Work Futures Update | A Bad System

| Minimum Office | Thinking about Work Management | Ride-Hailing Ailing | Elsewhere |

Photo by Clint Adair on Unsplash

Beacon NY 2020–08–29 | Minimum office (aka remote work) is still the biggest meme out there. No surprise.


Quote of the Moment

A bad system will beat a good person every time.

| W. Edwards Deming


Minimum Office

Pinterest cancels huge SF office lease in unbuilt project, citing work-from-home shift | Roland Li reports on Pinterest about-face:

Pinterest terminated a massive 490,000-square-foot lease at San Francisco’s unbuilt 88 Bluxome project, citing a shift toward more remote work amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Minimum office also means saving a fortune on real estate costs.

Working From Home: Why the Office Will Never Be the Same | Claire Cain Miller thinks workers are happier WFH:

America’s office workers have been miserable and burned out for a long time. The expectation of long hours at the office has been particularly hard on parents — especially mothers. Women, young people and people with disabilities have for years been among those on the forefront of pushing for more freedom in where work gets done.

Perhaps not surprisingly, employers have offered many reasons they can’t give people quite so much autonomy. People can’t be trusted to get their work done on their own, they have said. Clients expect in-person, round-the-clock service. Running into co-workers in the hallway is sure to spur serendipitous ideas, right? And, people need to attend meetings, as well as meetings to prepare for those meetings and meetings to debrief after them.

But in the last few months, it has become clear to everyone what was really going on. Corporate America just didn’t want to change. “All these things could be done yesterday: This is the reality,” said Betsey Stevenson, a labor economist at the University of Michigan.

It’s also clear that America’s workers actually like the new way of doing things, even amid the challenges of the pandemic. In the survey by The Times and Morning Consult, which polled 1,123 people who have worked at home these past few months — representing the range of jobs, demographics and income levels of America’s remote workers — 86 percent said they were satisfied with remote work.


It seems to be reducing stress levels. Even in a time of extreme stress over all, people who have been working from home were more likely than not to say they were less stressed than before about both work and home life. Roughly 60 percent said working from home had made them more able to focus on their health; saved them a lot of time each day; and made them feel more connected with their families.

Three-quarters said their productivity was either the same or improved. It doesn’t take a survey to tell us that interspersing work with rejuvenating activities like walking or resting often boosts energy and creativity.

Workers are already thinking about ways they can keep this going after it’s safe to return to the office. Only one in five said they wanted to go back full-time. Nearly one in three said they would move to a new city or state if remote work continued indefinitely, which companies like Zillow and Twitter have already said they would allow. Some people have moved to less expensive places, or to be closer to family or nature.

However, the backlash against minimum office is starting, as in Companies Start to Think Remote Work Isn’t So Great After All, as executives want to get people back in the office:

Months into a pandemic that rapidly reshaped how companies operate, an increasing number of executives now say that remote work, while necessary for safety much of this year, is not their preferred long-term solution once the coronavirus crisis passes.

“There’s sort of an emerging sense behind the scenes of executives saying, ‘This is not going to be sustainable,’” said Laszlo Bock, chief executive of human-resources startup Humu and the former HR chief at Google. No CEO should be surprised that the early productivity gains companies witnessed as remote work took hold have peaked and leveled off, he adds, because workers left offices in March armed with laptops and a sense of doom.

They will come up with all sorts of reasons why we need to go back to the office, even if they are spurious.

Go read it.

Remote work in the age of Covid-19 | Slack research reports:

Of the nearly 3,000 knowledge workers we surveyed between March 23–27, 45% reported working remotely. Of these, more than half (66%) say they’re doing so because of Covid-19 concerns, while 27% say they “normally” work from home.

Remote work snapshot

| 45% of knowledge workers surveyed work remotely

| 66% of remote workers are doing so because of Covid-19 concerns

| 27% of remote workers say they “normally” work from home

While the number of remote workers is certainly high, 55% of those surveyed are still going into work. There are several possible explanations. For one, stay-at-home orders have rolled out piecemeal across the country. As of March 26, 21 states had instituted stay-at-home directives. That number jumped to 30 by March 30, and 42 as of April 7. The number of remote workers has undoubtedly grown as more states have urged people to stay home.

Image for post

source: Slack

Undoubtedly? Man, that’s an understatement.

In Exploring the effects of trust, task interdependence and virtualness on knowledge sharing in teams, researchers D. Sandy Staples and Jane Webster advise companies to structure teams and tasks so that collaborators are either all distributed or all co-located, because hybrid teams can have the greatest communication challenges:

Social exchange theory was used to develop a model relating trust to knowledge sharing and knowledge sharing to team effectiveness. The moderating effects of virtuality and task interdependence on these relationships were examined. A strong positive relationship was found between trust and knowledge sharing for all types of teams (local, hybrid and distributed), but the relationship was stronger when task interdependence was low, supporting the position that trust is more critical in weak structural situations. Knowledge sharing was positively associated with team effectiveness outcomes; however, this relationship was moderated by team imbalance and hybrid structures, such that the relationship between sharing and effectiveness was weaker. Organizations should therefore avoid creating unbalanced or hybrid virtual teams.


Work Management

The Anti-Facebook: 12 Years In, Facebook Cofounder Dustin Moskovitz’s Slow-Burn Second Act Asana Finally Has Its Moment | A puff piece celebrating the rise of Asana under CEO Dustin Moskovitz and its imminent IPO. But I have to fact check something from co-founder Justin Rosenstein:

Asana cofounder Justin Rosenstein long served as Moskovitz’s extroverted foil before stepping back in 2019. Says Rosenstein: “We are, to my knowledge, the two people on earth who have thought the most about the work management problem.”

No disrespect, Justin, but there are some of us who have been thinking deeply about work management long before you and Dustin started to work on it at Facebook. For example, I led a conference in 2003 in London called Social Tools for Business. And I coined the term work management, by the way.

Entrepreneurs in work management companies apply their efforts toward making a winning work management tool, but those of us who watch the market look at hundreds of products a year, and inhabit many perspectives, not just the improvements that can be made to a single system.



Lyft, Uber Get More Time as They Fight California Order | Preetika Rana on the newest turn in the Cailifornia v. Ride-Hailing:

Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. will be able to continue conducting business as usual in California for now, after a state appeals court on Thursday paused a lower-court ruling that required the ride-hailing companies to reclassify their drivers as employees.

The reprieve means both companies can continue operating while they fight a high-stakes legal battle with their home state.

The court’s decision followed a flurry of public messaging by the companies earlier Thursday, capping a week of threats that they would shutter their services in California if the courts compelled them to reclassify their workers. Lyft posted an announcement on its website Thursday morning saying it would halt its business there as of midnight. Uber put up what appeared to be a placeholder post on its site, with the heading, “Important Information About California Ridesharing Shutdown,’’ which it later removed.

Lyft confirmed it no longer plans to halt ride-hailing service in the state.

A state judge last week gave Uber and Lyft until Friday to reclassify their drivers as employees, after California sued the companies in May alleging they were violating a new state law.

California’s so-called gig-worker law that went into effect on Jan. 1 requires companies to treat workers as employees rather than independent contractors if they are controlled by their employer and contribute to its usual course of business, among other things. As employees, drivers would be eligible for sick days and other benefits, issues that have become more pressing during the coronavirus pandemic.

What’s next?

Why Uber’s business model is doomed | Aaron Benanav deconstructs ride-hailing as a huge VC gamble on autonomous vehicles and their eventual disruption of taxi and delivery vehicles.

One might assume that misclassifying drivers as independent contractors enables rideshare companies such as Uber to make exorbitant profits. The reality is far weirder. In fact, Uber and Lyft are not making any profits at all. On the contrary, the companies have been haemorrhaging cash for years, undercharging users for rides in a bid to aggressively expand their market shares worldwide. Squeezing drivers’ salaries is not their main strategy for becoming profitable. Doing so merely slows the speed at which they burn through money.

The truth is that Uber and Lyft exist largely as the embodiments of Wall Street-funded bets on automation, which have failed to come to fruition. These companies are trying to survive legal challenges to their illegal hiring practices, while waiting for driverless-car technologies to improve. The advent of the autonomous car would allow Uber and Lyft to fire their drivers. Having already acquired a position of dominance with the rideshare market, these companies would then reap major monopoly profits. There is simply no world in which paying drivers a living wage would become part of Uber and Lyft’s long-term business plans.

We need businesses to commit to creating well-paying jobs to stop the precarity that the gig economy feeds on.

People need security that is not tied to their job. The pandemic has revealed this imperative more than ever before. In a world that is as wealthy as ours, and given the technologies we have already produced — even without the realisation of the dreams of automation — everyone should have access to food, energy, housing and healthcare. If people had that security, why would they choose to work in terrible jobs where they are paid low wages? The owners of Uber and Lyft know that their business is predicated on a world in which they get to make the key decisions that shape our futures, without our input. The world of work is going to have to be democratised. They are just delaying what should be inevitable.



Weak Ties and Brainstorming | What we miss when we don’t organically share space

Work Week | Infrastructure and Ultrastructure | Funding: Mural, Asana | Slack: The Netscape of Work Chat? | Tech Resistance |

Work Futures Update | Normal Was The Problem

| Matt Mullenweg | Retail Apocalypse | Massachusetts Sues Uber and Lyft | Remote Work or Minimum Office? |

I am now publishing Work Futures Update on Medium. Please sign up there to have the full newsletter sent to your inbox.

Because of the way Medium is operated I can’t simply import the email addresses of subscribers here, because Medium requires a Medium account. Don’t miss out.



2020–07–20 Beacon NY | We owe the title of this issue to Ziauddin Sardar’s quote of the moment. He is also the source of this:

We live in an in-between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have yet to be born, and very few things seem to make sense. A transitional age, a time without the confidence that we can return to any past we have known and with no confidence in any path to a desirable, attainable or sustainable future.

In a word, the postnormal.


Quote of the Moment

Because normal was the problem in the first place, rather than teaching us anything new, the pandemic forces us to look in the mirror. But can we accept what looks back at us?

| Ziauddin Sardar, who is the instigator of the concept of the postnormal era.

Work Futures Update | Newness for the Sake of Newness

| The Great Remotening:, Meetings v Deep Thinking, Three Waves of Remote | Change Leadership | (Lack Of) Cooperation |

I am migrating the Work Futures newsletter to Medium, since the platform has expanded the former ‘letters’ feature to ‘newsletters’.

I invite you to take a look, here, and sign up for a free account, here. The Work Futures Update will appear in your email inbox, just like it has been coming from substack.


| Stowe

Work Futures Update | In The Fog

| Mark Lilla | Is Office Life Dead? | Workboards | Truckers’ Fears | Less Teamwork Is More |

Photo by Wayne de Klerk on Unsplash

2020–05–22 Beacon NY | Mark Lilla is just one of the many writers focused on uncertainty, these days (see Quote of the Moment, below). I recently wrote this, in The Postnormal Future of Work:

Adopting a new mindset is the most essential response to the time we find ourselves in, the postnormal. A mindset that is based on Caron’s formulation: patience, sense-making, and engagement of uncertainty. Wise leaders will steer their companies by using a compass, and not the maps from olden days. We need to accept, first, that we don’t know what is coming, or even what we will need to do when it does come.

Quote of the Moment

Human beings want to feel that they are on a power walk into the future, when in fact we are always just tapping our canes on the pavement in the fog.

| Mark Lilla


Will Coronavirus Kill Office Life? | Jennifer Senior is going through office withdrawal, and she’s fraying. I disagree with much of what she says, perhaps because I am an ‘integrator’ and she is a ‘segmented’, to use Nancy Rothbard’s terms:

Working from home rather than the office is sort of like shopping on Amazon rather than in a proper bookstore. In a bookstore, you never know what you might find. You can’t even know what you don’t know until you wander down the wrong aisle and stumble across it.

But to me, the best arguments for the office have always been psychological — and never have they felt more urgent than at this moment. I’ll start with a subtle thing: Remote work leaves a terrible feedback vacuum. Communication with colleagues is no longer casual but effortful; no matter how hard you try, you’re going to have less contact — particularly of the casual variety — and with fewer people.

And what do we humans do in the absence of interaction? We invent stories about what that silence means. They are often negative ones. It’s a formula for anxiety, misunderstanding, all-around messiness.

“You need time to develop informal patterns with colleagues, especially if you don’t know them well,” Nancy Rothbard, a professor of management at Wharton, told me. She added that power differences also complicate things, and not in a way I found reassuring. The literature suggests that if a boss delays in replying to an email, we underlings assume he or she is off doing important things. But if we’re late in replying, the boss assumes we’re indolent or don’t have much to say. Great.

More broadly speaking, even without an office, there will still be office politics. They’re much easier to navigate if you can actually see your colleagues — and therefore discern where the power resides, how business gets done, and who the kind people are.

But perhaps the most profound effect of working in an office has to do with our very sense of self. We live in an age where our identities aren’t merely assigned to us; they are realized and achieved, and places are powerful triggers of them. How much do I feel like a columnist if I’m wearing a 21-year-old Austin Powers T-shirt (“It’s Cannes, baby!”) and picking at my kid’s leftovers as I type? I mean, somewhat, sure. But I suspect I’d feel more like one if I got dolled up and walked into the Times building each morning.

Rothbard, who’s made a study of the borders between our professional and domestic selves, told me she sees this confusion all the time. There are “integrators,” she said, who don’t mind the dissolution of those borders, and “segmenters,” who don’t care for it. (“The pandemic,” she said, “is a segmenter’s hell.”) It’s hardly uncommon to have multiple identities across multiple contexts, each of them authentic. But remote work makes it awfully hard for segmenters to give full expression to their professional selves, and when they do, it often rattles those around them. “Your kids may see you talking to your employees in a different way and be like, ‘Who is this person?’” she told me.

Senior might do herself a favor by dressing for success before sitting down to write a column. But for an integrator like me, flip flops and an unshaven head make no difference.

Silicon Valley’s Next Big Office Idea: Work From Anywhere | Katherine Bindley lays out the now-conventional wisdom about the future of the workplace: that a lot of people are going to want to go back, like Jennifer Senior in the previous story. My sense is that structural economic shifts — like how much workers and companies can save by remote working — will be the guiding principles going forward, not how much people supposedly like schmoozing face to face. And this comment about whiteboards is silly since collaborative whiteboards (what I am now calling workboards) are so much better than the dumb ones in most conference rooms:

Brent Hyder, Salesforce’s chief people officer, anticipates many employees at the business-software giant will be eager to return to the office once it’s possible. They just might not come in every day.

“People are still going to want to be social,” he said. “People are still going to want a whiteboard to brainstorm together to solve problems.”

More functionally: if the highest employee productivity and engagement is realized from those that work away from the office 60%-80% of the time, and now that companies know that WFH is more than possible, then everyone — individuals, managers, and companies — has a huge incentive to do that. So, even the folks that yearn to be in the office will find that those people they want to mingle with just won’t be there, generally.



‘He lied on national television’: Trump falsely claims truckers protesting industry problems are honking to support him | Daniel Dale and Holmes Lybrand draw attention to Trump’s lying about truckers’ protests being a rally in favor of his policies. But the part I found most interesting is what their protest is actually about:

The truckers’ grievances are numerous and varied. They include what they say are unfairly low freight rates during the coronavirus pandemic, price-gouging by the brokers, ill-conceived safety regulations and permissive federal attitudes toward the autonomous vehicles that threaten their occupation.

Greg Anderson, who said he has been in the trucking business for 33 years, told CNN earlier on Friday that Trump had “lied on national television” with his remark to Bartiromo about how the protesters are not protesters at all.

“This is a protest,” Anderson said. “Mr. Trump elaborated that we were here to support him. Our message to him would be this is a protest against bad regulation, broker transparency, truck insurance, so on and so forth. This is not here to support Trump. We’re here to get resolution and bring awareness to our problem and fix our problems.”

Note the concerns about autonomous trucks.



Don’t Let Teamwork Get in the Way of Agility | Elaine Pulakos and Rob Kaiser put the kibosh on the knee-jerk response to everything being collaboration and teamwork:

Instead of maximizing teamwork, our research on what distinguishes agile organizations suggests that we need to rightsize it. This means considering what form and how much teamwork is needed at each stage of a project to get it done efficiently and effectively. Rightsizing teamwork requires judiciously selecting the right people to contribute, at the right time.

While this approach may initially seem in conflict with goals of inclusivity, consideration, and respect — when done right, it can improve those things. Involving others when they are needed, as opposed to by default, is actually more considerate and respectful of the many people who are suffering from project overload and burnout. Rightsizing is not about minimizing inclusion. It’s about changing “teamwork” from a buzzword to an optimized practice that creates seamless companywide connections.

The authors offer three evidence-based practices:

  1. Define what kind of teamwork needs to take place. Think of teamwork as having ‘four broad categories’: is a hand-off all that’s needed? Does this project require synchronized work, like members of a sales team who work in parallel but contribute equally to the team’s quarterly results? Is coordinated work required, like critical care teams in the COVID-19 crisis, who work in concert applying their specialized skills to the shared outcome? Does the project require interdependent work, the most complex form of teamwork, where people have to shift roles and responsibilities because the team is confronted with a novel situation and no playbook exists? Note that teams may have to shift from one modality to another over time.

  2. Simplify and then simplify some more. Minimize the number of team members: just those that are vital, and no more. Decide before starting the project what those who may join will do, and how it drives the project forward. Be willing to change modality (see 1, above), as needed.

  3. Give people permission to say ‘no’. Give people explicit right to opt to not team up when they think is counterproductive, by ‘adding unnecessary complexity, confusion, or inefficiency’.

Smart, smart advice on keeping organizations fast and loose.


A Prospectus | Workboards | When you can’t pull people into a conference room and scribble on a whiteboard

Yes, I changed the term from ‘collaborative whiteboards’ to ‘workboards.

The Postnormal Future of Work | Peter Drucker inspired me with ‘Every organization must be prepared to abandon everything it does to survive in the future’

We live in an in-between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have yet to be born, and very few things seem to make sense.

| Ziauddin Sardar

Work Futures Update | Maturity of Mind | The end of the Open Office Plan? | Nobl Advice | qdo | Militancy at Work | 10 More Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings |

Today’s business organization is an oligarchy, and that needs to change | We need to move to hyperdemocratic cooperative work, and drop oligarchic management.

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