“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I came across this quotation by George Bernard Shaw this week and it felt very relevant to the new normal that we find ourselves in.

On Friday night (as I made myself a margarita and banged on the Dua Lipa album for the eighth time) someone told me that his whole week had been back-to-back Zoom calls. Is this effective working? Is it even effective communication? Or is it simply digital presenteeism?

Presenteeism is the notion that we will be judged by being there rather than anything we actually contribute. In a world of work where it’s confoundingly difficult to judge who is doing a good job and who isn’t, the idea of assessing someone ‘because she’s always the last one there’ is far more prevalent than we think. Managers want the full attention of their team on key projects so they elect to summon their digital faces to the screen in front of them while they opine. These desires for control are relics of the past, the opportunity to cast them off is what I talked to Dan Cable about on the latest Eat Sleep Work Repeat. (It was recorded a few weeks ago, pre London lockdown).

If you’re finding yourself in back-to-back calls do challenge yourself (or the meeting leader), ‘is there a better way we could do this?’

Slowly unfolding conclusions of the lockdown

People will realise the flexible working they thought they wanted isn't the answer to all of their problems

As we’re starting to observe, there's as many things wrong with remote working as are wrong with the office. This isn't about finding out the perfect alternative and then committing to it, it's about trying to be flexible to get the best of each world. 

We judge ourselves by how we behave on our best day but others will remember us by how we behave at our worst

Firms who treat contractors worse than full time employees when it comes to home isolation, firms who laid all workers off with no consideration of the consequence, these acts will matter more than slogans on the wall when it comes to us thinking about what company culture really stands for. 

COVID15 will force us to ask 'why are we doing this?'

So much of work is ritual. The Monday afternoon check in, the management meeting on Wednesday morning, the Thursday afternoon revenue call. We're used to doing things because that's how things are. But teleport into those meetings in a normal week and you'll see a lot of weary people itching to get out to answer their messages. Even now we're often doing those same meetings as Zoom calls. In contrast in professions where we can see the output they dispense with these things. You rarely drive past a construction site to witness the laborers having a meeting. a gathering of hairdressers holding up the opening of the salon. We need to get past things that look like they prove our commitment. Let people do the job, ask why you're doing the rituals.

The corona crisis will give a headstart to firms who are willing to change things quickly

The strange conundrum about knowledge work is that it's barely seen productivity increases in years. Despite the acceleration of technology, we're only producing more by working more. It's why 2019 was filled with articles about burnout, in the absence of productivity gains, we're just working more and more. By some accounts if your work expects you to stay connected when you're out of the office we're clocking up over 70 hours of being 'on'. The end result is that there's no scope for imagination or daydreaming, instead they are crowded out by being 'always on'. The companies who will thrive will be those who realise that they can move twenty, thirty, forty per cent faster by cutting out lots of their practices.


Are you feeling exhausted despite doing nothing? You’re experiencing grief. Don’t underestimate the stress that this situation is wreaking on your body and mind.

Also a number of people are reporting that their misophonia (annoyance with specific noises) is flaring up - almost certainly down to heightened anxiety. (Explanation of misophonia)


Someone has aggregated a lot of info into this Remote Work Survival Kit. (I’d tell you who made it but their About page has mashed up).


On the podcast:

I chatted to Dan Cable about businesses not wasting a good crisis.

A wonderful discussion with former nurse Christie Watson.

From the archive, revisit my discussion with former doctor Adam Kay.

Another archive find, Dr Heidi Edmundson describes how she used games to inspire and motivate her team.