personality that function deep within the coworker. This is where self-responsibility for central areas of life plays a decisive role. Only the individual can know what interests them and how to develop their skills. Performance and motivation are their responsibility. They decide each day whether the job is right for them and whether it produces enough social security to survive and be happy in the long term.
I am not referring here to labor and social law considerations. We are entering a gig economy where freelance contracts dominate and actors come together as spontaneous swarms. Teams are becoming more international, comprising freelancers from different countries and continents.
Long-term social security is naturally performance-based in start-ups. We will see how the Covid-19 crisis drives general basic income in advanced countries, providing underlying social security in the medium term. The labor laws of the twentieth century, which still dominate legislation today, will have to adapt actively to these trends.
In such a world, the self-responsibility of coworkers—how they educate themselves, how they motivate themselves, and how they organize their social security—increases.
Based on this self-responsibility, a person capable of public representation appears in the opposite quadrant, bottom right: the Outer-We. This person can represent a team and projects independently in the outer world at any time. A holistic character does not need explicit permission from a boss to appear in public; they simply do it when they feel like it.
Especially in times of social media, where employees are an essential pillar of public relations, self-responsible representation is an important component for project success.
Micro-Balancing Work and Life, Key to Human Alignment!
I mentioned earlier that people today usually interpret work-life balance in blocks—you go to work for eight hours and balance a little in your free time. In a remote team, on the other hand, new possibilities open up. I remember the following story.
While discussing the onboarding of our Portuguese software architect, Sergio, with our developers in India, Pakistan, and Germany, an important question came to mind. We were sat by a campfire in Poland on the birthday of our founder, Mariusz. I immediately picked up my mobile phone and, in the flickering glow of the fire, recorded the question into the corresponding flower (that’s the name of our navigator).
This kind of immediacy creates a deeper understanding among coworkers. It shows the context in which I asked the question, the psychological state I am in, and my concrete life situation. Anindya, our backender from Bangalore, immediately replied that he felt as though he were sitting with me by the fire. This way, we get to know each other personally, although we may never meet in real life. Here, a central problem is solved: how can human alignment in remote teams be achieved?
We see here how the seesaw between the two quadrants works very well. By juggling my work-life balance on a micro level, I connect more deeply with my team members on a human level than when restrictive attendance contracts force me to spend forty hours a week in a uniform office. Which, by the way, would not be possible in a cross-continental team.
This human alignment generates loyalty to the team and the project. It enables improvements in all dimensions of the project as people connect on a personal level and thus address elementary developments more openly.
The pairings in the diagram show that the Inner-Me of the individual team members significantly influences the Outer-We of the entire project. The remote readiness of the team and its members is crucial for the success of the project.
Purpose Alignment and Outcome Responsibility
That we are in a cycle of holistic health became clear to me when all founders in the Founder Institute were asked to clarify to which of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations the individual projects were assigned. It was explained to us unequivocally that from now on, only projects that generate a specific impact will have a chance to be financed. Essentially, all seventeen UN goals are linked in some way to holistic health—the health of social structures, people, and nature.
About a year before timz.flowers, we founded diversus.me, a non-profit association that aims to accelerate knowledge creation using the same UX paradigm. It was impressive to see how a club member in India, Nikhil, independently of us, was contacted by Anindya (then a candidate for full-stack development) who was excited about the goals of the project and its basic philosophy. Anindya approached us and was very inspired and said that he absolutely wanted to work for the project after talking to Nikhil. What happened here is what we call Purpose Alignment. We cannot force this, we can only commit to our own purpose and develop it together with the team.
This example shows how the inner attitude of team members is related to the outer result of the project. The purpose alignment of the two is based on an intrinsic interest in the higher project goals. Together they advance the project by independently exchanging information about the goals, developing them together, and actively helping to achieve them.
We are beginning to see how a holistic view of personalities helps lead projects to success. In remote teams, the idea of leadership also changes. While the leadership models in organizations of the twentieth century were strongly pyramidal, in the sixth cycle, they become circular. Role models become volatile, integral, and spontaneous. Whoever sees a task makes sure that it gets done, supporting the development and adaptation of project goals.
Digital Savviness and Responsiveness
With the digital savviness and responsiveness of team members, we come to the basic hygiene factors of remote readiness. In the classical understanding of work, they are at the centre of Remote Readiness. In the third decade of the twenty-first century, team members should of course show a confident handling of digital tools, adapt to new tools easily, and react quickly to requests from other team members. Even if these requirements sound trivial, we spend a lot of time training these skills, especially in established companies with classic structures and in the circles where decisions are made.
In the coming decades, the remote ability of organizations will determine their prosperity and existence. Modern tools will contribute to the emergence of swarm-like organizations, where members come together only for single, highly effective gigs. With new tools, expertise can be allocated spontaneously to where it is really needed.
We will see the rise of virtual organizations that come together out of purely intrinsic interest to solve a fundamental problem. We already see this today in citizenship movements and precursors of organizations such as Wikipedia. But why should the same not happen in cancer research, climate research, or emission-free mobility? In the sixth Kondratiev cycle, there is hardly room left for pure me-too marketing products, as predominant in the twentieth century. The main burden of activities will shift to existential work.
These positive developments are made possible by increasing the information entropy. Knowledge can be shared more efficiently, values can be distributed more fairly—all based on digital tools that users naturally need to communicate and understand. Digital savviness is fundamental for the successful player of the future.
Integral Mindset and Social Responsibility
We have a fundamentally different concept of entropy from Leo Nefiodow, which, typical for the twentieth century, equates the free movement of the elements with threats. He calls this “social entropy” and equates moral decay and crime with it. We are developing a completely different concept of entropy, in which the free movement of information contributes to the faster formation of knowledge. This also refers to the freedom of movement of workers who thereby expand their holistic experience of the world and mature into holistic personalities. In contrast to Nefiodow, we recognize that with increasing entropy crime and fraud will decline. We do not subscribe to his concept of social entropy.
On the contrary, an integral mindset, which develops as freely as possible and participates in the free consumption and creation of knowledge, generates social responsibility. The longing for restrictive control of people, goods, and thoughts is a child of the fading age of modernity and has no place in the trust-based systems of remote collaboration. The leadership of the future is not created by restriction, but by example and inspiration. Andreas Jäger Fontana, our customer and source of ideas, once put it in a nutshell, freely adapted from Max Weber: “Leadership by definition is a revolutionary act, it starts a process of transformation. What we call leadership in most organizations are mostly predominantly still pure administrative activities.”
The revolution in remote teams lies in the fact that leadership is no longer the task of small control elites, but of the democratic masses—the real drivers of rationality in democracies, as in all other forms of organizations. We understand people as a system of holistic fractals, where anyone can spontaneously take the lead because they always have the big picture. I am talking here about tendencies that are only limited by individual abilities or interests. These tendencies lead to a new understanding of organization.
Integrity and Team Loyalty
I don’t want to spend too much time on integrity and team loyalty because it is immediately clear why these personality vectors are important for successful teams and how they are connected.
Nevertheless, it makes sense to depict them explicitly, since, for example, in the investor segment, there are sometimes completely different attitudes around competition and individual assertiveness. Such attitudes can irritate or even destroy modern teams. Therefore, it is worthwhile for all stakeholders to take a look at the diamond from time to time.
I doubt the concept of “career” is compatible with team loyalty and integrity. The modern actor should have the system’s success in mind to look back proudly on achievements together with his team, rather than prioritising his personal career.
In this context, we have intensively studied Frederique Laloux’s ideas about the evolution of organizations and are on the way to becoming a Teal organization with our own company, without yet knowing exactly what that means. The Remote-Readiness Diamond is a step on the road to understanding, and we look forward to taking the next steps together with you and others.
I think the Remote-Readiness Diamond will also have a positive effect on classic companies that are in digital transformation. With our consulting activities, we see formerly archconservative companies suddenly in the forefront of a modern team understanding. An impressive paradigm shift is currently taking place here, for which the diamond is just another form of expression.
The Remote-Readiness Diamond in Consultancy Practice
Since we at timz.flowers focus on building technology, we develop consulting programs around the tool with our close partners, such as Dr. Fabian Feutlinske from Cobiom, who uses swarm intelligence to run systems. Our founder, Mariusz Kreft, with his Disruption Zone is the driving force behind the intellectual development, building on his long experience as a central consultant for digital transformation in Fortune 500 companies. Together they bring ideas into daily practice and have appropriate assessment tools at hand.
I do not think it is a coincidence that Covid-19 is having such a massive economic impact right now. The fifth Kondratiev wave, IT technology, could no longer pull sufficiently as the sole tractor of the global economy. IT technology needs content, and this content has now been found. The health of the planet, people, and social communities will be the focus of action in the coming decades. Remote collaboration is one central basis for this because this is what IT technology was ultimately created for—people working together in abstract organizations spread across the globe.
Organizations that want to thrive in this context should promote the remote readiness of their members and move into new dimensions of impact and success. With the evolution of the working mode, everything changes—values, artifacts, processes, outcomes.
But are we right in our assumptions? How can we improve our approach? We are happy to discuss the twelve domains of the diamond with HR experts, digital nomads, and everybody who is interested in shaping the post-Covid-19 world.
- Do you have better suggestions?
- Do you know of better pairings?
- Would you prioritize differently or rearrange the domains?
- What are your experiences with remote work?
- How do you think this area will develop?
We gladly invite the reader to discuss the topic with us in a timz-flower.