The future of working…
Much has been written over the past few weeks on the future of working patterns, especially related to fixed locations versus remoting working (or ‘distributed working’, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re reading this). I’m sure that post Covid-19 not everyone will return to their office, instead choosing to be a fulltime home-worker. I listened to a fascinating Sam Harris podcast the other week on ‘The New Future of Work’. In the episode, Sam interviewed Matt Mullenweg, the American entrepreneur who currently heads up Automattic, the people behind WordPress, WooCommerce and Tumblr, to name a few. Automattic now has just a single boardroom-style office, which is quite something for a company of around 1000 employees. Unsurprisingly he’s a BIG advocate for remote working and all the benefits it provides.
But what about the fact we’re, erm, human?
This approach appears to work well for Matt and his team and I’m sure all organisations will be reassessing how and where they locate their staff in the coming months. Indeed, last week the CEO of Barclays, Jes Staley, announced that having big, expensive city offices “may be a thing of the past”. Although I’m drawn to the argument for more remote working and the benefits it provides in terms productivity, economic and environmental considerations, I still have a few nagging doubts based on the simple, but critical, human and psychological need for social interaction and physical proximity. While working from home is manna from heaven for introverts (I’m very much in this category) it must be torture for extroverts.
Thriving, not just surviving
Reflecting on Matt Mullenweg’s story – which I think is truly inspirational – my working assumptions with ‘so what’s’ are:
- Not everyone who has been forced to work remotely will stay remote. At the same time, not everyone who worked in an office pre Covid-19 will head back. A rapid – and perhaps the most rapid in peacetime – workforce redesign exercise across virtually all organisations will start as soon as the first glimmers of hope emerge of the end of lockdown.
- Extroverts will have to grow to love (thrive not survive) the concept of not always being close to their colleagues. This is a challenge not just for individuals, but for leaders who most likely have both introverts and extroverts in their team. Adapting leadership styles to take account of the needs of both personality types will be key to successfully managing a dispersed team.
- The success Matt has seen with Automattic is only partly based on changing people’s habits and needs. I suggest that, certainly over the last few years, he simply recruited folk who don’t want to work in an office and deepened the culture that already existed. There are many lessons for business in what Matt has done, and what he and Automattic represent but… dear leaders, don’t assume this model is right for every organisation in every industry and in every country.
- In order to exploit lessons learnt from the past few weeks and not rush headlong into a new one-sized fits all model, leaders of teams that have been forced to work remotely should NOW be:
- Taking stock of how their teams are, how they’ve coped with lockdown and their capacity and capability to cope with more change
- Communicating their, and their organisation’s, plans – however embryonic – on the future working environment
- Reflecting on what worked well while in lockdown and what didn’t to inform workforce redesign strategizing
- Pushing their line management, HR teams and Learning & Development teams to help them get their teams ready for the next wave of change that’s about to hit them. Unlike the rapid reaction to Covid-19, the response to the lifting of lockdown can be planned for to maximise the likelihood of the new world being better that the old.
Chris Milliner, Director of PCS, May 2020
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