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.
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.