“How Money Works” is a superb YouTube channel providing vlogs on a variety of topics in no-nonsense and easy to understand treatments tinged with a bit of humour. Their piece on “bs jobs” – “Your Job Achieves Nothing… (probably)” underscores the criticality of aligning actual output to responsibilities. One would typically think of a shorter work week as a dividend to dynamic working, but they are actually advocating it as a means to dynamic work:
“Is there a solution to this? Yes…embrace the idea that it is okay to not work 40 hours a week. The idea that a job is either bullshit or not bullshit is not entirely correct. In reality, all jobs will have some level of bullshit built into daily routines. If it was acceptable to say ‘My work is done. I’m done for the day’, then it would be a lot easier to see who is contributing nothing.”
Managing outcome not activity is a critical cornerstone to dynamic work.
This clip from the delightful film “Office Space”, illustrates the fundamental issue with managing presence (“face-time”). The biggest obstacle to remote (and flexible) working has been the lack of management skills in companies to effectively manage outcomes. So managing activity has been seen as the next best thing. Well, actually, as the clip illustrates, they’re really just “managing” presence. “Presence” might be correlated with “activity” (ie. if you are there you might as well do something), and “activity” might be correlated with “outcome”, if you’re lucky. But in many situations, you’re most likely to get “15 minutes of actual work.”
The inflection point in remote/flexible working that the pandemic lock-downs precipitated forced companies to take on the difficult challenge of figuring out how to manage outcomes. And now that is done, they are find remote worker much more productive than in-office workers ever were. Part of this increase is the productivity enhancements of avoiding energy depleting commutes, the availability of the ergonomic comforts of home, etc. But probably the biggest contributor is finally getting companies to manage by outcome.
While “remote” working is getting lots of airtime with the pandemic lock-downs, the emerging new normal distinction between “remote” and “flexible” (or “dynamic”) remains important. “Remote” working refers to being away from the main office space, but that is not the objective for dynamic work. Instead, finding the *best* place to work is the key. And that might just be at a conventional office space for certain activities. Or people.
When I first introduced flexible working at Microsoft and Red Bee Piero, I expected everyone to jump on the opportunity to avoid the dreaded commute and stay in the comfort of their own homes. But in both cases, several staff still came in regularly as if nothing had changed. A recent Dilbert cartoon (see above) humorously illustrated a very real and respectable notion that some people simply *want* to commute for extended periods of time to sit in fluorescent lit white-collar factories.
As a result of this experience, I identified a number of reasons why sometimes the best place to work is, indeed, the office itself:
HABIT – Some people just have gotten into their routine and are content to keep in their routine. One team member commuted a long distance, but he had gotten into the habit of reading books during his train journey and looked forward to the couple of hours of quite time to read every day (he was convinced that his house would not have provided him the peace and quiet or lack of distraction to enable an extended reading session)
CHANGE OF SCENERY – As the pandemic has unscored, we do everything at our homes – eating, sleeping, entertaining, relaxing. If we do our working there to, it can become effectively a guided cage. Going into a workplace can provide a welcome change of scenery to one’s life.
NON-OPTIMAL HOME ENVIRONMENT – Sometimes home is not as sweet as the saying says. People have shared living arrangements, limited privacy, no common space, problematic Internet connectivity, ambient noise and a whole host of other issues which make their home a non-optimal place to work and conduct video-conferences.
ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT – While less and less of an issue in our increasingly digital world, some roles do require access to specialised equipment which cannot be transported to one’s home because it is too big, too expensive, too sensitive and too many other things.
While some over-ambitious workplace plans strive achieve bean-counting cost cutting by jettisoning all staff from the office space to save on rent and other bricks-and-mortar overhead, such expected savings are short-sighted. Right-spacing the work space to the staff who need or want to be there is a critical component to dynamic working.
With remote working the new normal, why not take “remote” to the limit? Why set a fake backdrop to your Zoom meeting, when you could have real paradise?
My other blog covers all things to do with Maldives resorts and today’s posts features the quite idyllic desk of the Hideaway Beach water villa. As I noted in the write up, people wonder why I would want to interrupt paradise with thinking about work. I just see it as an investment…by doing 5% work during my stay, I can often extend my stay at least 50% (at 10x return of parardise time).
Just one of the potential upsides of not working side by side.
Necessity is the mother of re-invention. And the necessary precautions of the coronavirus pandemic are transforming the business landscape. The current crisis is mostly accelerating existing trends. The wave of ecommerce is so last millennium, but the degree to which it has penetrated our lives in the past six months is nonetheless unprecedented. The same for remote working teleconferencing, logistics, etc.
Commerce has always evolved as the environment of technology, geopolitics and economics shifted spurring adaptations to survive. But the course to true evolve never did run smooth. Geoffrey Moore compellingly modelled how technology diffuses through lumpy stages with a particular wide “chasm” to “cross” between adoption by “early adopters” and “early majority”. His model echoed evolutionary scientist Stephen Jay Gould’s “Punctuated Equilibrium” which argued that evolution experiences periods of dramatic change over short periods. The COVID19 period is one such leap of change.
Metaphorically, the tide of innovation has been rising precipitously while businesses built cultural levees to mete out just how much transformation dripped onto their fields. That is until the coronavirus crisis busted the dams completely.
The pandemic is one of those punctuated bursts of change in our workstyle and lifestyle. In short, needs-must imperatives are wiping away the obstacles which previously had served as speed bumps to the march of progress:
Fear – “Shirk from home”: Old school managers have been afraid to try new approaches to work driven from a mixture of fear of the unknown and fear of control loss.
Skills – “You’re on mute!”: As with many situations, fear and ignorance are often intertwined. Not knowing specific outcomes that managers really wanted from their workers, how to measure those outcomes, and how to support their performance remotely have all stood in the way.
Tools – “What’s the payback?”: Remote working isn’t just kicking people out of the office and cancelling the lease. An upfront investment in tools and skilling is required. Sometimes these investments are as simple as just getting people laptops. But requirements for security, communication (eg. videoconferencing), collaboration (eg. virtual whiteboarding, document sharing) all come with a cost in time and money that most businesses have preferred to delay.
Habits – “We’ve always done it this way”: One of the most intractable obstacles in any change is habit.
The tectonic plates of business change are creeping by the millimeter until an earthquake erupts which shakes up everything. And COVID19 have been a 9+ on the Richter Scale of business.
The 20th century Industrial Age was the age of concentrated scale. Blue collar factories dominated the first half. And then as work became abstracted from physical into knowledge work, offices became the white collar factories of the second half of the 1900s. They were the industrial workflow computing mainframes.
The 21st century Digital Age is the age of distributed processing. The long tail of disintermediated object oriented processing. The Internet is simply a robust architecture for distributed processing and only one example of the distributed processing revolution in information processing itself.
In the distributed world, offices are as obsolete as piles of inventory in the JIT supply chain or paper-filled inboxes on the desk of a administrative clerk.
Nixey explores the profound obsolescence of this centralised model
“Even before coronavirus struck, the reign of the office had started to look a little shaky. A combination of rising rents, the digital revolution and increased demands for flexible working meant its population was slowly emigrating to different milieux. More than half of the American workforce already worked remotely, at least some of the time. Across the world, home working had been rising steadily for a decade. Pundits predicted that it would increase further. No one imagined that a dramatic spike would come so soon.”
“Offices have always been profoundly flawed spaces. Those of the East India Company, among the world’s first, were built more for bombast than bureaucracy. They were sermons in stone, and the solidity of every marble step, the elegance of every Palladian pillar, were intended to speak volumes about the profitability and smooth functioning within. This was nonsense, of course. Created to ensure efficiency, offices immediately institutionalised idleness. A genteel arms race arose as managers tried to make their minions work, and the minions tried their damnedest to avoid it. East India House, in which Lamb worked, could give call centres a run for their money in the art of micro-managing.”
Nixey catalogues the toxic effects of chronic sedentariness, secret parenting and preservation of privilege, but in the end acknowledges the office does have some saving graces like escape from home life (liberation through artifice), community, and the “chemistry of the unexpected” serendipity. I acknowledge the lattermost benefits and must admit I’ve never advocated for the “death” of the office. Just the demise of its over-use and misuse.
The COVID19 pandemic is turbocharging the “dynamic” aspect of not just work but home life too. Dynamic Work has focused mostly on the production of work remote from the office, as The Atlantic piece “The Pandemic Will Change American Retail Forever” describes, even restaurant dining is moving markedly remote from the restaurant:
“Repurposed means the restaurant of 2010 isn’t going to be the restaurant of 2025,”’O’Connor said. ‘The pandemic is going to accelerate the shift to contactless delivery of meals, groceries, and products of all kinds.’ As more restaurants recognize that they cannot make rent by filling hygienically spaced seats, they will become, simply, for-profit kitchens—a place where food is prepared but less commonly eaten. Once again, this shift was already happening slowly, but is being accelerated by the pandemic. Last year I wrote that given the growth of so-called “off premise” dining, 2020 would likely be the first year that American restaurants made more than half of their revenue from delivery, drive-through, and takeout. Nobody could have predicted that this milestone would be reached due to the absolute zeroing-out of on-premise dining.”
Derek Thompson refers to the “The Big Acceleration” – “the long term, COVID-19 probably won’t invent new behaviors and habits out of thin air as much as it will accelerate a number of pre-existing trends.” The Dynamic Work (and Dynamic Wok) megatrend coming to the fore with alarming speed.
Past the point Of no return – No backward glances: The games we’ve played Till now are at An end… Past all thought Of “if” or “when” – No use resisting: Abandon thought And let the dream Descend…
It’s debatable as to how much, ie the majority, of work will be done “outside the office” in the post-COVID19 economy, but one thing we can be sure of with regards to remote and flexible working – we are now well and clearly past the point of no return.
The lockdowns have indelibly altered the experience, expectations and expertise of the work force. What has been seen cannot be unseen. “Past all thought” as the Phantom of the Opera song implores. The Economist underscored this perspective in one of their pieces covering the crisis, “The changes covid-19 is forcing on to business”:
“Responding to covid-19 has seen many people and companies realise that it had more to offer them than they had realised. Zoom, an online videoconferencing service, was serving 10m customers a day at the beginning of the year, most of them in business meetings. Now it is providing 200m people a day not just with meetings, but with Tai Chi classes and “quarantinis”. Slack, which provides a medium by which far-flung colleagues can co-ordinate things, has become part of dinner-table conversation. It is not only young tech-companies, and tech companies that were previously mostly used by the young, that have prospered. Microsoft’s Teams product is gaining many converts. No one expects the amount of distance working ever again to be as low as it was before the virus hit.”
Past the point Of no return, The final threshold – What warm, Unspoken secrets Will we learn? Beyond the point Of no return…
“We are all doing each other’s job right now…” Lori Lynn
When I first started Dynamic Work, I explored a four flexibility dimensions – Geographical, Time, Role, Commercial. Geographical (where you work) is now very much accepted even before the COVID19 crisis hit, and now it predominates (and may continue so even after the crisis subsides). Commercial flexibility has also surged in the past decade (much more than I anticipated) enabled by the “gig economy” platforms which match workers to work on all sorts of terms (eg. Uber, Deliveroo, PayPerHour). Consequently, as I start to post more about the blossoming world of Dynamic Work, I will likely focus a bit more on the areas of Time (when you work) and Role (what you do).
For the latter, Lori once again provided inspiration sharing an account of how her workplace has had to adapt to the coronavirus situation:
There is great overlap in knowledge base and skill set between the therapies, especially between OT and SLT; OT and PT. For example, PT and OT overlap in supporting a person to move safely, achieve optimum postural support and maintain physical strength and function. To a degree, we are able to support each other and take up some slack when resources are stretched. In order to do so, we take on complementary specialist training to enable us to work together to provide specific therapies that target two or more areas. Examples would be the combination of Communication work and Physiotherapy during Rebound and Veronica Sherbourne therapy sessions. In the absence of the lead therapist, other therapists or assistants can deliver therapy, because we adhere to the specific plans set out by the lead therapist. This ability to support each other in provision of therapy to our clients will be put into greater effect during the upcoming COVID-19 crisis, when we will be trying to maintain the respiratory health of our clients who are most at risk of chest infections and serving as liaisons between clients and therapists who are not able to be on site.”
Seth Godin’s post “What kind of org?” cleverly distinguishes between the conventional, rigid “organisation” and this more dynamic entity that behaves more like an “organism”:
“Maybe you work with an organization. They have systems and charts and boxes. But the very nature of an organization is that someone developed it, figured it out and has to approve its changes. After all, it’s organized.Perhaps you work with an organism instead. An organism constantly changes. The cells develop, die and are replaced. It adapts to the current environment.”
“Within 10 years, the majority of ‘office work’ will be worked outside the office.” – Bruce Lynn
It’s been a long time since I wrote a post here, and an even longer time since I wrote those words above. That vision statement was written in 2009. A bit over the predicted decade ago. While “Dynamic Work” has gone from being a radical notion back then (judging by the quizzical and sceptical responses I received) to being a commonplace and even mainstream notion recently, it is not yet the “majority”. All that has changed overnight.
I wish it had been under better circumstances that my vision became a reality, and that I was inspired to post more material. But now that the once revolutionary concepts are becoming the new normal, I thought it would be useful for me to add to this trove of resources and information that might be useful for new adopters of these modes of working. I’ve seen a spike of traffic to this site and people seek out useful information on this new mode of working.
I also thought that I would start with my fellow detainee, my wife Lori Lynn. As it happens, she has followed in the family footsteps starting her own business called “Dynamic Therapy”. It focuses on “therapy that supports the development and transformation of your voice.” She works will all types of voice users, but one area of focus for her is voice feminization for transgender transitioning. While I’ve focused on work practice fluidity, and she is supporting gender fluidity. The world is becoming a less rigid, less pigeonholed place all around.
I thought that I would (re)kick things off by sharing one of her posts was especially germane to the current COVI19 situation. Her piece “Togetherness – Do We Really Need It?” offers some sterling perspectives on applying remote working to something one might think would an archetype instance of intimate working with another individual – therapy:
“Using Skype allows my sessions to be more affordable. Clients do not need to travel to see me in London or Buckinghamshire, the cost in time and expense of which is considerable. It allows me to offer evening sessions, which also is beneficial to people who work, as they needn’t take time off to attend a clinic. Lastly, I don’t have to pay for room rental. As such, I can pass the savings on to my clients in the form of a 25% reduction of my fee. There are drawbacks, however. My style of teaching can be rather tactile, so obviously, I have to alter how I explain concepts and how I demonstrate…I realise I rely heavily on face-to-face teaching strategies, so I am now considering how I might adapt my instruction to better suit remote teaching, such as use of pictorial illustrations to enhance understanding of vocal concepts.”
The world has clearly changed in many indelible ways in the past month and many will be difficult, but just maybe some aspects of life will become a bit more…dynamic.