Make Work Better is your cut-out-and-keep guide to workplace culture and the changing world of work.
A couple of people pushed back on the last newsletter which suggested that hybrid working isn’t going to work. ‘We’ve not even given it a chance’ - one person replied to me.
Let me be specific about the challenges ahead and the reason why it’s worth looking down the road. In Thinking Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman offers us the analytical tool of performing pre-mortems - a method of reflecting on what might go wrong with an idea before it is implemented.
If we were to perform a pre-mortem on hybrid working we can easily imagine the conversations that we might have a year or two down the road: ‘it doesn’t feel the same’, ‘the buzz of the office is gone’, ‘we lost something when we agreed not to go back’.
The challenge with a rhythm of two or three days a week in the office is that unless everyone co-ordinates their diaries a large portion of their time is going to be spent doing video calls with people who are at home. Someone told me yesterday, ‘I’m looking forward to going back to the office so I can go out and meet people’. Sure, but how does that make your office any better? All in all the office loses the network effect that made it effective.
The promise underpinning hybrid working is a belief that going back to the office two or three days a week will be the best of both worlds - the productivity of remote work plus the idea spawning thrill of being around people. Here’s have an idea for, here’s an idea for you, here’s an idea for everyone! I love it. Did the person who come up with this ever go to an office? Even though a lot of us are feeling tired and emotional right now there’s certainly a chance that we might be overhyping how many ideas happened by the coffee machine on most days.
What we do know is hybrid meetings generally achieve a very low satisfaction level. Either people feel their remote participation makes them a second class contributor or they can’t hear what is happening. The good stuff seems to be happening in the room and we’re dialling into it. It’s why a number of firms have already decided on hybrid meetings they want everyone to dial in on their computers.
If you firm uses ‘net promoter score’ as a metric to measure happy customers then brace yourselves, the net promoter score for hybrid working is going to be low.
As soon as workers have paid £20 to travel to work and are dialling in on their computers they will rightfully ask ‘why did I need to come in for this?’ One of the challenges of the rose-tinted perspective we’ve brought to our nostalgising about the office is that we’ve imagined this world of relentless incidental conversations and moments of innovative riffing.
The reality for most of us is that we have high strain jobs (with hundreds of emails and dozens of meetings per week) where there’s not time to start freeforming new ideas on the fly. It’s why the satisfaction with open plan offices was so low. No one could get their work done.
The dissonance between the farmers’ market of fresh ideas we’ve been promised and the desk-bound Zoom calling we’re set to experience will mean that the ‘why did I need to come in for this?’ murmurs will quickly start to increase in volume.
This is what Leesman Index call the ‘workplace why’. The workplace benchmarking company published their latest guide to effective working this week - you can get it for free here. Some of the key findings:
only 16% of workers want to return to the office 4 or 5 days a week
twice as many (37%) want a maximum of one day in the office
more than anything workers will expect bosses to explain the ‘workplace why’ - why do I have to come to the office to do this?
I’ve talked a lot before how we should think about what the office is for - this ‘workplace why’ is very helpful
Leesman strongly believe that the demand for office space is about to decline substantially and they suggest one model of the future office is ‘twice the experience, half the space’ - it’s worth clicking through and reading their (playful) imagining of what this might look like. The whole report is very much worth a scan.
This is actually adjacent to what remote work hypeman Chris Herd says in an interview with Cal Newport this week. You’ll know Herd if you use Twitter, he’s the guy who has built a global remote work start-up from Scotland seemingly by posting the same viral Twitter thread every few weeks. But the clarification he gives to Newport is helpful. He talks about successful firms being ‘remote-first’ not ‘remote-only’. Herd says he expects the most effective firms to gather in person less frequently - once a month is his opening offer. Whether your team chooses to gather once a week or once a month, on reflection it’s easy to see that he’s probably right. The objective of that day spent together will be to do something collectively that forges a joint sense of endeavour that sitting next each other on Zoom calls just won’t do. The question seems to be how quickly firms realise this and start planning for it. One things for sure, as Leesman point out twice the experience isn’t going to magic itself.
Flex is now the law: you’ll probably be aware of the London-based estate agent who won £184,000 from her employers because she wasn’t permitted to leave early to collect her daughter from school. The game has changed on flexibility and old men saying ‘it doesn’t work for this job’ will no longer cut it
There was a lot of attention garnered by one of the big tech firms spending $2 billion buying a huge new office space in Manhattan this week. ‘Do they know something we don’t know?’ people might be inclined to ask. The answer is the big tech firms don’t have any extra answers but they do have the cash to buy assets in a buyer’s market - expect them to experiment with a lot of different uses of this space
Your employer suggesting you ‘go for a walk’ has become a little like them bleating ‘your mental health matters’ before overseeing a regime beset with video calls and endless emails, however this New Yorker piece on the way that walking transforms our mind is beautiful. Make sure you watch the video too
Incredible energy to this one - commuting improves your worklife balance (says rail body)
The Telegraph memorably styled people who worked from home because they had no petrol as ‘woke work from home hardliners’. Of course us real hardliners don’t even own cars, do we comrades?
If you’ve got someone at your place trilling about the Great Resignation there’s plenty of evidence emerging to support it, certainly in the US: Quartz says the ‘quit rate’ is the highest its been for a decade and the New York Times captures the testimony of workers who explain why they’re quitting toxic jobs
There’s a whole range of firms who use brainteaser questions to test candidates cognitive abilities (I used to work somewhere where the questions had been things like ‘how many tennis balls fit in a 747?’, or ‘how many people are on the phone in London right now?’) Anyhow research suggests these questions are driven by corporate peacocking rather than any ability to find the best candidates
If you liked this, share it, spread a little love. 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. I submitted my new book this week. If I wasn’t broken I’d be buzzing. (Still six odd months till release, sorry).