Work Futures Update | On The Edge

| Joseph Stiglitz | Working From Home | Small Talk Is Big Again | Big Problems, Small Wins |

I’ve moved Work Futures Update to Medium, so check out the most recent update, and signup to have the free newsletter sent to your inbox.

Work Futures Update | Newness for the Sake of Newness

| The Great Remotening: Work.com, 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.

Thanks!

| 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


WFH

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.

:::

Driverless

‘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.

:::

Teamwork

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.


Elsewhere

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.

Work Futures Update | An Awful Lot Of Unraveling

| 10–4 | Flattening the Work Curve | Managers Mind | The End of HQ | Shorting Real Estate | The Square |

2020–05–12 Beacon NY | While organizations are starting to think about how to start coming back to the office, a critical aspect is a strategy to decrease the likelihood of outbreaks. Social distancing and face masks will not be adequate in the absence of significant testing. However, a group of researchers in economics and biology — Uri Alon, Ron Milo and Eran Yashiv — have an alternative that they published in 10–4: How to Reopen the Economy by Exploiting the Coronavirus’s Weak Spot:

We can find a way out of this dilemma by exploiting a key property of the virus: its latent period — the three-day delay on average between the time a person is infected and the time he or she can infect others.

People can work in two-week cycles, on the job for four days then, by the time they might become infectious, 10 days at home in lockdown. The strategy works even better when the population is split into two groups of households working alternating weeks.

Austrian school officials will adopt a simple version — with two groups of students attending school for five days every two weeks — starting May 18.

Models we created at the Weizmann Institute in Israel predict that this two-week cycle can reduce the virus’s reproduction number — the average number of people infected by each infected person — below one. So a 10–4 cycle could suppress the epidemic while allowing sustainable economic activity.

Even if someone is infected, and without symptoms, he or she would be in contact with people outside their household for only four days every two weeks, not 10 days, as with a normal schedule. This strategy packs another punch: It reduces the density of people at work and school, thus curtailing the transmission of the virus.

Schools could have students attend for four consecutive days every two weeks, in two alternating groups, and use distance-learning methods on the other school days. Children would go to school on the same days as their parents go to work.

Businesses would work almost continuously, alternating between two groups of workers, for regular and predictable production. This would increase consumer confidence, shoring up supply and demand simultaneously.

During lockdown days, this approach requires adherence only to the level of distancing already being demonstrated in European countries and New York City. It prevents the economic and psychological costs of opening the economy and then having to reinstate complete lockdown when cases inevitably resurge. Giving hope and then taking it away can cause despair and resistance.

10–4 is the future.


Quote of the Moment

Despite the commute and the colleagues, the sitting and the stale meetings, offices bring many of us something else too: joy. Lucy Kellaway, who wrote a long-running column in the Financial Times on the absurdities of office life, talks of the “great artificiality” we embrace the moment that we step into an office. “We pretend that our clothes are always in order and that we are entirely professional and impersonal. Whereas probably in our heads and definitely in our homes there is an awful lot of unravelling and farting going on.”

[…]

Humans need offices. Online encounters may be keeping us alive as social beings right now, but work-related video meetings are too often transactional, awkward and unappealing. After the initial joy of peering into each other’s houses on Zoom, we are confronted with people’s heads looming even closer than we see them across the desk at work, and we gaze in horror — half of it self-awareness that we, too, must look awful — at thinning hair and double chins. We become freakish specimens rather than people. No Skype chat can replicate what Heatherwick calls the “chemistry of the unexpected” that you get in person. Offices may not fill the pages of poetry anthologies but, says Kellaway, they “can be as moving as anywhere on Earth. Because what moves us is not sitting at our computer, it’s the relationship that we have with people.”

| Catharine Nixey, Death of the office

It’s a romantic ideal in Nixey’s world perhaps, but I think the fear of touching elevator buttons or riding on public transit injects a strain of Albert Camus’ The Plague into the near-future workplace.


Work Unleashed — Where, When, and How We Work is Changing | Box analyzed a bunch of anonymized data and potted out how dramatically work is changing in the postnormal: We’re flattening the work curve.

Our Data Science team analyzed a massive set of completely anonymized data from usage patterns around Box. So far, they’ve learned that while this transformation is playing out differently in various industries and regions, a clear picture is forming:

1. The workday is changing. People are shifting more work outside of the normal 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. business day. WFH introduces flexibility into the day, plus we’re all juggling childcare and other home responsibilities.

2. Digital collaboration is increasing. Document sharing and collaboration have increased as dispersed workers and teams find new ways to connect and move projects forward.

3. We’re using more apps, and we’re using them together. We’re all using video conferencing, chat, and messaging apps for real-time collaboration, and we’re all using cloud file sharing tools. But we’re also seeing people use these tools together more than ever as we settle into our own new virtual work habits.

:::

Everyone Seems Okay With Remote Digital Collaboration, Except Maybe Managers | Joe McKendrick zooms in on managers’ difficult adjustment to remote work:

Two-thirds of U.S. workers say their quality of worklife has improved amid the recent COVID-19 disruptions. However, managers and executives are having a tougher time with things.

That’s the word from a survey of 1,000 employees and managers, conducted in April by KPMG, based in New York, which finds that 64 percent of workers say their quality of work has actually improved amid the disruptive impact of COVID-19. They report greater collaboration (70 percent) and that their team has effectively adapted to working together (82 percent) during this time.

Fifty-nine percent indicate that they had adequate resources to do their job remotely, and they also reported that their team is effectively using technology to communicate (87 percent).

However, those in management reported having a harder time adapting in comparison to non-management respondents, the KPMG survey shows. Managers are more likely to state their jobs are more demanding now (67 percent of managers versus 50 percent of staff employees), work/life balance is more difficult (55 percent versus 47 percent), and work is overwhelming (63 percent versus 39 percent).

[…]

Nonetheless, 40 percent of workers in the KPMG survey say they were left to navigate changes with inadequate resources. Among those who transitioned to working remotely, the most commonly cited challenges, after caring for children, are not having a workspace or desk and not having access to shared folders or collaboration tools.

Not that the 40% did not say they miss their managers. They miss their desks.

:::

Major companies talking about permanent work-from-home positions | Adedayo Akala summarizes various announcements:

Mondelez’ CEO said this week the coronavirus crisis has showed “we can work in different ways,” and as a result, the company does not need all its global offices.

Nationwide, which has gone to 98% work from home during Covid-19, announced a permanent transition to a hybrid model, with working-from-office in four main corporate campuses and working-from-home in most other locations.

Barclays CEO Jes Staley said crowded corporate offices with thousands of employees “may be a thing of the past.”

[…]

Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman is uncertain about what work life will look like after the pandemic but said the bank would need “much less real estate” in the future. About 90% of Morgan Stanley’s employees have been working from home during the pandemic.

In a related note: Icahn reveals his biggest short position: Commercial real estate. The crash of value in commercial real estate a few months ago was malls. But now, it’s going to wind up being corporate offices.


Sorry Zoom, this magic interface is the ultimate video chat | Mark Wilson explores the concept of the Square, an ‘artificial window’ into a virtual office:

The design firm Argodesign has created a concept called the Square. It’s an artificial window, created from an LCD screen that goes on the wall next to your desk. When you raise the shade, you can see a coworker, or two, working right there next to you. You can strike up a conversation, or ignore them. You can gossip, or hold a productive meeting. Just like a real office.

The Square

[…]

Of course, it’s easy to see the Big Brothery twist of owning such a device too. One wonderful thing about working from home is the option to go on a walk around the block or wear sweats without getting the eye from a peer or a manager. The Square would put you back on display, just as you are in a real office. This is a valid criticism. But then again, Zoom culture is already demanding a lot from us by activating cameras in our homes. At minimum, the Square could live in a fixed place, at a fixed angle, that would set up boundaries in your home as to where is work, and where is walk-around-without-pants-on space. Just be sure to pull down that shade when the day is done — just in case.


Elsewhere

Communications in a Time of Uncertainty | Uncertainty needs to be countered by clarity, which is now the pandemic imperative for corporate communicators.

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

Work Week | More Time To Think | ThinkingTime | Dropbox Profitable | Post-Pandemic Playbook | Google Unifying Communications |

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 |

Photo by Charley Litchfield on Unsplash

2020–05–04 Beacon NY | We finally have warm weather after weeks of rain, gloom, and a windstorm that felled many trees, hereabouts. It’s more crowded out in the streets, and walking around is a social occasion, not just exercise and decobwebbing my brain. I find that I walk similar routes each day, and find the same people on their porches, gardening, or playing with their kids. We wave, exchange a few words, and I move along.

I feel like I have moved to a different country, or an earlier time, when things were slower, and people were more connected to their neighbors. Maybe there is at least a hint of an upside.


Quote of the Moment

Maturity of mind is the capacity to endure uncertainty.

| John Finley


WFH

The Pandemic May Mean the End of the Open-Floor Office | Matt Richtel suggests that when workers start heading back to the office, it won’t be the office they left eight weeks ago:

The conversation about how to reconfigure the American workplace is taking place throughout the business world, from small start-ups to giant Wall Street firms. The design and furniture companies that have been hired for the makeovers say the virus may even be tilting workplaces back toward a concept they had been moving away from since the Mad Men era: privacy.

The question is whether any of the changes being contemplated will actually result in safer workplaces.

Then he decides to talk to office furniture companies, who really, really won’t people to work in offices. But then he brings out an epidemiologist to conclude with the inevitable:

Another basic step to lower risk, Dr. [Lisa] Winston [an epidemiologist] said, is simply having “fewer people in a space.”

Out with ‘hoteling’, shoulder-to-shoulder workers at long open tables, massive buffets, or working side-by-side on the whiteboard in tiny meeting rooms. Instead, masks all day, every day. Sneezeguards. No more shaking hands. More meetings out of doors.

And, maybe, out with the premise that we need to be in the office, at all:

In the end, the solution for many employers may not be to spend a lot of money on outfitting their new office spaces, but rather simply having many employees continue to work at home, as a way to accomplish two goals: keeping people safe and saving money.

This is the punchline of a story about the post-pandemic office makeover. In the name of safety, there is likely to be a long, hard look at money, too. In this case, the goals may go together like hand-in-protective-glove.

Moving to home offices “has worked really great,” said Susan Stick, general counsel at Evernote, a maker of digital note-taking programs with 282 employees. “You can’t put that genie back into the bottle.”

What Culture Really Means in an Age of COVID. | Nobl offers some good advice:

For many organizations, the transition to working remotely was so rapid, teams never had a chance to land expectations and boundaries. That, plus the ability to Zoom at practically any hour, means that many employees are finding themselves mentally depleted by Tuesday, and burned out from staring at screens all day. Everything is a blur. Whether things are breaking or blooming, now’s the time to:

Dedicate time to review and adjust your ways of working. Reset expectations and adjust team norms with our team charter and user manuals tools. These favorites help pressure-check when and how team mates can check-in on progress, align on how decisions get made, and what kind of meeting you really need. You can even try building a team calendar to set expectations on when people are available — you’re not going to get it right immediately, but the more you practice having conversations about what you need as a team, the better you’ll get at creating new norms together.

Get clear on what’s driving changes in behavior. Many teams are seeing massive increases in productivity. Determine whether this is due to positive factors (e.g., fewer distractions in the work day) or negative ones (e.g., people working longer hours). As a general rule, you should investigate any significant swing in metrics within your organization.

As a leader, ask for help and ask “How can I help?” Knowing when to ask for help is a vital skill, and modeling that for your peers and team helps increase psychological safety across a team. It’s critical for building a team’s learning capacity, which is more important than ever. Leaders have outsize influence, so think about how you can model both vulnerability and the need to establish boundaries.

qdo | A Slack companion app for creating dnd (do not disturb) time slots, and queues messages during those periods. This fixes the async problem with Slack.

Do deep work without distractions

qdo (queue do) removes trade off between productivity and communication by allowing you to reserve time slots for deep focused work without interruption and allowing your team members to create tasks for you or ask you for help without distracting you.

:::

Militancy

Another Way the 2020s Might Be Like the 1930s | Jamelle Bouie looks at the labor militancy of the ‘essential workers’ at Amazon distribution centers, Instacart delivery drivers, sanitation workers, and grocery clerks, spiking up in the coronavirus crisis, and see the echoes of the 1930s, which led to a surge in unionization:

It’s true these actions have been limited in scope and scale. But if they continue, and if they increase, they may come to represent the first stirrings of something much larger. The consequential strike wave of 1934 — which paved the way for the National Labor Relations Act and created new political space for serious government action on behalf of labor — was presaged by a year of unrest in workplaces across the country, from factories and farms to newspaper offices and Hollywood sets.

These workers weren’t just discontented. They were also coming into their own as workers, beginning to see themselves as a class that when organized properly can work its will on the nation’s economy and political system.

American labor is at its lowest point since the New Deal era. Private-sector unionization is at a historic low, and entire segments of the economy are unorganized. Depression-era labor leaders could look to President Franklin Roosevelt as an ally — or at least someone open to negotiation and bargaining — but labor today must face off against the relentlessly anti-union Donald Trump. Organized capital, working through the Republican Party, has a powerful grip on the nation’s legal institutions, including the Supreme Court, whose conservative majority appears ready to make the entire United States an open shop.

The inequities and inequalities of capitalist society remain. American workers continue to face deprivation and exploitation, realities the coronavirus crisis has made abundantly clear.

When Journalists Become Workers | Aaron Freedman reports on the unionization wave in American journalism, which reached a crest on April 18 when Vox announced that it was not laying off workers:

Vox Media — the parent company of several properties including Vox.com, SBNation, and New York magazine — announced in an internal memo that 9 percent of its workforce would be furloughed from May to July, in addition to pay cuts and reduced work hours for many other employees. But there was also a rare silver lining: a guarantee of no layoffs through the end of July.

This concession didn’t come from the largesse of the Vox C-suite, but days of negotiations with the Vox Media and New York magazine labor unions.

The efforts of organizers in journalist unions has changed the notion of professionals unionizing:

Unionization has had obvious effects on the material conditions of digital-media workers, who had been in precarious straits well before the pandemic thanks to the consolidation of advertising revenue by Facebook and Google. Demands for stronger severance and greater transparency about the financial need for cuts had already been key parts of many digital-media collective-bargaining agreements.

Now, amid the crisis, negotiations between management and WGA unions at Vice, Slate, and elsewhere are ongoing. “We’re having real transparent, honest dialogue about how to handle a mutual problem,” Lowell Peterson, the executive director of the WGA East, told me.

In more than a dozen interviews, digital-media workers and organizers described how unionizations have transformed skeptics into committed activists, and turned once siloed and atomized offices into genuine communities. The bargaining units, once laughed off, have become integral to the fabric of communal life in digital media, and an essential part of the identity of many members.

“I don’t think I could have pictured the day-to-day camaraderie that existed because of the union,” said Rafi Letzter, a staff writer for LiveScience and organizer for the union representing media workers at its parent company, Future. “A thousand HR Beer Thursdays don’t have the same ability to create that.”

As workers in other creative fields — from video game designers to museum guides to podcast producers — launch their own unionization campaigns, the successes of digital-media unions offer a path forward for organizing the nearly 60 percent of American workers who are professionals.

I feel a change a’comin’.

:::

Laughs

10 More Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings | Sarah Cooper is hilarious:

source: The Cooper Review

Hey! Every noun can be verbed!


Elsewhere

The Future Belongs To The Fast-And-Loose | What are the characteristics of digital-era top-performing companies? Adapting to disruption.

Work Week | Work Without Distractions | qdo | RPA for Coronavirus Refunds | Figma Series D, Catalyst Series B | AR Contact Lens |

Krugman on the Postnormal Economy | Things are blurrier than ever.

Mary Jo Foley Doesn’t Get Microsoft Tasks | It’s not a rebranding, but a rearchitecting

Google Meet For All | Coming to Gmail in the next few weeks

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