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. Purpose – THE 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.
In my introduction to Dynamic Work, I speak of the surging business mega-trend towards flexibility in the current years…
“Dynamic Work is becoming as much of a business imperative for the new millennium as was embracing the PC in the 80s and embracing the Internet in the 90s.”
An organisation which shares my assessment of this trend is one I have supported for a number of years now, Working Families. They focus their lens on the trends in business around how businesses approach family issues which they distilled into…
- 1980s – ‘Movement Begins’ – “Work-life balance was primarily a ‘mother’s issue’ championed by women who wished to return to work. Interest from organisation centred on childcare as they sought to recruit and retain women.”
- 1990s – ‘Family Friendly Years’ – “Flexible working of all kinds evolved as a way for employers to enable women to reconcile work and family life.”
- 2000s – ‘The Flexi Decade’ – “Technology starts to have a more significant impact in changing how and where work is done, and employment regulations help support this change. Increasingly flexible working is seen as making ‘business sense; and linked into employee engagement and heightened performance”
Dynamic Work asserts that how one brings together different people and roles as well as physical assets can be very flexible. But can the actual work content of an individual person be flexible? Or does their role or contribution have to be a constant unit which can then be brought into the mix of the total output in a range of flexible ways?
Katie Ledger talks about ‘Portfolio Working’ and Hugh MacLeod talks about ‘crofting’ which are both examples of how individuals can make their own careers and work content more modular and flexible…
“My paternal grandfather was a Scottish Highland “crofter”. He lived on a “croft” i.e. a very small holding of land, where he raised sheep and grew potatoes. I used to spend my summers there as a boy. We were very close. Crofting is a good life, but not a very financially rewarding one. It’s very self-sufficient, though. The interesting thing for me looking back, is that crofters never did “just one thing”. Every day they had something else going on. One day it might be sheep. The next it might be a job working on the roads for the local council. I knew one crofter who drove the mail van. Another who ran the local post office. They would do their jobs, but after work they’d still have their sheep, cows and potatoes to attend to.”
Accenture and Vodafone collaborated on a report titled ‘Carbon Connections’ which looked at a range of business strategies for carbon reduction. Given Vodafone’s mobility focus, the report naturally centred on a number of distributed and remote working scenarios…
- Dematerialisation – replacing physical goods, processes or travel with ‘virtual’ alternatives, such as video-conferencing or e-commerce (online shopping):
- Mobile telepresence – connecting ‘virtual meeting rooms’ to mobile devices would allow workers to join conferences from anywhere
- Virtual office – using wireless telecommunications products means people can work remotely or from home
- Mobile delivery notifications for e-commerce – businesses can use mobile communications to contact customers for more efficient order placement and delivery.
The last three are pretty conventional and the report has lots of good material on these topics. But what really caught my fancy was the concept dubbed ‘dematerialisation’. What a great poly-syllabic buzzword for the ‘anti-neutron bomb’ approach to downsizing.
Ever more terms keep cropping up to describe the new workstyles of the digital age. Steve Clayton’s post a while back referred “Co-working.”
“I am increasingly a "digital nomad"…Increasingly I find myself working from home or a hotel room in my current job. Sometimes I like the solitude but more often than not, I find myself hankering after a coffee or lunch out of the house. This may have something to do with my poor cooking skills but I think it has more to do with my need to have other folks around. I don't necessarily need to talk to them, I just like the buzz.”
Co-working starts to address the question of ‘what exactly do we need an office for?’ and ‘what would we miss?’ There is a camaraderie, energy, serendipity to people assembling together even if working quite independently together. The rise of formal (www.coworking.pbwiki.com, business centres) and informal (cafes, libraries, Wifi enabled pubs) collectives.
One of the first issues I faced over a year ago is what to call this ‘thing’. This trend, this approach. Certainly, there is no shortage of buzzwords being coined regularly to capture different dimensions to ‘Dynamic Work’.
CNN has done a piece which captures a much of the distributed, indeterminate, flexible nature of ‘where’ side of working. The article ‘Working in Wi-Fi Limbo’ (thanks again Dr. Bret)
“If you ask Adrian Miller where she works, her answer may depend on where she happens to be standing. Miller calls her messenger bag ‘global headquarters.’ She calls a New York City lobby her ‘satellite office.’ ‘My office is my briefcase,’ says Miller, who offers sales training to companies and networking advice to individuals. Miller is a member of a new breed of worker who doesn't work at home or an office. They work in limbo, somewhere in between. They are the urban nomads who drift from one Wi-Fi watering hole to another with their laptops — working alone while surrounded by people.”
When I first speak to people about ‘Dynamic Working’, often the response is ‘Oh, you mean ‘home working.’ To which I respond, ‘Well, that is one alternative place people can work, but there are also cafes, business centres, hubs, libraries, park benches…just about anywhere…’
MSNBC featured a fine piece titled “Chatty Workers Are Best Telecommuters” (thanks Dr. Bret) with a delightfully colourful introduction…
“For years the workplace commentariat has been nattering about the no-collar workplace. Companies will hire brains, not bodies. Work will go to the talent — instead of the talent extreme-commuting to the work. Teams will go transnational, warming the undersea cables with their space-and-time shifting video meetings. The workplace of the future, they've said, will be no workplace at all. Technology will turn the globe into one giant Wi-Fi-enabled kibbutz. A post-face-time world where everybody can Tivo their work. This is one of those dreams that has actually panned out. The office — in our pocket! (Or pocketbook!) But for every miraculous solution, there's another problem created. And so it is with the wonder of wireless work.”
The article makes a number of key points that Dynamic Work endorses completely…
- New characteristics to productivity – Often, the most difficult hurdle to implementing Dynamic Work are the managers, the management skills and the management practices. All of these usually need a complete overhaul in the new approach to getting things done. That change includes identifying, assessing and enhancing someone’s productivity. In the past, conventional wisdom would cite ‘chattiness’ as a sign of distraction and lack of focus, actually correlates strongly with someone able to maintain and support the increased opportunities and demands in a distributed environment.
- No one size fits all – Dynamic Work is no more of a panacea than any other innovation. Each member of staff and the role they serve is its unique blend of skills, personality, preferences and demands that will embrace some of the potential changes and balk at other. A hallmark of Dynamic Work’s engagements is identifying the various clusters of roles and ‘psychographics’ to figure out tailored approaches and tools for different groups.
- Shirk from home’ – A persistent myth is that without direct supervision, workers will fritter away hours unproductively. Obviously, a central part of the solution is to strengthen ‘management by outcome’. But, the article highlights that the tendencies are actually quite the opposite to the fear – " ‘Mobile workers are far more organized, personally, than their office-bound counterparts,’ says a researcher. ‘They have to be on top of their game the whole time.’"
I was describing the concepts behind ‘Dynamic Work’ at an event last week and one of the attendees described it as an ‘anti-neutron bomb.’
The ‘neutron bomb’ was a concept floated in the seventies as a military weapon which killed people, but left buildings and structures standing. The term was quickly characterised as a paragon of the inhumanity of war and mankind’s values. The term was most prominently popularised applied to ‘Jack Welch’ whose aggressive manpower reductions and layoffs led to the nickname ‘Neutron Jack’.
By contrast, ‘Dynamic Work’ gets rid of buildings and structures and leaves the people. As my friend Lindsay Hamilton described, ‘you help companies layoff building instead of people.’
‘People-friendly’ downsizing if you will. Just the ticket for a difficult economic times where production often needs to be scaled back, but unemployment is already enough of a problem and one we don’t want to aggravate further. I guess if Jack Welch’s moniker was ‘Neutron Jack’, then my aspiration would be to earn the name ‘Anti-Neutron Bruce’ (curiously, the ‘anti-neutron’ particle was discovered by a guy named ‘Bruce’).
When I start to talk to people about reducing the fixed costs of fixed desks and fixed office space, the most common response is, “Oh, you mean home working…” Well, yes…and no. Part of the challenge of Dynamic Work is the too widely held view that the only two places in the work are home and work (and maybe a fun place you go on holiday once a year).
For a while now, Starbucks, these day often synonymous with out-of-office-out-off-home working, has coined a term for this extra geographic dimension – ‘The Third Place.’ Here are a few erudite commentaries on the appeal of this non-work/non-home workspace…
· Howard Schulz on the notion of the ‘Third Place’ – “You might say, 'OK, they're full of crap.' And you know, this is how we feel," says Schultz. "We're in the business of human connection and humanity, creating communities in a third place between home and work."
· Steve Clayton on “I get my best work done at Starbucks” – In fact my favourite spaces to get work done are well outside of the office – even the home office. I often wander down to a coffee shop or Shackology where there is free WiFi and a good vibe that doesn't stop me working. People think I'm joking when I say I'm going to the coffee shop to work but it's where I get a lot of good work done.”
· Katie Ledger on “My office is Starbucks” – “I don't spend long periods of time in coffee shops but it's just being able to do business ANYWHERE that makes it so exciting. Lots of new ideas coming out of this space at the mo.”
If anyone is passing through Marlow, give a shout for a ‘meeting’ at my local third place and location of an increasing proportion of my productivity
At the heart of Dynamic Work lies the notion that key resources (like office spaces and desks), need not be fixed, but are more efficient, accommodating and eco-friendly when flexible and…well…dynamic.
Part of what is driving the trend to Dynamic Work are changes in the consumer marketplace and lifestyle often introduced to the workplace by the Gen Yers. And one trend which completely reinforces the flexible approach to Dynamic Work is ‘Transuming.’
“Cassandra Smith spends $800 a month renting designer handbags and leases a luxury condo in downtown Miami. Environmentalist Zoe Turrill helped create a bike-sharing program at the University of Denver. Though they might seem to come from different ends of the consumption spectrum, they have something in common: They're not buying things. The rise of rental or borrowing services catering from everyone from fashionistas to environmentalists has even spawned a marketing buzzword: the ‘transumer’… in this global recession, people are warming to the idea of renting, and not buying, certain goods — because of cost, ease or space considerations.”
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