Office is probably the most repeated word in the last weeks.
Some companies are calling all employees for returning to the office, others are setting a flexible or remote-first policy. But, anyway, the point here is that “Office” doesn´t have the same meaning anymore.
Does the office (as we know it so far) still make sense?
“The last forty years have taught us that the technology that most disrupts established industries is speed. The speed of connection to peers, to suppliers and most of all, to customers. The speed of decision making, of ignoring sunk costs and of coordinated action. The internet has pushed all of these things forward, and we’ve just discovered, the office was holding all of them back.
As social creatures, many people very much need a place to go, a community to be part of, a sense of belonging and meaning. But it’s not at all clear that the 1957 office building is the best way to solve those problems.”
The question we should be asking ourselves right now is: What does going to the office give us? Or What can we do better there than from home or other places? Or even: Does going to the office in a hybrid environment have more advantages or disadvantages?
Some companies are investing heavily in redesigning their “offices” and, although they are still experiments that will have to be improved, they provide good clues as to how the office concept should evolve.
“Miller’s reporting finds very little evidence to support the Spontaneous Encounter Theory. The money quote comes from Harvard Business School professor Ethan Bernstein, whose research found that “contemporary open offices led to 70 percent fewer face-to-face interactions.” Why? “People didn’t find it helpful to have so many spontaneous conversations, so they wore headphones and avoided one another”.
“Offices can and do produce spontaneous, productive encounters. The real issue is that we wildly over-inflate their importance when considering in-person work. It’s the over-indexing for creative ideation at an imaginary water cooler that is bullshit.” (Charlie Warzel)
Finally, my finding:
Office and in-person interactions are important for the culture, but if you have to force your people to come back to the office, probably your culture does not need to be preserved but deeply transformed. @mariocameo
The concept of the office needs to be radically revised, as part of a broader discussion about the new ways of working. And these new ways of working, Remote/Hybrid, are not (only) about WHERE, but HOW.
My friend Gonzalo Martín has sent me this WSJ article (sorry, it´s paywalled) about companies setting “core hours” when employees must be online and available for meetings. Any other time is a meeting-free zone.
This is a very interesting tactic, not only to preserve the work-life balance as they say in the article, but also as a necessary condition to take advantage of the real potential of remote work: asynchrony.
Asynchronous work and communication can bring flexibility, better focus, more inclusive collaboration, better thought-out and higher quality solutions, more productivity, better health, more transparency, less hidden talent, less people who do not contribute, …
It is summarized very well by Calendly’s CEO, Tope Awotona:
‘All we care about is that you get your job done from anywhere, you hit your goals, and you make yourself available during what we call our core hours.’
I think that building these new ways of workingis complex, and requires us to define much more than just the schedule.
In fact, the really important question is: How do we organize collaboration in this hybrid environment? What will we go to the office for? What work is better done remotely and asynchronously? What channels or tools will we use for each type of activity: sharing information with the team, feedback interviews, explaining a process, giving news, agreeing on decisions, resolving incidents, documenting relevant procedures, etc.? How do we adapt Talent policies removing the location from the equation?
Each organization must define its own tailored Remote Collaboration Map, with its criteria for applying it. It is a huge transformation, especially a culture transformation. And we must give it the importance and attention it requires.
The Core Hours practice is a good step (although it will be necessary to experiment, correct, improve,…) and shows that these companies are aware of the importance of the challenge and are working on it.
Meanwhile, in Spain, this weekend on prime time TV News, it has been highlighted the increase in the hiring of private investigators by companies, to monitor their remote employees.
“They caught him playing sports in the morning,” they say (apparently during his work-from-home hours).
I think this news shows a lot of things:
Culture of control and lack of trust.
The belief that if you are not sitting at your computer at certain hours, you are not doing your job.
Measurement of hours of presence, vs. results and work done. What if after the padel match the employee returns to his tasks, with more energy and motivation and healthier, and generates more added value? What if at the end he had worked even more hours, but adapting them to his rhythm and preferences?
By the way, Could this be part of a campaign/lobby to generate favorable opinions about returning to the office?
We will see. I think it is a great battle that has already begun, and we will be following it closely….
So far, it seems that too many employers have not yet understood that Talent (the one who can choose: in full employment markets or industries such as USA or IT in Spain) asks for flexibility and an important % of remote work.
And most importantly, they have not understood that it is not only about the Where, but also and especially about the How…. I will write in detail about this How in the following posts, very soon. Because what I am interested in is not to persuade anyone, but to work in a hands-on way to build these new ways of working.
Remote Work, Work from anywhere, Work from home, Smartworking, Hybrid work, Home Office, Distributed Work, Delocalized, etc.
As an emergent trend, we are all naming the new topic, while we take advantage of the opportunity for positioning ourselves as experts associated with these keywords…
In my opinion, not all these names refer to the same thing, and there are important nuances: having a home office is not the same as working from anywhere; And it is not the same doing it a few days a week, than doing it by default, at any time.
So, among all these possible names, Why Remote-First?
Because I want to talk about an organization model where the first option is remote work, allowing its employees to reside wherever they want, without considering the company’s location as a factor.
I don’t like the word remote too much, because it actually means “very far away”, and although it is true that one of its advantages is being able to work with global talent from anywhere in the world, I like to think more about connected people working together. In any case, I surrender to the buzzword that has become widespread, because I think it will make easier understanding and communication, and because we have already created enough new words …
“If one person is not in the room, no one is in the room“
Dave Malouf, founder of the IxDA Interaction Design Association
If one of us works remotely, we are all working remotely
It is a simple idea and easy to understand, but we are not so aware of how important it is for the future of work and ways of working: If one person in the team / project is working remotely, we are all working remotely, because we can no longer use the same ways of working as in the office, when all of us were in the same place.
Therefore, it is not about preferences anymore. It doesn’t mind if we prefer to go to the office or not.
Nor it is about believing in the predictions or not (for example, GitLab’s recent Remote Work Report revealed that 86% of respondents believe remote work is the future of work).
It doesn´t matter. Today it is a reality that many of the people in the company will be working remotely every day, and we will have to interact and communicate with them. Therefore, from now on we are all going to work remotely, whether we want to or not.
That is why it makes more sense to address this issue from the Remote-First mindset, because basically this is going to be the predominant way of working, regardless of whether the company has an office or not, or if allowed remote 1 or 4 days a week.
If we want to be effective and efficient in this new environment, we must be prepared, and organize work without requiring the physical presence of everyone in the same space.
From Synchronous to Asynchronous, the great shift that changes (almost) everything
Being in a meeting is not the same as working or collaborating. So many times we have heard or said that: “I’ve been meeting all day, let’s see if I can finally get to work” … We have all experienced the horror of “reunionitis” (inflammation of meetings) and its terrible consequences in the form of inefficiency, stress, frustration, …
And the main cause of that “reunionitis” is that we have misunderstood the nature of collaboration in the knowledge age:
We had always taken for granted that in order to collaborate we had to be together, or better said, gathered together.
Perhaps now, “thanks” to COVID, we have begun to internalize that it is not necessary to be everyone in the same place. In fact, we have been working remotely for a long time, but from the office: talking with colleagues from other offices or regions, suppliers, clients, etc. with the difference that we did not have the right technology for communication and collaboration.
But we need to understand one more step, which changes (almost) everything: we don’t need to be connected at the same time, or at least not all the time.
Asynchronous communication and collaboration is essential, for many reasons: different time zones in a global environment, workers schedule flexibility, diversity, …
And it also brings many benefits, but to take advantage of them, you have to organize your work well, and to make some important changes: mindset, culture, leadership, rules, …
We could categorize the different types or ways of collaborating into 5 modes, depending on their speed, duration of information value, and level of interaction:
In Person: Synchronous, all together at the same time and place. Example: a meeting at the office.
Synchronous delocalized: connected at the same time, but from different places. Example: a video conference or an instant chat.
Asynchronous: not everyone is connected at the same time and responses can take a few hours or even days. Example: an email or a message in an internal network/tool.
Storage: the information remains available in the long term, and it will not be necessary for the author to respond, because the content communicates by itself. Example: a file shared in the cloud.
Individual work: interaction is not necessary. Example: focus and task execution.
Four of these modes are done remotely. I repeat: four of five. And the fifth, the face-to-face, is not forbidden; it can be used for certain situations, when it is considered necessary. It is a Remote-First approach, not Remote-Only.
Therefore, organizing the company with a Remote-First mindset is not crazy, but a strategic answer to the current reality. Crazy is to keep trying to work in this environment with past models of organization and collaboration based on previous contexts that no longer exist.
Teamwork (silos) is not the same as Collaboration
Let’s take a step back and think about something that has been changing the world of work for years, and is a recurring challenge in many companies: the evolution from hierarchical and pyramidal structures, towards flatter and more collaborative organizations, whether they are matrix, networks, holocracies, …
We already had companies with different locations and clients in other regions and countries. What has changed is not only the office-remote question, but complex and changing environments that have generated the growing need to share more information, work on projects with people from different areas and profiles, empower and make more consensual or distributed decisions, find creative solutions to complex challenges, be more agile and flexible, … that is, the growing need of collaboration.
Before that, there was little need for cross-collaboration. The most common was that a team of people with a similar profile (same function) only received the guidelines from the boss and they coordinated with each other inside the team. But coordination with other teams was only between a few managers. That is, teamwork or functional silos.
But collaborating is not helping or working as a team. Collaborating means that we need each other to achieve shared organizational goals, beyond the teams. It means that we cross structural or formal borders, if there are any, and we work transversally with a common objective: to solve the business challenge, to provide customer service,…
A great opportunity
In my view, the Remote-First approach is a great opportunity to break down silos, not only functional but also of distance between offices and different locations.
For a long time, there has been a communication barrier between teams from different offices. In general, we worked as a team only with coworkers from your own office, and it was much more difficult to collaborate with colleagues from other locations. Nor was it as necessary as it is now. Even in multinational companies, distributed teams were much less common. Each country or business unit operated independently, and then management reported to headquarters.
This Remote-First approach not only puts us all in equal conditions, but also forces us to create a work structure and culture in which we are all prepared to collaborate, wherever we are.
Context is always important, and this is Digital
Like any transformation, this can be explained within a given social, economic and historical context.
This new way of working is part of a digital society, and therefore requires a digital mindset and culture: Trust, Participation, Collaboration, Transparency, Purpose, Agility, Data-driven, Diversity, …
It is no accident that it is happening now. It happens now because the context pushes it and makes it possible. It is not only a matter of tools or ways of organizing work. This will only work if a Digital Culture consistent with society and the moment we live in, is adopted within the company.
Trying to work remotely without having that Culture or driving Cultural Transformation in a decisive and genuine way, will lead to great frustrations and inefficiencies, as many of us have seen during 2020.
This is just the beginning
In the last few months many articles have started to be published talking about the negative consequences of remote work, “the end of remote as a panacea”, “the dark side of working from home” and so on.
I believe that, far from the end, this has only just begun.
It is true that many people are stressed, exhausted and burned out due to the experience of the last year working remotely in a forced and improvised way. But the problem is not remote, the problem is that it is very poorly organized, and the necessary organizational and cultural changes are not being addressed. These changes are not only related to offshoring but also to Digital Transformation, leadership and new ways of working, and have been pending for several years.
In this scenario, the best talent, the one who can choose, will not ask to return to the office, but will look for another company that knows how to work remotely, adapt and take advantage of the benefits it has.