No Office Required
ALSO: Unilever say 'desk jobs are over' // do Canary Wharf style offices have a future?
If you’re new to the newsletter last week I shared culture survival advice from lots of other firms.
This week I have a brand new Audible Original out. It’s an exploration into remote working. I chatted to psychologists, property experts, business professors, PR consultants and more - intent on trying to explore the secrets of mastering remote work. The series ends with experts like Rebecca Seal (author of ‘Solo’) giving their survival tips for doing your job remotely.
If you don’t subscribe to Audible then I genuinely think you’re missing out on the joy of listening to unabridged books. Your first book on Audible is free (and with mine free too you’ll have two titles to get you going. In the spirit of sharing inspiration, here’s my top recommendations to get you going as a listener - novels, non-fiction… there’s something for everyone…
(If you’re in the US I’ve also got an Audible Masterclass out of how to beat burnout and have more joy at work - it’s very similar to the themes covered in my book but packaged as part of their Masterclass series for companies).
Are peer reviews the future of appraisals?
I worked at one firm who decided, of course they did, that feedback is a gift. (Believe that as much as you want but when we get out of lockdown do not turn up at your mum’s birthday armed only with feedback. It. Will. Not. Cut. It).
Anyhow, so certain were they that they decided that everyone in the company was going to get the gift of a 360 degree appraisal. Each colleague should nominate up to 10 people to give them a personal assessment. It all had to be completed in November so that the reports could be delivered before the end of year. Yes, we know November is a busy month but you’ve got the whole month to complete 10-20 questionnaires on colleagues.
So, what happened? Well people were so busy that they played Game Theory. ‘If I tell Ellen what I really think of her I’ll probably have to put in a meeting to warn her first. Either that or deal with her crying at her desk, like Russell did last time. And if I do that they’ll probably write something bad about me. That could be awkward. In fact, because I’ve got a few of these to do, it might be easier to just say they’re great. I love Ellen’. So that’s what happened. Every single person in the company got a feedback report that said they were in the top right quadrant. They were all great at their jobs, with a winning attitude.
The worst thing was that this ill-conceived exercise wasn’t just useless it was worse than useless because the small number of the people who were genuinely bad at their jobs, with co-workers who were exasperated with them, could now push back when their bosses sat down to have a difficult conversation with them about their performance. ‘Well you say it’s not going well, but let me show you my 360! People love me!’ The whole company’s performance management was moved back a year by a knee-jerk, excitable decision.
I’m not saying this exercise couldn’t have worked, but when you have workers who are already toiling at full capacity you need to tell them what they can stop doing to do something new instead. If you introduce a new burden like this then the best way to signal it’s important to the company is to say ‘this is so vital to us we are cancelling all internal meetings for the week. In fact lock yourself away for a day or two to get this right’. But generally we tend to make our colleagues feel like there’s an expectation that they’re like a cab sitting with their light on, waiting to be hailed. I’ve witnessed with other workplace interventions: ‘We’re introducing a new app which will ask people to rate every meeting they have’, ‘we’re got a new platform that we want people to upload new innovation ideas’. Yes, all of this is possible but you need to make it explicit what it should replace.
Beware of unexpected consequences of hurried decisions.
All of that is preamble to this Harvard Business Review piece with a different take, on why colleague feedback (done right) is the future.
Will remote working enable the rise of Workforce Ecosystems (with employees and non-employees collaborating on tasks?)
It might have struck you over the last twelve months that in a remote-working world there’s very little difference between employees and the laptop-bearing freelancer who used to swing into the office on projects as and when required. An MIT survey here gives an interesting take on how we might see our workforces evolve in this way in the coming years. 75% of firms now view their teams as a mix of employees and non-employees, with non-employees performing more than a quarter of the work. They see particular application with highly specialised jobs (like data scientists who many firms may not have a full-time demand for).
(Thanks to Joe Russell for the link)
Unilever say full-time desk jobs are over: “We anticipate never going back to five days a week in the office. That seems very old-fashioned now”
Leesman - who do the very best workplace/remote working satisfaction analyses - published a breakdown of homeworking experiences
“Problem-solving requires an element of friction, it requires disagreements without falling out”. The FT documenting that many firms believe that creativity is the thing that has suffered most in lockdown
Does Canary Wharf (and other huge floor plate office buildings) have a future? The problem with huge floor plate buildings is they are declining in popularity & they can’t be split into flats or smaller offices [paywall - search for the article title to get the article for free if this link doesn’t work]
Who needs a trade union when you can press a button on your wristband to tell your boss you’re unhappy - worst idea of the year, best PR agent getting them on BBC
Will remote working be better for neuro-diversity? (I’m unconvinced)
On the subject of good PR/bad PR: Dropbox announced last week that they were going ‘remote first’ (there’s some interesting details here about teams choosing a shared window of time to co-work). Then the company announced a huge round of job cuts. Talk about chaotic news management
I spent a long-time this weekend researching both ‘growth mindset’ and ‘grit’ (two vogue-ish trends about how we exhibit resilience). Frustratingly despite still being taught to children around the world the evidence for both is pretty sketchy
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’m speaking at The Economist’s workplace conference in a couple of weeks - it’s free to join.