Why do we work the way we do, reimagining how work can be like (Part 1)

Leadership Memo 2021-8

As I mentioned in my previous post titled Watch out for Inequality and Bias for Remote Workers in the Hybrid Office, companies around the world have been contemplating whether they should bring the workers back into the office, or allow them to work remotely indefinitely, or maybe try having a hybrid environment. The easiest decision is to go back to what we were used to, what we were familiar with. However, I’d like to challenge us to rethink. We are at a unique juncture, a moment in history, where we can reassess why we work the way we do, and reimagine what work can look like.

In the previous millennium, after the Industrial Revolution, factories were the new commonplace. To manage work, people put in place and formalised certain systems, structures and practices. I’d like us to focus on 3 of those practices:

  1. When: 9-5
  2. Where: factory/office/“headquarters”
  3. How: meetings are the best way to collaborate  

Let’s discuss each of these practices separately.

1. “When”

During the pandemic, we realised that even if we’re not working with international teams, remote work doesn’t have concrete signals to start or end our work day. As a result, remote workers are working longer hours. Also, we found we have more time, thanks to no commute and no business travels. We also have more flexibility in how we use our time to balance our work and our personal lives. And despite the fears of many CEOs, many organisations saw no demonstrable loss of productivity.

So, what if organisations think beyond 9-5 and trust the teams of workers to set their own schedules based on their circumstances that keep them healthy, sane and productive?

2. “Where”

Just the term “remote” implies that you are away from the place where work is usually done. So, just from the language, it’s apparent that the office is still viewed as headquarters for work. While it was necessary in the last millennium when there were no home internet or laptops, we are long past needing to prove that work can be done outside an office. Obviously, some types of work require workers to be in the office (e.g. working in a lab), while others allow workers to work from anywhere as long as there is an internet connection and a laptop.

So, what if organisations think beyond the office and trust the teams of workers to decide where work happens, whether it be in the office, or some co-working space that is closer to their homes, or anywhere else that is most productive for them?

We’ll examine the third practice next time. In the meantime, how are you doing with the “what if”s? What prevents you from doing what the “what if”s suggest? Drop me a note below and let me know.


Latest happenings:

1. On 16 August, 5pm Pacific time / 17 August 12 noon NZT, come join me virtually in New Zealand as I give a free workshop titled ”How to ask people to dance: Creating better spaces to be more inclusive at work” to Business Agility Meetup, Wellington (WellyBAM). This is the last time I’m giving this workshop, so don’t miss it! Register here.

2. On 24, 25 and 26 August, I’ll be giving a brand new free workshop titled, “What does it mean by inviting people to the party?”. We will tackle the question of Diversity as we take you on a Liberating Structures adventure that goes beyond ticking the standard diversity boxes. We are offering this twice. Go here to find the appropriate time zones and register.

3. Catch up on my latest podcast, “The Trojan Horse that leads your Transformation to Agility”, as I talked about how to evolve Finance and HR departments to transform your entire organisation.

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