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The Way We Were: Why the Future of Work Will Be So Different

Future Exit Sign 000018627375XSmallWe have just celebrated Memorial Day weekend in the United States. It has been an opportunity to reflect on our good fortune as a country, but more importantly to give thanks for the millions of servicemen and servicewomen who sacrificed their lives to protect us in way too many wars.

But this time of pausing and reflecting also got me thinking about how the working environments where most of us spend most of our waking hours have changed over the past twenty years – and will change even more going forward.

Those of us of a certain age can remember when our families sat down in front of the big box in our living rooms that brought us the 6 o’clock evening news. We shared that experience with our neighbors near and far; most of the country absorbed that information at the same time, and from one or the other of the three major networks that brought us all the television news and entertainment.

And most of us had one telephone somewhere in the front hall or living room; but we only used it for short, functional conversations with our neighbors and nearby relatives (calls were billed by the minute, after all). Once a year we might call a distant grandparent for a short “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Holidays” message; long distance calls were prohibitively expensive and the sound was often tinny and full of static.

In short, we didn’t have much choice in how we got our information or stayed in touch with out-of-town family and friends. Our world was relatively limited.

And the way we worked was very similar. Read more

Bring Out the Blue Chairs

Conference RoomPlace matters. Last week I focused on the way most of us knowledge workers are moving around from one workplace to another, finding “the place just right” for getting our work done.

Sometimes we need a quiet place, sometimes we want to engage with colleagues in an informal lounge-like area, while other times we attend meetings with either focused group decision-making or open-ended brainstorming agendas. Each of those activities works best in a different physical setting.

Okay, that makes sense. But how does the design of the workspace affect your mood, your creativity, your ability to concentrate? More importantly, how does place impact conversation? And how does a change of place change a conversation?

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How Times Change

Sometimes we can learn a lot about the future of work by looking at the past.

Here’s a very brief video that reminds us of the subtle (and not so subtle) ways that new technologies change our work habits. Enjoy! And laugh with me.

(it’s only four seconds long, so look quickly – anyone over 50 should get it right away. [continue reading...]

Future of Work Agenda: November Issue

This is the November issue of our free monthly newsletter, Future of Work Agenda. We welcome comments on any of these articles. You can also access the newsletter directly on our website, at this link.

It’s hard to believe the extended “holiday season” is just about upon us. It’s been a tough year for just about everyone. However, we’re seeing some encouraging signs of a genuine recovery. [continue reading...]

Diane Coles of SCAN Health Wins National Award from IFMA

We’ve just returned from IFMA’s World Workplace 2009, where we joined the other authors of the IFMA Foundation’s new book Cut It Out! in a series of presentations. Cut It Out! is a practical action guide for facilities managers that will help them “save today while building for tomorrow.”

But here’s the big news:  At World Workplace 2009 our friend and client Diane Coles, Director of Workplace Services at SCAN Health Plan, received IFMA’s highest national award, the George Graves Award for Facilities Management Achievement.

The George Graves award is presented to the individual or team whose facility management program or idea has had a substantial, positive effect on the success of their organization. The award winner demonstrates innovation, and their achievements are used to educate other facility management professionals. The judging panel consisted of the previous winner of the award and six additional IFMA members.

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New Book on Cost-Efficient, Sustainable Facility Practices to Debut at World Workplace

We are very pleased to share the following special announcement from the IFMA Foundation (Charlie and I authored one chapter of the book and did much of the production and quality-control editing):

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HOUSTON — (Sept. 11, 2009) — The IFMA Foundation is pleased to announce a new publication detailing how facility professionals can immediately cut operating costs, institute sustainable building practices and gain a voice in the strategic facility decisions made within their organizations.

Cut it Out: Save for Today, Build for Tomorrow is an 11-chapter quick-reference guide focused on efficiency and featuring distinguished authors from organizations such as Jones Lang LaSalle, SCAN Health Plan, iNPOINT Advisors and the Work Design Collaborative.

The new book will be formally unveiled during a press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 7, at 3 p.m. during the International Facility Management Association’s World Workplace 2009 Conference & Expo in Orlando, Fla. It has been produced in partnership with Steelcase, JohnsonDiversey, Acuity Brands and other industry-leading companies.

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Dump Those Cubicles!

Here’s some new evidence about how cubicles actively discourage collaboration.

Harvard Business Review online has just published a provocative short piece by Laura Sherbin and Karen Sumberg called “Bulldoze Your Cubicles for Better Collaboration” (special thanks to fellow twitterer @JessicaPeterson for the link to the article).

The idea really isn’t new, and the data isn’t that surprising, but it’s nice to see the recognition growing that cubicles don’t work – and don’t produce effective results for their “inhabitants” either.

Here’s the opening paragraph:

Companies are finally realizing what their employees have known for ages: Cubicle cultures just don’t work. With concerns about knowledge-sharing among older and younger generations of employees skyrocketing, organizations are concluding that impersonal “cube farms” discourage collaboration, stifle employee engagement and, as a result, strangle innovation at the exact time when it’s desperately needed.

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July/August Issue of Future of Work Agenda Newsletter

[This newsletter is being emailed to registered subscribers today, July 7. We are reproducing it here for your convenience. The newsletter is also available through our website at this link. You can subscribe to the newsletter here; we produce 11 issues a year, every month except August. The newsletter is free and will remain so as long as possible.]

From Jim and Charlie

“Summer time and the livin’ is easy.”

Huh? [continue reading...]

Virtual Work and Personality Types

If you are at all interested in flexible/mobile work, you may find this new article by Michelle Conlin of Business Week worth reading (“Is There a Virtual Worker Personality?

Michelle is an excellent writer about the world of work, with a deep interest in flexible/remote work and all its implications. She was the author of another BW article back in late March describing how telecommuting was shifting from being an employee perk to a corporate imperative (“Telecommuting:  Once a Perk, Now a Necessity“).

I blogged about that article here, and added some additional perspectives on our experiences at SCAN Health, the company featured in Michelle’s article (there’s also an even more-detailed description of the SCAN story in this post).

But back to work styles. This latest article highlights the interaction between working remotely and personality type. Her conclusion:  introverts have serious difficulties working out of the office (no real surprise – that’s a perspective that Charlie Grantham and I have been suggesting for years).  She’s got some good anecdotal data, and even cites a more formal study of several hundred mobile workers at Cisco Systems.

Five years into the mainstreaming of mobile work, there’s a growing enlightenment, buttressed by new research, that the benefits of working remotely are actually a bit more complicated, and nuanced, than the cheerleaders said. In all the effusive rah-rah’ing over this great employee unleashing, many managers overlooked a simple fact:  Some of us are simply not—by temperament, psychology, or personality type—wired for the life of the digital nomad.

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More Thoughts on the Value of Presence

I seem to be inundated these days with articles and blog posts about the differences between “being there” and interacting with people remotely.

Just yesterday I blogged about the story in last Sunday’s New York Times about the continuing importance of face-to-face interaction (“Place Still Matters – A Lot“).

And now I want to refer you to a recent article in Impact Magazine (a publication produced by OM Workspace, the contract furniture division of OfficeMax).

The article (“Face to Face: Design and Technology for Collaboration“), by Elizabeth Hockerman, explores an important but all-too-often unasked question:

Mobile technology provides untethered freedom. So why do millions of people still partake in the dreaded rush-hour commute to work?

The answer, of course, is that they want to be with other people – and there’s still an almost-universal gut sense that face-to-face communication is still more powerful than “virtual” meetings, even with the increasingly powerful collaboration tools now available (there’s also the harsh reality that lots of those people would work remotely if their employers would let them, but that’s another story altogether).

Ms. Hockerman quoted one “expert” on the subject:

“The main reason people go to the corporate office is to be with other people,” says James Ware, executive producer of The Work Design Collaborative LLC, based in Prescott, Ariz. “There is a tremendous power in face-to-face meetings. Same-time, same-place can spark a powerful source of collaborative innovation and meaning for people.”

Read more