Redesigning the Newsletter
Actually, I haven’t really gone anywhere, except that a few months ago my wife and I did move our residence , which includes my home office; the move was just 15 miles but it might as well have been 1500. As many of you corporate folks know, a physical move (especially after 17 years in the same place) is traumatic and time-consuming at best.
But the fact is that, like many of you, I’ve been completely overwhelmed just keeping up with everyday emails, contacts, presentations, client projects, new technologies, future-scanning, meetings, and personal development efforts. I worry that the future of work is going to keep on being like this – forevermore.
Sometimes I really wonder how we can ever make time to plan and prepare for the future of work, when the “today” of work is so demanding.
But I am committed to being part of a solution, not just a whiner about the way things are today.
While I don’t have any easy time-management principles to offer, I believe deeply that we all have to do a better job of setting (and keeping) priorities. Unfortunately, given my recent physical move and several client commitments, the Future of Work Agenda newsletter (which has appeared regularly on a monthly basis for almost a decade) drew the short straw, and I had to let it go into hibernation for a few months.
Now I am rededicating myself to sharing with you my current perspectives, ideas, and mental models for taking charge of your work (and your life).
One of the things I know about the future is that it doesn’t exist – at least not yet. We together – all of us alive today – are making decisions and taking actions that, together, create tomorrow. You have choices, and the choices you make influence not only your own future, but the futures of everyone else – sometimes in small ways, and sometimes in very big ways.
So here is a choice, and a commitment, that I am making: from today forward I intend to publish this newsletter on a more frequent (if not completely regular) basis. But I’m also going to be more informal and more concise, writing shorter articles that will inevitably contain more unanswered questions than guaranteed solutions.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and in fact I don’t want to. My goal is to stimulate your thinking, and to drive an ongoing global conversation – including any and all of you, as you choose to react, respond, comment, and raise your own questions in response to mine.
With that, here are several questions I’m thinking about these days (and will comment on in more depth in the weeks and months to come).
Please add your own to the list via the online Comment function below.
- What will the workplace look like in 5 or 10 years? Will the trend to more open spaces, and more variety within the workplace, continue?
- Has flexible work and work-from-home peaked out? Or will reliance on the corporate office as a common gathering place continue to decline?
- Will technologies supporting remote collaboration ever create experiences that rival in-person meetings?
- Why does there continue to be so much resistance to enabling distributed work and distributed teams? Isn’t that just the “way we do things” today?
- Why does video conferencing continue to be used so little, given what we all know about the value of eye contact and body language in fostering effective communication? That, in combination with more accessibility at lower costs, means video should be a much bigger part of our lives than it is. Why isn’t that happening?
- Why are over 70% of employees actively disengaged with the companies they work for? Will we ever invent a way of managing large numbers of employees that actually leverages their unique talents and capabilities?
- Why is there so much distrust in established institutions, both public and private? Is our cynicism about government and large corporations a signal that we need to invent completely new kinds of governance structures – and to build organizations that are based on the way we work today, rather than on leftover models from the Industrial Revolution? (I fully realize that’s more a statement than a question)
- Finally, how can we most effectively harness – and leverage – the absolutely unique talents that each individual brings to the workplace every day?
The future of work is not a place or a destination; it’s a journey we are all making together. I hope you will want to tag along as I continue to try making sense out of these kinds of questions.
I learn best in conversation with smart folks like you; I hope you will become an active participant in this ongoing conversation about we can work together to create a productive and engaging future at work.
Please add your comments and questions below.
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Thanks for the update. Here are some of my opinionated answers to a few of your questions.
I also suffer from the realities of the modern workplace and have thought a bit about what things sap our productivity. Priorities are certainly an issue, but much of what we do, especially when we work at home or are in some way self-responsible for our workplace, is not really productive, but still necessary. We have to maintain our computer, tablet and smart phone. In an attempt to optimize or update one thing, there are consequences that can’t been seen, and make simple things a headache.
In a larger company, a person makes the decision, test it, and then roll it out, when everything is optimized, and everyone else lives with the status quo until that time. The time frame for changes is getting shorter and the optimal solution gets harder to find as more systems are interconnected. It is the typical: update the operating system and find out that your printer is no longer supported and needs to be replaced. Incompatibility pervades many levels, from interfaces (wrong Bluetooth), lost data because it can’t be transferred, updates that don’t work, or just are different enough, that we need time to learn what has changed. Of course, we are unwilling to leave old systems in place, when there is an opportunity to reap the benefits of the new. But we usually discount or ignore a large part of the costs involved in moving forward.
Video isn’t a bigger part of our lives, because it is inefficient. Certainly, communication is better when we have the benefits of body language and eye contact, but the majority of systems are not offering enough visual cues to make the system worthwhile. It is like the uncanny valley of robotics, getting more information through the video but not having enough information means that we need to put more effort into the communication to understand everything that our partner is saying (or not saying but communicating. A simpler form of communication filters the information stream better and so we need less effort to understand it. Reading the news is faster and more effective than watching it. Image how long it would take to go through your email if everyone was presented as a video. I see much potential in telepresence systems and we are hoping to work with these systems soon, but not yet.
Hello Jim (and all):
Jim, I’ve been a bit of a lurker and not very visible or vocal since we met out in Prescott a few years (a lifetime) ago. And I have moved quite a bit afield from the type of work that you are doing, yet I am still interested. I don’t propose that I have all the answers either, but one thing really struck me in what you wrote Jim. Specifically:
“…how can we most effectively harness and leverage – the absolutely unique talents that each individual brings to the workplace every day?”
What struck me was the terminology. I’m a believer that words matter. They create the realities that we exist in or can work (along with behaviors) to change them. As someone who left the corporate world behind nearly 20 years ago it was because it was not a place I could exist and use the “…absolutely unique talents” that I brought. I felt expected to fit into a mold, often stifling who I was to be and do what the company mandated. Using the terms “harness and leverage” as you do takes me back to the cog-in-the-wheel-like feeling that drove me out. One harnesses horses and energy perhaps. Does one really harness people? (I understand that wasn’t likely your intent when you used the word, but hey, you asked….) One leverages investments, or gains leverage. Again, when applied to humans it feels like to leverage is to “make the most of” in a way that leaves me – the human – in not much control.
Perhaps the questions about future workplaces are ones of “how to unleash potential” and “how to grow processes to foster future accomplishment” or some such things rather than harnessing and leveraging. My 2 cents. Thanks for the platform….
Paula, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. It’s nice to hear from you again. I hope you are doing well.
I think you “got me” on the use of the word “harness” – as you surmise, I certainly didn’t mean it any exploitive or derogatory way. I’m actually pleased you picked up on the topic and focused on unleashing people’s unique talents, because that idea is becoming central to my own thinking about how we can improve organizational practices. I particularly like your use of the term “unleash.”
And I don’t have the same negative reaction to “leverage” that you do, because I do believe that well-designed organizations can provide leverage to individuals – to help them have a much bigger impact on the world than they can alone. Yet I also understand your concern (which I share deeply) about individuals being taken advantage of, or losing control of their own work. It certainly happens all too often in the real world.
Anyway, thank you again for your comment – let’s keep the conversation going. I’m in search of more meaningful language and concepts to address the issue we’re both concerned about; maybe we can make progress together.
Great to hear from you as always. You might remember I left all our corporate clients behind about 8 years ago for the development world. My partners and I have been nurturing a major transit oriented, mixed use development in our community. With all required entitlements in hand, and with the real estate markets in an increasingly cooperative mood, we are now engaged with the capital markets for equity funding to begin construction. Germane to your discussions about the future of the corporate workplace, institutional and opportunity funds are very interested in residential opportunities (apartments and for sale housing), but not at all interested, today, in the office sector. Although the employment picture is slowly improving, capital market sources looking specifically at our project so far cite uncertainty about future demand for corporate space, given that technology mitigates the need for some or much of it.
Interesting for me to hear from Wall Street guys their observations about telework, open space design, office sharing, etc. One cavalier quip….”If you build a corporate building, make it small.”
Take care Jim,
If the last ten years have taught us anything, they have taught us that there still exists some deep, almost unfathomable human resistance to distributed work (which to my way of thinking is almost purely cultural). How else to explain the small percentage of the workforce that calls the workplace any place they do the work?
My wife and I, for instance, just bought a house on the Cape. It is an investment first, and a vacation home second, but our vision included an office for Maria that would allow her to work from West Barnstable just as if she were sitting in her office in Croton-on-Hudson (where she works just as if she were sitting in her company’s offices in NYC). What’s more, by following Charlie’s outline for the perfect home office in “Corporate Agility” we have actually been able to make it an even more efficient workspace than she has here at “home.”
So, Monday afternoon we were on the Cape, and during a routine conversation with her boss she mentioned something about our plans for the evening, causing him to ask: “You mean you’re in Massachusetts, not New York?” In other words, the quality of her work–i.e., her responsiveness, her progress on projects, etc.–gave him no clue as to where she was, but only to what she was doing. And of course her company doesn’t have to pay the electric bill on the Cape, which is something we’re happy to do in order for Maria to have the freedom to move around, while working.
Hello Jim, It seems it is only some industry types that can easily be flexible with mobile work places. My partner can work anywhere being self employed and within IT and Broadcasting Industry needs, I work within the financial market and have found this is not so flexible for mobility. Allowance for young mothers is good but for the rest of us…mobility is not available. So on reflection… all depends on what you do and who or what industry you work within. IT is not all and everything to everyone.
Bronwyn, thanks for your comment – and yes, you are right, there are many variables that point towards mobility/flexibility, or not. And the job/task requirements have to be the starting point. I’m curious about why you can’t work from home occasionally in the financial industry. That’s all information-based isn’t it? What aspects of your work require you to be in the office? (I’m sure there are some, I just don’t know what they are)
Great questions and ones which are very relevant to my work in making workplaces productive places to work over the last 20 years. I am now at an age that I can afford to be more reflective and interested about the future workplaces that my grandchildren will experience in their lives. Thinking and reading around the subject has got me to wonder about an even more fundamental question than workplaces.
What will the nature of that work be in the 20-30 years time and how will that demand translate to workplaces? There are a number of well respected authors that raise the question about the impact of automation, IT, and globalisation upon the type of jobs that currently employ masses of people. Back in the mid 1990’s Jeremy Rifkin wrote his book “The End of Work” arguing that most routine work would be replaced by technology and that unlike in the industrial revolution it would be difficult to see how new opportunities would create large industrial scale employment. Others too have argued this over many years but with technology becoming more sophisticated at ever increasing rates of change perhaps we need to widen discussion on this topic.