Another one of my earliest and strongest inspirations to workplace innovation is Hugh MacLeod. Not surprisingly since one of the gigs in his portfolio is crafting inspirational cartoons, or as he refers to them – “social objects”.
This piece by Hugh especially captures that shortcoming of conventional office working that Dynamic Work has always aspired to remedy.
- “I once had a job in an office where everyone worked VERY long hours, yet nothing particularly important or awesome ever seemed to get done. It turned out, the owner was a workaholic who liked to use long hours as a form of escapism, as a way of avoiding doing any real work. You know, the stuff that’s really, really hard. And then he expected other people to do the same, and punished people who didn’t. I don’t know what to tell you, besides ‘Don’t be that guy’.”
Well, I’m glad Hugh isn’t that guy and his pictures and penning has helped me to avoid being that guy.
If there is one book to buy about dynamic working on your own, it is “The Co-Working Revolution”. A bit of bias confession here. The author Matt Dunstan is, for all intents and purposes, my spiritual soul mate in the dynamic working enlightenment. He and I worked together at Microsoft when the new world of work was emerging empowered by digital tools and connectivity. We were the pioneers of pushing the boundaries at Thames Valley Park. Among other changes to our work practices and habits, our Server Business Group threw out the cubicles and introduced a range of flexible work furnishings in our space (only after a significant tussle with finance and facilities). Matt and I quickly observed the enhancements to the quality of work and work life. When both of us had had enough of the old school Ballmer/Turner regime downward spiral, our new careers were punctuated by evangelism for these new approaches to working. My crusade was Dynamic Work looking more at the organisational level, but Matt’s was “Coworking” looking more at the individual level.
Matt’s book itself is an impressive piece of writing. Short and conversational enough to be an easy read, but substantive enough to provide countless of insights. Every chapter includes poignant anecdotes, summary bullet points and short checklist tables to aid people in using the material.
His introduction outline provides a useful overview of what you’ll find inside…
- Use different workspaces to:
- ‘Go to work’ at the start of the day and ‘come home’ again
- Remove distractions of hom
- Co-work with others to:
- Help you stay motivated during the day
- Find professional, social interaction
- Share wins and knocks
- Network more effectively to create growth for one another
- Build a team around you to:
- Create accountability for tasks and goals you set each week
- Tap into each other’s expertise to solve business challenges quickly
- Bounce ideas off each other and get feedback
Some of my favourite quotes…
- “It’s not about the [work] space; it’s about the people and what you do together.”
- “Understand the activities that create a state of flow for us and build those into our schedule for the day.”
- “Competitive threats from your co-working colleagues are generally more perceived that real.”
Anyone interested in building “Corporation Me”, even if on part time avocational basis, should pick up a copy.
Failure is another big interest of mine. And today marks the one decade anniversary of me exploring this subject. Probably an interwoven inspiration to my interest in “dynamic” working. The embrace of failure directly implies a more resilient approach that expects, accommodates and adapts to inevitable failure. As Adam Davidson describes in his piece “Welcome to the Failure Age!”:
“An age of constant invention naturally begets one of constant failure. The life span of an innovation, in fact, has never been shorter. An African hand ax from 285,000 years ago, for instance, was essentially identical to those made some 250,000 years later.”
Today’s state of the art iPad this year is tomorrow’s detritus a few years later. He goes onto articulate the implications of dynamic challenges on a dynamic workplace:
- “As an industry becomes more dynamic, its architecture, by necessity, often becomes less inspiring. These squat buildings have thick outer walls that allow for a minimal number of internal support beams, creating versatile open-floor plans for any kind of company — one processing silicon into solar-power arrays, say, or a start-up monitoring weed elimination in industrial agriculture. In Sunnyvale, companies generally don’t stay the same size. They expand quickly or go out of business, and then the office has to be ready for the next tenant. These buildings need to be the business equivalent of dorms: spaces designed to house important and tumultuous periods of people’s lives before being cleaned out and prepped for the next occupant.”
Hugh has penned another beauty reflecting on modern work life and underscoring the new age of Dynamic Work. The dated bugbear of “face time” is morphing into more of a “Facebook time”…
“It’s the new world of work. Embrace it. It’s not changing. The digital presence has replaced the physical presence, and there’s more work in our phones than there are friends. 10 emails to every 1 friend text, last time I counted…Our personal and work lives are intrinsically intertwined, so find something that gives you meaning, something that you’re excited about when you wake up in the morning- find purpose in your work.”
The time has come to retreat from my Microsoft roots and get onto some proper Internet technology to take the website forward. Much as I appreciated Microsoft’s enthusiasm for all things web in the latter part of my career there, they never quite “got” the Internet. IBM dominated the era of big computing…but never got the PC world despite some brief successes. Microsoft dominated the era of personal computing…but never got the connected world of web and devices despite some brief successes. As a result, most of their technology is in this area is lagging woefully and just becoming a burden to developers like me.
One of their cul-de-sacs was their “Community Server” product. I kind of had to base my blog on this tool since at the time I set it up, it was one of the products in my portfolio at Microsoft. But I should have read the writing on the wall when I had to fight the UK board to keep them from shutting down an internal community “social media” forum that they though was a “time waster” (I made the case that it was actually useful from a productivity point of view to get questions answered quickly, that it helped to bring an increasingly disparate and fractured staff closer together, and that it allowed employees to get used this thing called “social” media which was going to be big some day). Soon after, Microsoft ditched the CS product to Telligent who has now sold it off to Zimbra. It’s really focused more on niche enterprise intranets now.
It’s a big step to migrate an entire platform. I have over 6 years and over 100 posts that had to move. I’ve chosen the now de facto standard for blogging – WordPress. A big shout out to Dimitris P. who did the work extremely professionally, promptly and at a reasonable price.
Happy 6th Anniversary to Dynamic Work. I started this website back in 2009 having just left the megacorp of Microsoft to spread the gospel of flexible working. Actually, Microsoft inspired my first insights into its possibilities with some of their own forays into the area, but they never really followed them through (a bit like most of their initiatives and “visions” in recent years).
Now I have recently departed from another megacorp – Ericsson – with a similar mission in store. I haven’t been posting much here due to work and other demands of late. But that might change a bit with my new focus.
Stay tuned. And stay Dynamic.
PAST: Workers of the World Unite
FUTURE: Workers of the World Untie
Dynamic Work trends, captured succinctly and effectively in the infogram above are driving greater and greater flexibility for workers unshackling them from the chains of time, place, role and terms.
It’s not just “work” that can be flexible, but it’s counterpart…vacation (or “holiday” in the UK). Certainly, the workplace has instituted a number of innovations for how people take their time off – carry over, in lieu, etc. But some companies with the Dynamic Work ethos have gone the full extreme of flexibility…unlimited holiday.
The NBC piece “Some Companies Give Workers Unlimited Vacation” describes…
“Although companies may worry that employees would abuse the policy, Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits for SHRM, said that most workers fear taking too much time off could damage their reputation. "What we see in some cases is a portion of the population taking less time," he said. More often than not, Elliott said, workers take about the same amount of time off as those with traditional paid-time-off benefits. Companies also claim a financial win. Days off are not accrued, and if an employee leaves, a company doesn't have to pay them out for unused days.”
The scenario seems like a John List experiment in behavioural economics. But companies don’t need to depend on inherent altruism nor variants of Prisoner’s Dilemma to determine how their staff will respond. Ultimately, such schemes depend on a context of measured accountability. Then, as Dan Price, founder and CEO of credit card processing company Gravity Payments in Seattle, notes. "The idea is that you are now judging employees on their work and results." As I would always say, I don’t care if you do your month’s work on day 1 and then spend the rest of it in Barbados. As long as the work gets done (which also has to account for dependencies stake holding colleagues have on your expertise and contributions in their time frames).
Here in the UK, the industry trailblazer Richard Branson is one of the leaders in this initiative…
“We should focus on what people get done, not on how many hours or days worked. Just as we don't have a nine-to-five policy, we don't need a vacation policy."
The concept underscores that effective workplace contribution is not about the activity or presence. It’s about the outcomes and results.
Time to flex your business mussels. The summer solstice brings the Fowey Mussel Festival a celebration of that mulish mollusk, the mussel. Most of us have stumbled upon them anchored on coastal rocks where they are constantly battered by the pounding surf. As it turns out, it is not calcified obstinacy, but rather flexibility that secures its position so strongly. NBC describes the role model the mussel is having on a number of engineering problems in its piece “Super-strong mussel fibers could inspire earthquake-proof buildings”…
“[Mussels] are anchored in place by a stringy outcrop of cabling that emerges from between their twin shells. Usually, even the most vicious of high tides can't pry them loose. The secret to their tenacity is the special design of the rope-like strands that bind them, researchers now find. They're got a bit of stiffness and a bit of flexibility, they report in the July 23 issue of Nature Communications, and that's what keeps the mussels sticking around. ‘If you're an engineer, you're trying to fix things very rigidly,’ Markus Buehler, professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, told NBC News. ‘But nature has taught us here that to make things resilient in the long term, there needs [to be] a flexible structure.’…Twenty percent of the cabling that holds the bivalves in place is strong, but flexible. The rest is stiff. When it's tugged away by the force of a crashing wave, the flexible bits help the structure give, just a little bit, dissipating some of the stress on them.”
Business engineers can take similar inspiration from this dynamic of flexibility mixed into stable structure.
People are not machines. White collar factories were set up on the premise that banks of workers could methodically work their brain all day long the way a blue collar work would work their muscle all day. As it happened, even muscle work had its limits as identified by Robert Owen (born today in 1771)…
“In the late 18th century, when companies started to maximize the output of their factories, getting to running them 24/7 was key. Now of course, to make things more efficient, people had to work more. In fact, 10-16 hour days were the norm. These incredibly long work days weren't sustainable and soon a brave man called Robert Owen started a campaign to have people work no more than 8 hours per day. His slogan was ‘Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.’ It wasn't until much later that Ford actually implemented the 8 hour work day and changed the standards. One of the first businesses to implement this was the Ford Motor Company, in 1914, which not only cut the standard work day to eight hours, but also doubled their worker's pay in the process. To the shock of many industries, this resulted in Ford's productivity off of these same workers, but with fewer hours, actually increasing significantly and Ford's profit margins doubled within two years. This encouraged other companies to adopt the shorter, eight hour work day as a standard for their employees.”
Modern day managers are similarly shocked by companies who today double the flexibility of work and achieve proportionate returns of productivity.
These limitations of physical endurance are all the more acute and volatile for intellectual output as described in Huffington Post’s piece “The Origin of the 8 Hour Work Day and Why We Should Rethink It”…
“The basic understanding is that our human minds can focus on any given task for 90-120 minutes. Afterwards, a 20-30 minute break is required for us to get the renewal to achieve high performance for our next task again. So instead of thinking about ‘What can I get done in an 8 hour day,’ I've started to change my thinking to ‘What can I get done in a 90 min session’.”
The article has a brilliant explanation for this productivity dividend of flexibility – the Ultradian Rhythm. The UR reinforces my predisposition to never have a meeting last longer than 90 minutes.