June 26

Work: It’s No Longer A Place


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“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Alvin Toffler, Futurist & Author

Work: It’s No Longer a Place

“I’m going to work, I’m at work or I’m working” used to be rooted in something physical, something tangible. Work was a place that had working hours, people, culture, watercoolers and big corner offices for the head honchos. Interestingly, today we are beginning to redefine work as an activity and it’s no surprise considering the year we’ve been through.

That’s a big shift in our collective behaviour and it seems we’re not prepared to walk it back, as we’ve witnessed over the last month with pushback from employees around the world.

The battle over shaping post-pandemic corporate culture has well and truly begun.

Our relationship to work is changing and it’s not just the practicalities of ‘working’ – it’s our collective awareness of a system that no longer serves us. A system designed for people who have minimal parenting responsibilities, who can afford to live close to the office and who are measured in industrial style ‘productivity’ terms.

The pandemic has fundamentally shifted our appreciation of who we are and how we might thrive as human beings with hearts, minds and souls.

As an aside, we’ve been talking about “bringing your whole self to work” for the last few years. The irony is, we are now doing just this, however, the context has changed and many leaders are grappling with finding a way forward.

We are realising the need for a more agile, mutable approach to work and life. And we know that the minute the majority of people change their awareness, then the rules that govern our actions and behaviours begin to change too.

“At the moment when we bend the beam of collective attention back onto our own process and when we begin to see ourselves through the eyes of others, and the eyes of the whole, then we begin to unfreeze the hardened state of social reality into a more fluid state that allows us to reimagine and reshape reality as needed.”

Otto Scharmer: Ten Lessons from Covid for Stepping into the Decade of Transformation

Work: It’s a Collaboration Hub

We need to reimagine and redesign the office as a collaboration hub rather than a place of day-to-day work.

In PwC’s latest Workforce Pulse Survey (US based), CHRO’s noted a small but significant trend of employees moving away from the office because they know that they can work remotely. The findings are interesting – 22% of employees are planning or considering a move more than 50 miles away from their core office and another 10% have already made such a move since the start of the pandemic.

This naturally gives organisations a wider geographic talent pool and better retention tools. It also presents a few minor challenges including how to incentivise employees to come into the office for significant occasions and tax/reimbursement policies.

Also read: PwC’s CHRO Insights

Shaping the corporate culture of the future…

A number of big tech companies, including GoogleSalesforceFacebook and Amazon are gravitating toward a hybrid model, in which there will be a combination of both working from the office and at home. Some companies, like Spotify, are still offering the opportunity for people to work from anywhere they’d like.

On the other hand, earlier this month The Washingtonian’s editorial staff stopped work after Catherine Merrill, CEO of Washington Media, penned an op-ed column saying corporate managers have “a strong incentive” to demote employees who don’t return to their offices. She went on to suggest that remote workers can’t participate in office life and associated activities like “helping a colleague, mentoring more junior people, celebrating someone’s birthday – things that drive office culture.”

There are vital lessons we can all learn as we witness this ‘push and shove’ playing out in real-time. Many leaders are still stuck in pre-pandemic thinking, attempting to reclaim, recapture and drive the benefits of the “hive mind”. To go back to office-based corporate cultures so strong as to collectively move as one and drive productivity.

The reality is, the last year has debunked the need for all people to return to the office in order to be productive. You can dig into the detail in McKinsey’s report; What’s next for remote work: An analysis of 2,000 tasks, 800 jobs, and nine countries.

When we get into the ‘hybrid’ debate about the right ratio of days in the office to days at home (or anywhere you fancy), I believe agile-thinking organisations will find what’s right through rapid prototyping and experimentation. The key here is to communicate openly, collaborate with employees and try a few options in a given time frame. So 2/3, 3/2 or 4/1 for a month at a time and take a vote. And do it again in six months time.

Things are moving way too fast to settle on decisions we make today and expect them to work in the near future.

Let’s consider another key factor, that of “Re-Entry Anxiety”.

It’s definitely a thing. As I wrote last week in the Grey Swan Guild’s News Wrap, we’re going to need to pay close attention to this emergent phenomenon when shaping our corporate cultures of tomorrow.

We’ve heard so much about the impact of the last year on our mental health. COVID-19 has been categorised as a mass trauma – when many people go through a hugely traumatic event at the same time. 

“Our moral responsibility is not to stop the future, but to shape it… to channel our destiny in humane directions and to ease the trauma of transition.” Alvin Toffler

“Re-Entry Anxiety” is showing up in all manner of ways including increased absenteeism, social avoidance and self-imposed isolation, with symptoms ranging from fear, distress, mistrust, depression and anxiety in social and public places. Not to mention worries about reinfection (despite being vaccinated), exposure to other illnesses, death and future disasters.

If we’re smart, we’ll take the three essential stages of recovery (establishing safety, remembrance and mourning and reconnection) into consideration and build them into our plans. Forewarned is, after all, forearmed.

“Anxiety is known to decrease work performance, reduce job satisfaction, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues, among other ills. For the global economy, the loss of productivity because of poor mental health—including anxiety—might be as high as $1 trillion per year.”

McKinsey: What employees are saying about the future of remote work

The Big Q’s

As we embark on reimagining and redesigning our corporate cultures, we first need to appraise where we are. Are we thinking in futures terms? Do we have our big-picture lenses in? Are we agile and innovative? Are we creatively collaborating and challenging our own preconceptions through diverse perspectives? Are we dealing with the reality of what is, not what we hope it will be?

All good Q’s, which are well worth considering. If we’re not evolving, we too will surely suffer the consequences of pushback. Old-school thinking simply won’t work in a new world paradigm.

So, food for thought and I would love to hear your views?

Leave a comment

Contact me if you need an external thought-partner on all things culture – and if you know of someone else who would also benefit from this, why not share it?

Until next time, take good care of yourself.

Best, Louise


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