Even on the Internet, people are ultimately just looking for community. The best way to tell how great the longing is is to look at the offers that arise on the marketplace of attention – in these times with their hybrid work models, these are virtual coworking units. They should help against loneliness and procrastination in work solitary confinement and at the same time increase productivity. One hopes not only for society, but also for a kind of authority to which one must or at least can be accountable.
Corresponding channels on Youtube or Tiktok have hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Videos with titles like “Four hours work with me” have been viewed millions of times. On the Twitch platform, which is otherwise mainly used for streaming video games, there are now online working groups of strangers, sometimes several thousand people join in live to watch the streamers doing it. The fight against the deadline as a viewer-worthy event. These young people call it body doubling or parallel working.
Unfortunately, it is the case that knowledge work is at best non-sensual. If it were about co-working manual workers, you would at least see things in the making. In the usual live streams, at most a small amount of text is selected and moved from one place in the document to another or the mouse is moved. It also doesn’t help much if – as in the StudyMD offer – the background was decked out with scented oil nebulisers and monstera.
Do they really work there? Or are they just pretending?
Of course, seeing someone else’s screen on your screen doesn’t get any better. Even if a countdown is also ticking at the bottom, which says how long you still have to keep the focus. Especially since one suspicion persists: Do they really work there? Or are they just pretending? And anyway: how can a telemedial mediation of work work at all if you need your own screen in case of doubt, well, just to do your work. It’s complex.
A slew of startups are promising troubled freelancers and remote workers relief through more interaction. The Flown company brings half a dozen people together via video link, who then work side by side. In between there is at least a relaxation stretching. It gets even more intimate with Focusmate. The service acts as a kind of productivity blind date. The user is randomly assigned a conversation partner, they greet each other, introduce each other to what they intend to do in the next 45 minutes and get to work. Process invoices, do taxes or whatever else you just shy away from.
Artificially simulating the social pressure that people were able to escape from by turning their backs on office duties may not sound particularly obvious. You also have to pay money for this, because most of the services cost even less. The difference is that temporary colleagues are booked because of an internal, not an external, compulsion.