Re-imagining the office

If you ever had to re-imagine the office post-Covid-19, how would you do it?

Personally, I think a very interesting opportunity lies in getting the answer right to the above question. And I am pretty sure, it won’t be easy.

Look at it this way;

Many companies have already stated that their going to offer work-from-home as an option going forward and as a result are letting go of office space. Some companies have even abandoned the office altogether.

At the other end of the spectrum, many people are reeling from being socially secluded and not being able to have in person interactions with colleagues and co-workers. While distance is great for some, closeness and togetherness is life’s salt for others.

Then add in the pre-pandemic office and it’s rather mundane interior design and commodity perks (fussball tables, Friday bar etc) seeming rather dated and boring by now and ready for the total revamp.

And then – and then – potentially add in some nifty new tech.

What you have is a super interesting cocktail of ingredients that could potentially make up a very interesting and tasty recipe for the Future of (On Premise) Work.

And my gut feeling is that the ones who get this right – probably from starting all over reimagining the experience, function and most important feeling of the future office – will have a golden opportunity.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Emotional at work

Looking at the future of work, I am convinced that those who can nail the emotional intelligence and belonging aspect of work in a working-from-home environment will be onto something truly amazing.

Why?

Because no matter how much I think about it, I still can’t see anything other than the current fascination with working-from-home as being driven by the same sort of industrial society mentality, we pretty much all felt we were in the process of moving well away from.

Why on Earth would we want it back?

In it’s present form the thinking around working-from-home as solely a matter of efficiency and crossing off items on the to do list IMHO totally misses the point about forming and sustaining a culture in the organization where new ideas thrive, innovation is unleashed and real progress is made.

It fits more into a narrative of a guy on the old factory floor timing processes looking for places to optimize and cut – but in no way bringing anything forward.

Those that understand the difference and focus on developing the emotional sense of belonging between employee and employer no natter the physical distance, will have amble opportunity to make a real difference.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The WFH degree

Today Danish applicants for higher education get a letter saying whether they got into the education and institution of their dreams. Or not.

I don’t envy them.

Back when I studied at the Danish School of Journalism it was good times. No need for a grade point average; a grueling Saturday test decided who got in, and who did not. On average 15 percent got the nod. The rest didn’t. Once in it was good fun and super interesting – and an enormous opportunity to meet and engage will all kinds of fellow students from all walks of life.

Today, what is there to look forward to?

Endless Zoom classes? Lack of a social life with fellow students? Inability to feel the environment and get the most out of the network, the other students and the opportunities that present themselves once you get engulfed by it?

It sucks, right?

And it sounds an awful lot like the ‘Working From Home’ (WHF) concept, doesn’t it?

It does.

And it is so ironic, it’s beyond words.

What the students are already complaining about now – having to be all remote, suspect quality of the classes being taught via video, a lack of the university experience and fellow students – are essentially the same things we’re so busy hyping as the next big thing about WFH.

Studying is work.

Work is also studying.

If we say that we understand and are sympathetic to the complaints of the students about the quality of the education they are about to embark on due to these new circumstances, we should also – as a MINIMUM – put serious question marks on the impacts on quality, innovation and such on a WFH future, before we just jump right in as headless chicken.

I have little doubt, we will fail to make that calculation. And that companies and the ability to innovate will suffer because of it.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

WFH? Not so fast

A movement is forming around the future of work; saying goodbye to the office in return for unrestricted flexibility to work from wherever whenever and however you might choose. It’s the future, damn it!

First of all, I will always be very reluctant to base any long term strategy on a short term experience of what happens, when you make the switch. Add to that that the switch was forced due to Covid-19 and add all the stress elements of anxiety, having to keep kids at home while trying to work etc, and to me it is just a big NO GO!

It’s just a poor way of using data. Almost fraudulent. Especially if you have the well-being of the people, you’re trying to determine the future of work for at heart.

Second, I strongly believe in working together – also in a physical sense. A lot of the work I do and do with others is centered around creativity, open discussions, listening to arguments and finding the best course of action going forward. I find it super hard to replicate sitting at my kitchen table versus being present in the office with the others on our team. But that’s just me.

What is not just me is the thing about workplace culture.

Let’s for a second forget that going completely WFH effectively eliminate all discussion about work-life-balance, because we take away the one thing that keeps things kind of separate for us – the commute. That’s a problem in itself.

No, the real problem is how we create a great company culture, if we’re never together? Culture is not something that happens at bi-weekly all hands meetings or the annual company picnic. It happens every day in your interactions – little and big – with your colleagues around why it is you come to work every day:

You need to see your great colleagues, your need to figure out great solutions together, your need to know and really FEEL that you’re together in creating whatever it is that your company is working to create – the big “why?”

Even though a lot of leaders talk about the importance of having a great company culture, a lot of companies still ultimately rely on people figuring the culture part out themselves and keeping it alive at the water cooler, the small chit chats and whatever else you have, where you can meet informally and bond.

That is super, super hard to do remote. It least if you care about having a team where the “why?” matters.

And that brings me to the final point:

There are lots of roles, where it makes sense to go predominantly WFH; some very well-defined roles, where you essentially have a tasklist, you can work yourself through on a daily basis, be done and call it a day knowing that somehow your contribution fits into the corporate hamsterwheel of things.

But by and large – for ordinary jobs in ordinary companies (and be honest, those are the 99,9 % of all companies) – the “why?” goes out the window during this process.

You can give people all the flexibility in the world that you want. But once everybody starts doing that, it seizes to be an advantage.

And you will be stuck with the downsides;

It will be as easy for your employees to leave as it was to onboard them. Because nothing is going to be holding them back:

They don’t have a real relationship with your company. They don’t really know the people they work with. They (probably) have an even more crap manager than in the office, because managing remote is even harder than in the physical space). And they are distanced from the mission, the “why?”

What’s not to leave behind for greener pastures?

A WFH defacto for work going forward will do nothing else than (1) make it harder for the vast majority of mediocre companies to make great things happen and (2) make it near impossible to keep the people that go the extra mile to see the vision come true as a true team effort while (3) all along giving the false sense of relief that everything is flexible, fine and dandy.

Choose WFH at your own peril.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

A special Labor Day

Today is Labor Day and for people in the West you can argue that there hasn’t been a more relevant time in decades to take stock at work, how we work and how we want work to be like going forward as this year.

We can start by the people who have lost their jobs in droves during the last 6-8 weeks. And then we can add a labor market that looks very bleak. Both for as long as the lockdown remains mostly in place but also afterwards as we need all those big and small gears to fall in place again and work before we can really start work again.

On top of this we can add all the gig workers who are now finding out the hard way what it means to be a ‘partner’ of a non-employer. The word ‘flexibility’ is taking on a brand new meaning every single day. And not necessarily in the best possible way.

Then throw in all those essential workers who are working super hard to make sure that things as food supplies, warehousing, logistics, supermarkets can still operate and add some sense of normality to an abnormal every day life. Some of them are really being pushed hard – in some cases too hard.

And then finally add all those who have been forced to work from home. Who are fighting an endless battle between random internet connection, unstable video platforms, people out of reach for various reasons, kids running around in the background, disruptions, lack of ability to focus – and no real end in sight as to how long this situation will last.

And then you have plenty to spend contemplating the viable future of on Labor Day.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)