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Written by: Mandy Chooi | Posted on: | Category:

No preamble necessary - we all know that in the COVID-19 reality huge slices of the population are spending much more time in the virtual world than they ever did. Customers are shopping, employees are working, all in a mash-up combination of the real world and the virtual world.

I was sparked by a little post today by Trendwatching.com to write this article. In the post they stated that “the more time people spend in the virtual realm the more they will expect from them.” And I agree with that.

My goal here is to start the conversation of how we might create more joy and meaning from working (and living) in a blend of the virtual and the real worlds because I feel what we’re seeing now is a trend that will persist.

Even though most organizations are doing what is required as a response to this disruption, many, in my opinion, are not really embracing, the potentially permanent impact this virtual-real mash-up reality will mean for their employees and customers in the near future.

In their post, Trendwatching shared stories of how brands are providing innovative services to enhance experiences while they spend time in the virtual world. Olivia, a home decor place is providing interior design services for your virtual home in Nintendo’s Animal Crossings game. You can hire them for 40GBP/hr to turn your virtual home into a space worthy of envy:) Fortnite is of course known for hugely popular live events in their virtual world. The recent Travis Scott virtual concert, offered in-game, drew a record 12.3 million viewers/players.

And an example closer to home, Zoom’s popularity soared when they offered sleek new virtual backgrounds, solving the problem of help-me-hide-clutter-in-my-kitchen while on a zoom session with my team.

And this example from Tesla (I’m not sure if it is offering value in a virtual or real world… I’m going to settle for a mash-up world). Tesla has just announced that it will soon be possible to do video conferencing using the native in-car computer system and the cabin facing camera (standard on Model 3). So, I’m imagining a road trip with family members and friends, some of whom are not physically in your car?!? Or a flotilla of Teslas (motorcade?) with their occupants all chatting away using the 21st century version of a CB radio? Full disclosure: I am a Tesla owner and a Teslaphile so I think this is quite cool :)

Many of the above examples are in the virtual world, and might carry a bit of sci-fi tinge to them but they exist and real people use them. And since so much of the real world is now off-limits to us, how much is the virtual world becoming our real world?

Think of work. How “real” are our colleagues to us? With the exception of those who are veteran remote workers, for many of us, we had to switch to WFH this March. We know our colleagues are real people but our experience of them lately has been only virtual. What makes your friend Alice Alice, is now transmitted through the image of her face on the screen, her voice through the speakers/headsets, the texts/chats/emails she sends with the cleverly placed virtual hugs/gifs/emojis…and… the outline she started on Google docs for you to pick up, the tasks she checked off on Trello, the images she posted on Slack, and of course, the dog videos she shared. So much of what we do now is experienced and evaluated through this virtual lens. Are we able to show our best selves this way? Which parts of us are not seen?

In addition to that, our personal effectiveness has to translate across the mix of both these worlds. Even though the lock down will not last forever, it has most likely changed the world of work forever. Many of us will be returning to a work reality that is a blend of the real and the virtual with no way of knowing which half will be the greater. The way we work with our teams might have also changed forever, now that we know asynchronous working is possible and even desirable in many cases. How do we re-invent ourselves to be effective in this mash-up world? How might we learn where our strengths will help us? How might we get more enjoyment and meaning out of working this way? How do we show our unique gifts and discover new gifts?

My big takeaway is this - the more time people spend living in the different worlds (#InEveryWorld) the more value they will expect to derive from every world.

So my 2 questions to companies and the people who lead them:

  1. What are you doing to create meaning and joy #InEveryWorld that your customers spend time in?

  2. What are you doing to create meaning and joy #InEveryWorld that your employees have to work in?

And my second big takeaway is that we can't do the above by merely replicating what we do in real life in the virtual world. Moving your team happy hour to Zoom gets old for a reason. It does not add value to the work and time we are already required to spend in the virtual world. In fact, some might say it just takes an hour away from the real world. A friend of mine has a small fabric arts company and last year they started a line of animal inspired designs. Since COVID19 their great idea of creating new value and increasing meaning and joy while working virtually is to introduce the Wild Earth Virtual Safari video streams to run continuously showing real (many are live streams) animals going about their lives in their natural environments. This has brought so much joy and meaning to the designers and not to mention stirring creative juices in their design.

Let’s start this conversation. Share the hashtag #InEveryWorld. The mash-up world is here to stay.

This is just my humble musings on a Tuesday, stuck behind too many virtual sessions, wondering when I will find more joy in doing a version of what, in many ways, is work I love, but somehow is still missing that little je ne sais quoi.

It would be great to see what perspectives and ideas there are out there.

#InEveryWorld #Covid19 #WFH #innovation #futureofwork

Photo credit: Dave Webb

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