Bill Gates' tip for working from home: have a second screen that helps you stay in touch with colleagues

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Bill Gates' tip for working from home: have a second screen that helps you stay in touch with colleagues
Bill GatesHou Yu/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images
  • Bill Gates said that workers lose spontaneity when working remotely. Having two screens could help.
  • He said workers could have a feed of all of their colleagues sitting in their home offices.
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Just when it looked like workers could be returning to the office, the emergence of the Omicron variant means working from home is once again the prospect for many. But for those missing the office environment, Bill Gates may have a solution.

As the new variant spreads, companies are starting to push back their office returns. In some countries, such as the UK, people have been advised by government to work remotely where they can.

One of the most common complaints by business leaders and workers of the switch to remote working is the impact it can have on employee collaboration. Some argue that without the chance to turn and talk to the person sitting next to them, ideas and creativity can suffer — younger staff also miss out on the chance to learn.

Now Gates has suggested a remedy: get a second screen and set up a feed with all your colleagues' faces on it.

In his annual blog, posted last week, the Microsoft founder and philanthropist mulled the challenge of home working and how the pandemic had disrupted work.

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Gates wrote that spontaneity is the biggest thing workers lose when they're not in the office, and spontaneous interaction stopped when many of us began working from home.

"You aren't exactly going to have an unplanned conversation with a colleague about your last meeting in your living room," he wrote.

He said he's interested in how technology can "create more" spontaneity and that there are potential innovations in the pipeline to replicate it at home.

Gates said that if people had a second screen that was cheap, as well as a physical place for it, workers could have a feed of all of their colleagues sitting in their home offices.

"You could look at the screen to see what everyone is doing (except when someone wants privacy and turns the camera off)," wrote Gates.

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"When someone seems like they're free to talk, you could just click on their video, zoom in, and start chatting," he said.

Gates said that this wasn't radically different from how collaboration works today, and that we have the bandwidth and software to do it now.

The workaround might not suit everybody. Some remote workers warn that excessive video calls are exhausting. A Stanford working paper into the phenomenon of "zoom-fatigue" speculated that constantly seeing their own face reflected back at them could be one of the reasons.

Nick Bloom, another Stanford professor who has studied remote work during the pandemic, said that if teams want to collaborate they're better organising multiple one-on-ones, rather than a group call.

Gates uses his closely watched annual blog to sum up the previous year and share his predictions for the future.

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This year he predicted that virtual meetings could move to the metaverse within two to three years, and said that Microsoft was in the process of developing avatar-based tech.

He added that 2021 had been the "most unusual and difficult" year of his life, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the separation from his wife of 27 years, Melinda Gates. He was optimistic for 2022, however, revealing that he thinks that the "acute phase" of the Covid-19 pandemic will be over at some point during the year.

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