Ditching the Office

Matt Dunstan co-working

I’m not talking about packing up your office and sailing around the world. Though, frankly, that is entirely feasible too these days. If there is an expert on remote working to even that extreme it is friend and former Microsoft teammate, Matt Dunstan (left above). He not only spearheaded some of the more ambitious initiative in the team to make the workplace and the work style more flexible. His latest expedition is to introduce such dynamic commercial navigation to businesses down under. His new venture is…

Called 2nd Base, it is designed to give access to a network of work-friendly venues where people can escape the home office and work alongside likeminded people. The service is a new take on co-working in that the guys are not setting up a purpose built office, but instead have negotiated for space and facilities in existing, attractive venues.”

The charter is entirely to Joe Pilizzi’s piece “Why It’s Time to Ditch Your Office” (thanks Adain)…

“Most organizations are set up for how we communicated decades (or more) ago. The reason we had to go into the city is because communication was impossible without face-to-face interaction. For the majority of non-manufacturing or non-retail organizations, this is not the case any longer. For most of us, we can get our job done with as much as a smartphone, with access to email, social media and office interaction. Need to have a meeting? Skype or GoToMeeting are at our disposal in two seconds if a meeting is absolutely necessary. How about Google Hangouts? Instant messaging is at our fingertips. Our IT services are in the cloud. There was a time we needed the office, but for most of us, that time is over.”

Pilizzi enumerates a handy and succinct enumeration of the business benefits to flexible and remote working…

  • Better Productivity
  • Happier Employees
  • Access to Better Talent
  • Lack of Overhead
  • Trust
  • Get Out of the Past

Sail on.

Lowest Form of Togetherness

Yahoo logo

Everything new is old again.

Yahoo has cemented itself as the now tired veteran of the Digital Age. Perhaps a sign of how far the digital age has come when the early pioneers start to look and behave schlerotically behind the times.

What does Yahoo not know that everyone else does? The new CEO Marissa Mayer claims to be taking a step back in its flexible work practices for the sake of solidarity – “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

She has a point. Jamming people together in time and place does manufacture a sort of contrived cohesion. I reminds me of the old trick to get two fighting cats to be at peace…lock them in the bathroom for a few days until then are at peace with each other. Unfortunately, Mayer’s reset is nothing more than a surrender to the lowest form of togetherness. Sort of like puns being the lowest form of humour.

This bold-faced retreat to the sub-basement of corporate cohesion made me reflect on the hierarchy of unity in the organisation world. I do think that some bonds are tighter than others. I would propose the following hierarchy starting at the highest and working down…

1. PurposeTHE WHY: The ‘mission’, the ‘why’. This is what unifies dispersed cells of radical organisations who have never met each other and don’t work together. This is a common theme in the most successful organisations like Apple and Nordstrom. Hugh MacLeod and Mark Earls have explored this concept with great insight and creative eloquence.

2. Obectives THE WHAT: Even if you don’t have a higher strategic purpose, you can still have a more pragmatic ‘purpose’ typically defined by SMART objectives.

3. Process THE HOW: At least if you are synchronised in a symphony of aligned process, then you will have a crude form of uniformity. Perhaps brittle and vulnerable, but at least functional to a certain degree.

4. Presence THE WHERE/WHEN: Sticking two human beings next to each other is the lowest form of integration that exists. Sort of like sticking an Apple and a PC next to each other so you can work on both ‘together’. Yes, it is form of togetherness, but the efficiencies and impact that forced proximity (note: voluntary proximity is a powerful thing) creates is fragile and wafer thin. It is the foundation to such bureaucratic poison as tedious meetings, expensive air travel and relocations, and mind-numbing commutes.

Dynamic Awesomeness

Vishen Lakhiani at TEDxAjman

Dynamic Work can take a number different dimensions…time, place, role, contract. But what would you get if you tried to push the envelope on all of these dimensions at once. ‘Dynamic Awesomeness’ according to Vishen Lakhiani of Mindvalley. His TEDxAjman talk “Building the World’s Greatest Workplace” paints a utopian picture not of some pie-in-the-sky thought experiment, but a real, incorporated, profitable, tax-paying business that is pioneering so many dynamic principles at once. And the results are striking.

  • Time – “We incorporated flexitime. At MindValley you choose your own working hours. You can choose to spend Monday to take the day off to go watch a movie. And then make up for it on a Sunday. It doesn’t matter to us.”
  • Place – “You need to be able to give people the freedom to be able to use this space in any way they want.”
  • Role – “We open up the way we run our business to give our employees freedom and power.
  • Rewards – “Gamification of work

Truly ‘awesome’ (a well-worn adjective in their descriptions of work life). A highly recommended TED talk, be prepared to either be inspired or envious.

(thanks Matt)

Dynamic Accountability

Timpson Marlow


I was drawn to Tim Harford’s book ’Adapt’ by its theme and subtitle “Why Success Always Starts With Failure” which lies at the heart of my other online exploration. The author, Harford examines a range of failure dynamics and how to manage them. You can never really avoid them so the best prescription to acknowledge and embrace them and then cope with, if not exploit, the consequences.

One of the case studies he examines is the retail chain Timpsons. The progressive leadership by John Timpson has resulted in a number of organisational innovations as you might expect with a company that embraces risk taking, but the one that caught my eye in the context of Dynamic Work is ‘peer monitoring’. The walls that Dynamic Work breaks down are not just geographical and chronological, but also potentially organizational. Peer Monitoring is a powerful concept provides an alternative to conventional Command and Control hierarchies. People are becoming more familiar with the fundamental concept as it is a common one in the digital world of online communities…

Peer monitoring is closely associated with the virtual world: it’s the fundamental building block of Google’s search algorithm (giving weight to how popular a site is with other sites), phenomena like eBay (which relies on buyers and sellers rating each other’s reliability) and Wikipedia (in which anyone can edit anyone’s else articles), and the open-source software movement which has delivered such successes as Firefox and Apache. But as Timpson shows, it’s applicable far behind the cutting edge of crowd-sourced technology…I witnessed [another] striking example of peer monitoring on my visit to the Hinkley B nuclear power station…Just as [our group of senior executives] were about to leave the meeting room, a portly middle-aged lady in a hard hat walked in pushing a trolley laden with sandwiches. She took one look at us and politely but firmly admonished our host that we’d left our shoes in a place where they constituted a tripping hazard, and asked us to move them…The instant correction of a problem, no matter how small and no matter what the hierarchical relationship might be between the head of safety and the tea lady.”

Whatever Timpson are doing it works for me as I am a regular and delighted customer at my local branch in Marlow

European Great Places to Work Double

Great Place to Work Europe

As I have commented a number of times, one of my most profound influences spurring me to set up Dynamic Work Ltd. was my experience working at Microsoft. I not only studied, but I had the privilege of living the ‘New World of Work’ as Microsoft earnestly dogfooded much of the innovative work styles that it preached.

This workplace innovation at Microsoft led its Microsoft Europe division to receive the accolade of #1 Great Place to Work in Europe last year. The innovation is just as relevant today as it was last year and Microsoft Europe has gone on to win the ‘Great Place to Work’ award (Large Companies, ie. over 500 staff) for the second time in a row this past earlier this year in an imposing repeat and strong endorsement of the power of new ways of working.

World Cup Time Out

World Cup

Not all time is created equal.

This reality is the problem with conventional time-motion productivity analysis. Perhaps in the 20th century Industrial Age of the assembly line manufacturing plant and paperwork factories and even a simpler, more routine home life, hours were more consistent. But the hour one spends getting married, watching a child win their first sports game or watching your favourite team in an international competition is not the same as 60 minutes sitting in traffic, sitting in a routine meeting or ploughing through administrative chores.

In a truly ‘free market’ of hours, staff and employers would have the ability to trade hours according to their value. A staffer might trade 2 hours of conventional work for 1 hour off to watch the World Cup. A company might trade 2 hours of conventional work for 1 hour of crisis handling on the weekend. In fact, the employer sort of has this kind of ‘marketplace’ in wage workplace where they can pay time-and-a-half and double-time for highly valued time periods.

Unfortunately, most workers usually do not have a corresponding ability to bid for time off.  The problem is more difficult with exempt workers. They are paid a fixed salary and can be almost an implicit assumption that ‘all time’ is the company’s time (depending on the culture).

While the grand spectacle of the World Cup has given rise to a bunch of reports of ‘lost productivity’ fear mongering amongst the chattering fourth estate. “World Cup Could Cost UK £4 Billion” Most of these attention grabbing articles are based on out-dated logic that an hour is an hour. That people will find ways to watch the games, the games are during conventional work hours, ergo time is lost and time is money so money is lost.

More enlightened and innovative companies are using the World Cup to introduce some special work practices and bonuses to its workers like Asda and Screwfix. One of Microsoft’s leading partners and winner of the UK Best Place to Work 2010, Softcat, is showing how it is done by hosting World Cup viewing parties in their offices. No one is skiving off work today at Softcat! (and probably hardly ever do with that kind of enlightened approach).

Businesses should be looking at the World Cup as the least expensive staff morale opportunity to come along. Because fans will highly value their time watching the games above all else, they will value the hour given to them much more than the hour of elapsed clock time actually costs the company.

A classic win-win. Just like the England-USA 1-1 result for me as a UK-USA dual citizen. Perfect.