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)

Netherlands World of Work

The more I speak to people active in workplace and work-practice innovation, all fingers point to the Netherlands as the hotbed of the most advanced and leading edge work in this area.  That is certainly the case in the Microsoft organisation.  Earlier this summer, I spoke with one of the early leaders of the Microsoft Netherlands’ ‘Work Place Advantage’ initiative, Robert Tempels. He shared with me more background behind the early thinking and some of the keys to the success.

Tempels talked about the outset which was a critical phase to laying down the foundations for success. Microsoft Netherlands started with a survey of the status quo. They then sat down and developed a set of ‘ambitions’ (9 in total) for the project. These ‘ambitions’ eventually became the acid-tests for all decisions. Whenever there was a disagreement on an issue, the group referred back to the ‘ambitions’ and asked what direction would best support the ambitions. The next step was to enlist the support from ‘both the top and bottom.” Many staff from all corners of the business got engaged, while the leadership, starting with the very top general manager of the country, led by example being the first ones to adopt the new work practices and eliminate their offices.

“You need people being passionate from the bottom up and committed leadership from the top down.”

The biggest change was not the physical environment at all though. Instead it was more of a cultural one. It was getting people to move from managing ‘activities’ to managing ‘outcomes.’ From everyone having lots of ‘generic’ tools, to people having a few ‘optimised’ tools (and sharing any other tools needed periodically).

Now, Microsoft Netherlands is a major destination not just within the Netherlands but from around Europe of people going to see the extent and approach with which the office has implemented these workplace innovations. Robert has done lots of presenting and tours on their experience to many customers and partners. He gets lots of questions and concerns from many different corners. One example that he shared of a bank struggling with these concept reminded me of my own experience which I posted about in ‘Tech Savvy Heavy Hitters.’ The bank was convinced that remote and flexible working was out of the question because of super strict security constraints which kept people from taking their computers out of the office. After some discussion with various staff, Tempels uncovered that the unbeknownst to the lock-down confident IT department, the staff had found a way to circumvent these constraints anyway. It turns out that each evening before leaving home, the staff were emailing key documents to their personal Gmail accounts so they could pick them up on their home computer and work on them there. This ingenuity underscored the powerful demand for flexible and remote working that was present in the firm as well as the over-estimation of just how secure one could be without the buy-in of the staff themselves.

Tempels has now taken his experience and passion for the area to local ‘Work Councils’ where he contributes expertise on how flexibility and mobility in the workplace can drive down carbon footprints.

Commuting Crazy

Times Online Commuter Crazy

Dynamic Work saves economic, ecological as well as social costs, and one dimension of those savings in two areas (economic, social) are the health benefits to flexible working.

The Times covered a study on this topic with a number of personal profiles as illustrations.

“For the first time, our survey has analysed the effects of the daily commute on people’s overall feelings of wellbeing. The results are clear. The longer people spend travelling to and from work, the more their health appears to suffer. In previous years, we have looked at the impact of overtime, but travel times have almost identical effects on work-life balance. At least when employees work long hours, the boss might notice and it is a sign that they are stimulated by their job and regard it as an important part of their life. But endless hours commuting have only a negative effect.”

“The figures are stark: for every two hours that people spend travelling each week, the result for questions on wellbeing goes down by 1.2% on average. People who spend up to two hours a week travelling have an average wellbeing score of 65.4%. For those who spend more than 14 hours a week on the road or in trains, the wellbeing score is just 57.4%. Dr Pete Bradon, director of research at Best Companies Ltd, says that the similarities between the ill effects of overtime and commuting are astonishing. ‘The things most affected by travel time – health, pressure, stress and work-life balance – are exactly the same as with overtime. But there is a compensation with overtime. People say their work is more stimulating, and they gain experience. That all makes sense. The downside of travel is that you don’t get any positive benefits. If your boss sees you doing an extra three hours in the office, he has a great opinion of you but if you drive for three hours a day, he may just think you are an idiot.”

One of the companies profiled was Microsoft UK speaking with my former colleague Theresa McHenry

“The figures suggest that flexibility about home working is a solution to the problem of commuting. When people can work one day a week from their “home office”, personal growth scores rise by 13.7%, people feel better about their company (up 12.4%) and about the fair deal they are getting (a rise of 11.7%). Reading-based Microsoft UK has 92% of staff doing up to 60% of work from home. Theresa McHenry, who works in training and development, spent 15 years commuting in and out of London. Now she appreciates the chance to work from home. ‘It is the overcrowding and unreliability of trains and Tubes. In the car, you can choose when to leave home, and Microsoft is completely flexible about when you come and go. I work from home one day a week for my own health, but I do use my hour-long drive to and from Reading to prepare and decompress. You can’t do that on a train when you have an inch of personal space.’ “

Great Places to Work

Great Places to Work

Microsoft has just won the #1 spot in the 2009 Europe’s Great Places to Work survey. President Jean Philippe Courtois called out a number of New World of Work initiatives that really showcased Microsoft’s exploitation of technology to enable dramatically new approaches to business…

“Our new office in the Netherlands is a flagship example of how we are creating a New World of Work with employees. The Amsterdam office is no longer a 9am-5pm destination – rather it is a ‘meeting place’ for when people need to come together. Underpinning the roll out of new working practices is Microsoft’s own Unified Communications technology. Equipped with a mobile phone, laptop and UC software, employees have the freedom to work anywhere and anytime that suits them. In addition, with UC Microsoft is saving more than $212 million annually in reduced travel and better productivity.”

The commendation cited a Belgian staffer’s commented on the impact of Microsoft’s ‘New World of Work’ vision…

“The New World of Work gives us complete flexibility to determine in a creative way how to do our projects and when we want to work. This gives me energy every day. It allows me to treat my family the way I want. It gives me the opportunity to do a number of things regarding my health and sporting activities. The way things are delegated allows me to work in a flexible way and to combine my job at Microsoft with my tasks as a mother.”

Het Nieuwe Werken

Microsoft Netherlands New World of Work

Microsoft has been pushing the boundaries of flexible working for years now obviously leaning heavily on the empowerment that mobile, productivity and collaboration software enable. Last year I highlighted some of the measures that the UK office had introduced which led to it being selected as Mother at Work 2008’s Employer of the Future. But the country that is truly trailblazing in this area is Microsoft Netherlands.

Attached below is a round table session that Chief Financial Officer magazine organized at Microsoft’s brand new Schiphol headquarters which have been totally revamped around the principles of the New World of Work.

“Inevitably, the radical way in which the concept was introduced at Microsoft Nederland created a culture shock that everyone will have to work through. At the moment, the process appears to be shaping up well. Recently, CFOs from various companies visited the new Microsoft headquarters to talk about this issue and to gain inspiration for their own organizations. Bemused, the finance chiefs strolled around the new building with its designer furniture, bean bags, computer game corner and even a ‘relaxation cockpit.’ ‘We no longer have fixed workplaces, not even for the directors,’ says Microsoft CFO Franklin Hagel. ‘The 660 people who are employed here are free to decide whether to work at home or at the office. The company provides them with a laptop and a broadband connection, as well as a budget to set up a home workplace that meets the applicable health and safety standards.’”

A more comprehensive study of this whole area using themselves as subjects was commissioned by them with the Rotterdam School of Management Erasmus University, originally at the request of Microsoft Netherlands. The study, ‘RSM Research: New Worlds of Work’ examined the central question, “Did workplace innovations impact the work dimensions and the multidimensional productivity of the Microsoft the Netherlands” with lots (172 pages) of affirming insights.

Gensler’s Modes of Work

Gensler Work Modes

One of the observations Edelman’s Robert Phillips notes is the segmentation into different workstyles. He speaks of the ‘podists’ and the ‘benchists’ describing sub-groups that have formed based on personal preferences for where and how they work.

The design firm Gensler who engineered the Edelman London offices, has also published its own segmentation of work modes

· Focus – 59%, thinking, reflecting, analysing, writing, problem-solving, quantitative analysis, creating, imagining, reviewing, assessing.

· Socialise – 6%, talking, laughing, networking, trust-building, recognition, celebrating, interacting, mentoring, enhancing relationships

· Collaborate – 22%, sharing knowledge and information, discussing, listening, co-creating, showing, brainstorming.

· Learn – 4%, training, concept exploration and development, problem-solving, memorising, discovery, teaching, reflecting, integrating, applying knowledge.

This appreciation of the diversity of both the workforce and the workplace is central to the notion of Dynamic Work. Too often when I speak to people about Dynamic Work they try to pigeon hole it from one specific mode (office work) to another (home working, mobile working). Actually, Dynamic Work encompasses all of the modes of working aligning the mode with the person with the task to be done.

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Edelman’s Velco Office

Edelman Velcro Office    Edelman logo

An essential component to Dynamic Work is applying the principles of dynamism to the workplace itself. Much as there is too much wasted office space (lit, powered, air conditions, secured) and time in centralised offices, ‘the office’ can and does play an important role in professional productivity.

A little while ago I had the privilege of a tour of Edelman’s offices by their UK chief executive Robert Phillips. Edelman is one of Microsoft’s PR agencies who run a number of campaigns including citizenship and top level vision.

The stereotype is that fancy-shmancy innovative digs are the preserve of well-to-do companies with money to burn on such niceties. The reality of the situation is that despite the couches, the artwork, the chandelier, the leather couches, the bar, the artwork, etc., the ‘fit out’ cost of the space is in the lowest quartile of expense for London offices. A dirty little secret to office space expense is that cubicles and standardised office fittings destroy the wallet as much as the soul.

The FT has done a great overview of the workspace in the article ‘No space wasted in in the Velcro workplace of the future’:

“Breaking down barriers between staff, too, was a primary aim when Edelman HQ combined with two subsidiary agencies in the new office in June. Mr Phillips says the results are already showing through. ‘Our win rate on cross-practice pitches has gone up by 30-40 per cent in four months because people haven't sat in silos,’ he says…Each part of Edelman's office, which was created by Gensler, the international architecture and interior design firm, is multifunctional. This accords with Gensler's model of four 21st-century work modes. Only one of these – head-down, focused work – is solitary. The others – collaborating on tasks, learning skills, and socialising for work purposes – involve interaction.”

Other details are included in the following references: Case study article and a Presentation overview on project by design firm Gensler.


BT Workstyle

BT Workstyle

Speaking of partners, whitepapers and workstyles, BT has published a sterling case study on its own Flexible Working web site called ‘Sustainability through Flexible working – BT Workstyle’.

“Happier BT people are enjoying a better work life balance. BT home workers are taking 63 per cent less sick leave than their office-based colleagues. The retention rate following maternity leave stands at 99 percent compared with a UK average of 47 percent, saving BT an additional €7.4 million a year. In terms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) BT is avoiding the purchase of approximately 12 million litres of fuel per year, resulting in 54,000 tonnes less CO2 being generated in the UK. Teleconferencing has eliminated the annual need for over 300,000 face-to-face meetings, leading to savings of over €38.6 million a year. This has also removed the need for over 1.5 million return journeys – saving BT people the equivalent of 1,800 years commuting – with further environmental benefits.”

Anyone still wondering about the business benefits of flexible working? The rest of the BT Insights page is full of white papers, other cases, presentations, brochures for reference.