It is no secret that more remote working is here to stay, even after this pandemic is over. A new role is emerging in large organizations – the Head of Remote Work. “Digital first” is a given combined with the fresh term, “Remote – first” ways of working. Gitlab, Facebook and Okta Inc. hired new Heads of Remote Work in the last year. Shopify calls its workforce “digital by default.”
There is a less talked about impact of more remote work. What will it do to our brains? How will the collective brain be affected?
The December 2020 Globe and Mail article, “Tech is rewiring education – and our children,” shed light on the mounting concern that on-line learning disregards neurodiversity. This emerging flavor of exclusion negatively impacts collaboration so key for knowledge worker teams. Thus, the rewiring of work will result in teams that lack neurodiversity. Ultimately, a decline in innovation will occur.
Tactile, experiential learning is revered by Silicon Valley CEO’s as evidenced by their preference for low-tech Waldorf schools. This type of learning is key for creativity.
The core role of knowledge worker teams is to constantly learn and create new products. Post pandemic, what will happen if they continue to omit tactile, embodied experiences? I predict the creative process and innovation will suffer deeply.
The fact is, our brains are impacted negatively with increased remote work because it equates to more heads in screens. The 1950’s book by Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, predicted what we are experiencing now, namely
“a profound change resulting in the human disconnect from the tactility of material work where the worker loses contact with the primary element of life and environment, the basic material out of which he makes what he makes. He no longer knows wood or iron or wool. He is acquainted only with the machine.”
The result is a decline in cognition, learning, and innovation. Embodied cognition researchers T. Ionescu and D.Vasc “consider the body as a key factor in shaping our cognition.” Without the connection to the body, our brains will be rewired, putting us humans at a disadvantage.
For the past four years I have been helping teams innovate and transform differently by applying embodiment practices developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During this work I have witnessed the importance of movement and gestural expression. The physical quality of embodied practice leads to faster solutions, deeper perspectives and news ways of seeing and solving problems. In short, the collective cognition of teams is improved when such practices are layered-in alongside the digital tools.
So let’s make sure we gather as teams in physical spaces again….often. Engaging with our collective learning, moving bodies on a regular basis will be of paramount importance once this pandemic is over.
Why? To preserve and improve the cognitive power of our teams, to prevent the divorce of body and brain. At the same time, we will maintain our humanness.