Is your workplace culture about to lose its chill?
ALSO: work is shifting from being like school to being like college / new podcast
Is your workplace culture about to lose its chill?
While the organisation comes in for its share of critical press, this article about the culture at Meta/Facebook is compelling reading for anyone interested in workplace dynamics. The article opens with a question submitted to the company’s Q&A forum with CEO Mark Zuckerberg about whether employees would be again being gifted the extra days off that they received during the burned out peak of the pandemic. Zuck came back with both barrels:
‘Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here. And part of my hope by raising expectations and having more aggressive goals, and just kind of turning up the heat a little bit, is that I think some of you might just say that this place isn’t for you. And that self-selection is okay with me.’
He tiptoed around it but I think this means they’re not getting the extra days off. Zuckerberg’s comments have lots of echoes of the dilemmas I’ve heard from other leaders over the last few months. The Verge article quotes him:
‘I think during a lot of the COVID period, I kind of bias[ed] towards more flexibility and convenience for people.’ he said. But now, he’d noticed people making personal appointments in the middle of the day, making it hard for even the CEO to get everyone to attend a meeting.
Alongside comments like Alphabet boss Sundar Pichai warning Googlers that they will have to work with “more hunger than we’ve shown on sunnier days” it’s a sign that leaders are starting to wonder if they’ve coddled their teams too much. The chill wind-back starts here.
It begs the perennial question about working conditions, whether the dirty truth of exceptional results is that they are often created by driving teams unreasonably hard. Want workers to work through lunch and in the evenings? How about we put a pool table in, and lay on food for those who stay late.
I found myself wondering this when I examined two organisations, Buffer and Basecamp, who used PR agencies to boast of offering generous time off and flexibility to their workers. It honestly sounded great, until I looked into the published financial results of both firms. Both of them were barely making a profit. It begged the question whether these companies might make for a great employer but a bad investment. Maybe not even the great employer part. Of course the profitability of their firm might be superficially irrelevant to an employee, but right now most of us would be rather working for a financial stable firm, rather than a financial precarious one. When I looked at the accounts of Buffer and Basecamp both had made compulsory redundancies in the previous 12 months.
The article is probably an important tonal cue. ‘This is war-time, we need a war-time CEO,’ wrote some kissass employee on the company’s internal message board. Is there an eyeroll emoji on Facebook? But as the financial crunch gets tougher there’s almost certainly scope for firms to say ‘no more Mr Nice Guy’ to their employees.
Read more: Will September see a back-to-school ultimatum for WFH employees?
Work is becoming less like school and more like college
The role of work in our lives is evolving in a way that is set to make society lonelier. Our jobs are transitioning, becoming less like school and more like college. Whether we enjoyed our time at school or not, the collective camaraderie of it leaves a lifelong impression on us. A sense that we’re all in it together, that we’re surrounded with friends.
Most of us will look back at our time at school and remember laughter, even if it was shared with a small gang of outcasts. (Just me?) Professor Sophie Scott reminds us that while we associate laughter with humour and jokes, ‘when we laugh with people, we're hardly ever actually laughing at jokes… we’re laughing to show that we like them’. Laughter is a sign of connection, and when we associate it with our schooldays it tells us something.
In many ways work played a role like school. Yes, while we were toiling to earn enough money to survive, most of us will admit that the laughter we shared with colleagues helped pass the longest, dullest days. None of this is trivial, the biggest predictor of whether we are engaged with our jobs is whether we have a friend at work.
But work is shifting from a school style community to something closer to college. At university most students don’t find their best friends on their course. Sure, they might know people who study the same subject as them, but their BFFs are generally found elsewhere. Work is moving this way, in their most recent workforce survey Gallup found that just 17% of hybrid workers reported having a best friend at work, the lowest level that it’s ever been.
For those who don’t have friends at work, our jobs can be desperately lonely. The poet David Whyte says the power of friendship is to be understood by another person: it is the ‘privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of having been granted the sight of the essence of another’. A working week without feeling understood by colleagues is isolated and never ending.
While work transitioning from a school shaped place in our lives might be healthy - after all it’s not healthy for our occupations to be our dominant identities - a transition to a detached college style relationship could end up leaving us lonely and isolated in the future.
Teams who aren’t in the same location are five times less likely to produce breakthrough ideas - so what does your company need? a head of co-ordination says Derek Thompson in The Atlantic
As mentioned above: since the pandemic only 17% of hybrid workers report having a best friend at work. Having a best friend increases engagement 7 fold and reduces job stress
The FT’s Working It podcast is what Eat Sleep Work Repeat might hope to be if it was run by insightful journalists with a wonderful sound designer. In the meantime their episode this week - documenting the uneven distribution of hybrid working is great (and has lots of good articles in the show notes)
No one wants to work any more! A nice Twitter thread showing the history of this old chestnut
Fewer casual conversations, low motivation, a deficit of trust: this Wall St Journal piece asks 15 respected experts what they see as challenges of hybrid work (dismiss the pop-up the article is free)
6 out of 10 Londoners say they are hybrid now (and 13% are fully remote)
Has their been a benefit to you of working from home? Yes say 84% of women and 76% of men
When asked whether they agree that ‘people who work at home don’t work as hard as office workers’ 11% of Labour voters agree and 26% of Conservative votes. Most disagree - 74% Labour, 53% Conservative
five times more people believe it is hard to build rapport with colleagues when working from home
You’ve seen all of the AI art generated by Dall-E, but as The Atlantic’s Charlie Warzel documents the next round of genius is coming from imaginative human inputs to the AI engine, stimulating truly stunning outputs. The computer created art in the article is breathtaking
After a few guests (largely from academia) who have championed the case for hybrid (or fully remote) work, today I’ve got a dissenting voice to share the case for the buzz of the office.
Tom Goodwin is a maverick voice from the world of marketing whose spiky social media posts have made him one of the most influential voices on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter - like all strong voices he no doubt inspires some and inflames others. I always find immense value in the questions he poses and I really enjoyed the chat as a palate cleansing reminder that when it comes to building new cultures there’s plenty of debate left to be had.
Though we barely talk about it, Tom has completely revised his book, Digital Darwinism and if you enjoyed the chat you’ll certainly enjoy that.
Listen: Apple / Spotify / website
Treat yourself to the book of the year (so far). Not my words. The words of a book reviewer on a US radio station I spoke to this week. Every pre-order makes the ghosts of Mother Teresa and Bob Carolgees smile.
Thanks for another insightful edition. One of the things I find frustratingly lacking in a lot of the conversations around remote work and WFH is the impact that the pandemic had at the start (in a positive way) on disabled people who were unable to work in the office, and how this rolling back of WFH provisions is bringing back some of the issues so many people were pushing against for so long.
I worked at the BBC (I went to one of your lunchtime talks!) and was almost entirely fully remote before the pandemic. I found it emotionally very challenging and although was really lucky with my team, I still felt like I was missing out. When everything suddenly went remote I felt, for the first time in years, like I wasn't alone. Like I could connect and be part of things.
I'd been forced into offices in previous roles I'd done (for work that could be entirely remote), eventually getting too unwell to work at all for periods of time. And I wonder whether we're going back to excluding people from the workforce who could work, even a little bit, if the benefits of this flexibility was recognised.
Of course, this is not the case for everybody, but there are so many people with health issues who could work if given more flexible options, people who are carers who need that extra time they'd otherwise spend commuting, etc.
I know of people who finally felt able to participate only to have that taken away from them in a push to "get back to normal", businesses that are offering lower salaries to those who want to work fully remote (I wonder if this is discrimination if that full remote is not a choice but a medical need?) and all sorts of other things that are making the job market inaccessible again.
I don't know the answers, but it's something I've been thinking a lot about recently.