Two million stopped working to watch Bill Gates do a LinkedIn livestream. Here’s why that’s a problem

Trying to work at home has been quite a challenge for me lately.

As an extrovert, I love being around people when I’m working, even if they are complete strangers. Whenever I need to crank out a work project, I go to my favorite coffee shop and let the background noise motivate me.

Working around people adds a layer of accountability that technology simply cannot match. No matter how many Zoom meetings I attend, it’s not the same as sitting next to someone while they focus on an important project. 

Less accountability means more distractions. 

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, made a great point in his live conversation on LinkedIn recently — that social activity and the face to face interactions with others is irreplaceable. Gates pointed to previous statements where he encouraged more preparation in case of a pandemic. 

Gates shared that large corporations now have the practice and the ability to host virtual meetings. New innovation software and platforms like Zoom make it easy for people to “meet” via computer screen. But there are some things that cannot be replaced. 

“There are a few things, like business trips, that I doubt will ever go back. There will still be business trips, but less,” Gates said. “In the case of high school, I think the social activity — making friends, hanging out — that you get by being there physically, that’s totally irreplaceable.”

So, what was my problem with the livestream with Bill Gates?

For starters, it was really good — and distracting. Almost as distracting as turning my phone notifications on while trying to have a conversation. Staying focused is difficult enough on a normal day. But without the accountability of my regular workspace, staying concentrated takes more energy than ever.

With so many people working remotely, over two million people stopped their workday to listen to Gates speak live. If the world was not in the middle of a pandemic, most people would be at work, in meetings, or busy finishing up a project.

But now, people are taking time out of their workday to watch Bill Gates talk about why some states are slower to implement self-isolation than others — what started in California has spread to 95% of the population

How many people stop their remote work in the middle of the day to surf LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram? How distracted are we right now, looking for any relief from the tedium?

Technology is easier to access than ever before. As more people become accustomed to working from home, how are their work habits changing? 

The struggle is not limited to people who are used to commuting to work Monday through Friday. Concentrating throughout the day is also a struggle for people who normally work remotely. 

Whenever I had remote work to do, I used to have a favorite coffee shop I could go to when I really needed to get something done. But in the middle of a global pandemic, everything has changed. Everyone’s day is being interrupted, whether that’s through live technology or the lack of routine. 

For over two million people on Wednesday, this interruption was Bill Gates. 

The question for many employers and remote workers now? Who or what will the interruption be tomorrow?