"Back to your desks! Nothing to see here!"
ALSO: Zoom fatigue // done with emails // TikTok creativity
Make Work Better is a weekly newsletter about work & workplace culture. If you believe that a motivated team is a superpower (and that work can be enjoyable) then this is for you. Share it with a bitter old cynic.
With all of the June 21st euphoria, it’s clear that the battlelines are being drawn for what comes next for work. Firms who want the old world to come back are closing all of the stable doors as rapidly as possible, whereas companies who accept that working practices have evolved are starting to signal change.
For illustration, HSBC this week announced they are downsizing their office space by 40%. (KPMG had already announced 20% cut, as had Lloyds Bank - who say 80% of their workers want to be home 3 days a week), while Goldman Sachs declared they saw remote working as having failed (“It’s an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible”) and alerted their teams that normal service was due to resume ASAP.
Consistent with that, Drog Polek wrote a brief piece about how some industries built on machismo (like finance) are bringing employees back into the office immediately. It seems that this does reflect on certain employers’ attitudes towards personal autonomy. There’s a great story in Drog’s piece about how a journalist was shouted and sworn at by the PR for Blackrock when she wrote about… their bullying culture.
But despite these firms suggesting that there’s nothing to see here and remote working is going away, a survey of 1000 business leaders suggested that half of firms were planning to reduce their space (freeing up around 18% of commercial property). Even in sectors like finance there are businesses adopting a different approach, Coinbase this week announced it is going fully remote with no headquarters. Dropbox have also said they’ll go virtual first with their offices becoming ‘studios’ where workers can gather for moments of hyperconnection (and, critically, learning).
It does seem to be that the firms who have clung on to tradition (barely compromising dress code from shirts/suits, even) seem to be the ones who, again, are reluctant to accept that change is upon us. For most firms the HSBC approach does seem to be consistent with what a consensus of firms intend to experiment with, and the Dropbox approach is likely to be where most firms will get to in three to five years.
The fundamental subtext about remote working is that bosses have done it for years, giving themselves autonomy to work from home when they had a lot on, working asynchronously because they had a personal commitment the next day but they just have never trusted their teams to do the same. Firms who systemise this insecure lack of trust going forwards are going to find that the expense of their anxiety-laden business model gives them an excessive cost burden to carry. Weak managers, who need to have their teams within their eye line, will prove to be unprofitable managers who, incidentally, seem to work much slower than their rivals.
In the real world, the critical next stage for most firms is to avoid final decisions in 2021 - and as David D’Souza said on Eat Sleep Work Repeat last year now is a time for experimentation.
Some emerging questions that firms will use the rest of 2021 to experiment with (and which I think edge us towards the Dropbox Studios in the medium term):
will the fact that commuting for 3 days costs the same as 5 days mean that we inevitably edge towards 1 or 2 days in the office?
which meetings will we prefer on our face-to-face days and which will we agree just work better as Zoom calls?
how quickly will the experience of doing some of these calls as hybrid office/remote mixes make us revisit our initial answer?
will workers accept being forced to come all the way to the office to sit doing email or on video calls with people working from home?
how can we be intentional about creating the buzz that we’ve missed? do we need ‘meeting coaches’ who can help us energise our in person meetings?
how does remote working combine with sales teams? if your customer is fully remote what are the tricks to building differentiated rapport? If a sales person seeks out customers for their ‘in’ days will they ever need to be in the office at all?
when it comes to culture won’t one fully connected week per quarter be better than snatched 30 minutes here and there on random weeks? (this is the Automattic model)
Agree? Disagree? Drop your opinion in the comments box at the foot of the post.
Zoom fatigue comes from staring at ourselves. You might have seen the Stanford study that was in the news this week, it set out to explain why so many us find hours of videos to be exhausting. The reasons:
Staring in a focussed way at a screen for hours at a time is regarded as being in a hyper alert state and draws an immense amount of energy from us
Seeing yourself makes us aware of our appearance in a most unnatural way
Video calls don’t allow us to move around and use our bodies
‘cognitive load is much higher in video chats.”
Another reason to switch some Zooms for phone calls (or just to cancel them?) Here’s the paper.
Last week’s podcast guest, Cal Newport has been out and about this week talking about his desire to abolish email. Here, in the New Yorker, he details the stress that email creates. You can revisit the podcast discussion I have with him here. Spotify / Apple / website
On the subject of electronic communication Harvard Business Review this week suggested that we are programmed to trust each other less when we aren’t around each other. https://www.thersa.org/blog/2020/04/change-covid19-response
Nothing new in this Harvard Business Review piece about remote working but it does make the case if your boss wants to be persuaded by something ‘credible’ and heavy-weight
The office as a motivating factor in innovative projects: ‘One [set of teams] came in on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other on Thursdays and Fridays, with no rotation. After four months a number of projects had slipped off schedule because many of the people collaborating on them came in on different days and never met in person’
Remixing ideas on the fly: If you’re interested in creativity and the evolution of ideas then I don’t need to sell you on the joy of TikTok. I’ve pretty much eliminated all of my Instagram time for the genius of the TT community. This piece by Eugene Wei is a wonderful (if long) read where he talks about the network effect of creativity where ‘every additional user on TikTok makes every other user more creative’. He goes through some of the innovative features TT has introduced and drops the bombshell that in 15 years YouTube hasn’t introduced a single production feature for creators. If you’re in any doubt that big tech being broken up would be good for competition then this stat seals the deal for me. (BTW If you love TikTok then the High Tea newsletter is wonderful for showing the emerging trends on the platform)
Make Work Better is created by Bruce Daisley, workplace culture enthusiast. You can find more about Bruce’s book, podcast and writing at the Eat Sleep Work Repeat website. Shorter email this week as my dad passed away on Sunday after a short, intense period of illness.