I can work anywhere

I can work anywhere, there we go, enough said, let’s move on.

Well, maybe the question, shouldn’t be can you work anywhere, but how can the environment improve and enhance your work. 

There is probably a deeper question about the nature of “work” in there, but I’ll leave that for the moment.

The pandemic has completely changed the concept of the workplace and patterns of working. There has been a lot of press and political rhetoric about people returning to work, though what they mean is much more about returning to the offices where people can work.

Back in September 2020 there was this article on the BBC News: Warnings of ‘ghost towns’ if staff do not return to the office.

Dame Carolyn said the UK’s offices were “vital drivers” of the economy, supporting thousands of local firms, from dry cleaners to sandwich bars. “The costs of office closure are becoming clearer by the day. Some of our busiest city centres resemble ghost towns, missing the usual bustle of passing trade.

This tweet echoed my thoughts on that article.

What would you rather have? A better work/life balance or the knowledge you’re keeping Pret open? Unbelievable.

The issue is that the genie is out of the bottle now, both staff and businesses are seeing the potential benefits (and the pitfalls) of working from home. This shift in working patterns will not go away, despite the feeling that the pandemic is “over”. This doesn’t mean that we’re all working from home permanently as we were under lockdown, but it does mean that we’re very likely not to go back to the way things were.

Waterloo

When I visited London in July 2021 and it felt deserted, almost apocalyptic. There was no one around as I went into our London office on that Monday in July. Coffee places were closed and the trains were deserted.

On more recent visits, London does feel quiet on a Monday and a Friday, though pre-pandemic, Fridays were often quieter anyhow. During the middle of the week, London feels very busy and crowded. There are queues for sandwiches and coffee. Having said that, looking into the office windows by our office and on the way into London, we can see many empty desks and meeting rooms.

However what does this all mean for the nature of work. I am reminded that work is something we do, not somewhere we go.

meeting
Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay

I remember a Twitter discussion, where someone was asking why anyone would work from the office one day and then work from home another. Their thinking was that the nature of their work was similar day to day, so why would you keep changing your location for working? I think this is a fair point, and for some roles where the day to day routine is repetitive then working in the same location can make sense.

For many people, including myself, what we do changes over the day, during the week and over time. Sometimes my work is about reading and making notes, add in there writing. Other times I am facilitating workshops, attending meetings, running meetings, having conversations, and so on. Throw in their online versions of these as well to complicate the mix.

My working pattern vary week to week, so each week I could be doing something different, and sometimes in different parts of the UK.

The pandemic certainly has changed my working patterns and I have a lot more online meetings (and events) in my diary than I did pre-pandemic.

I do like to consider I can work anywhere. I don’t mind if I am at home, in our different offices, at Caffe Nero drinking coffee, on the train, even sitting outside in the sun!

Having said that, the environment in which I work can impact on my productivity and what I do or produce.

I don’t really find having an online meeting sitting at a desk in the office, effective. I much prefer to do those calls in a meeting room where I can shut the door and control the external noise (also means I don’t necessarily need to wear a headset either).

If I have a lot of online meetings, than most times I will work from home, no one to interrupt me, and coffee easily on hand. Of course this changes during the school holidays, when I will more likely commute into the office to avoid disturbing the rest of the household.

When it comes to (online) presentations, a lot depends on where I am. In one of our offices, you can’t turn off the air-conditioning in the meeting rooms and it can be quite noisy, so in those circumstances, I will probably present from home (luckily for me I have decent broadband now). In one of our other offices I can turn off the air-conditioning in the meeting rooms, so have used them for delivering online presentations.

When I need focus, I am much more flexible, I am quite happy to sit at a desk (home or office), though I will sometimes prefer an external location, a place where I can drink coffee.

For mundane administration or processing of e-mail,  location becomes even less important. This is the kind of thing I can do on the train, drinking coffee, or waiting for a meeting to start.

If I have a day of online calls and meetings, then I really don’t see the point of commuting to the office and sitting at a desk with a headset, or hiding away in a meeting room.

Though I have participated in many online workshops with tools such as a Miro board, I have to say I am not really a fan. If, given the choice, I would much prefer to meet in-person and run that kind of workshop.

Of course one aspect of “going into the office” which can be difficult to recreate online, is that ad hoc meeting or conversation, the happenstance of someone you need being in the office on the same day you are, chatting with other people, as you make coffee, and so on. I do use tools such as Twitter, Yammer and even Teams for this kind of thing, but it is not the same. For somethings the online is better (think about sharing news and links), for others in-person is better for me.

Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay

Reflecting on the changing nature of work does mean that desks, offices and rooms which were ideal for the way we worked in 2019, are now not fit for purpose.

We might want to consider how and where people are working and then reflect on creating effective environments that enhance and enable productive working environments.

This might mean, more social spaces to encourage in-person interaction. Organisations which have a high level of online calls and meetings, might want to consider creating more acoustic spaces for people to do this. Where people do a lot of presentations, a TV studio type space might be the answer.

Of course the patterns of working with people potentially coming into the office for a day a week or a few days in the week, does mean that offices can be quite busy in the middle of the week and much quieter on Mondays and Fridays. 

Organisations may want to start thinking about how they will encourage people to come into the offices on those quiet days, what incentives could be in place, so that when people plan their weeks, occupancy of the office can be spread more evenly over the week. This could be travel passes (alas taxable), doughnuts, financial incentives. Or go the other way and use disincentives.

Within my own organisation, decisions are still being made about the future of the offices we have. However it is clear that we won’t be going back to what we had before. Even being a pretty much blended workplace anyhow, the covid-19 pandemic forced a non-office culture on everyone. Of course everyone won’t be able to work from home, and not everyone will want to work from home. Giving people a choice is important.

What I am hoping to see in the future is that office space encourages and enables different ways of working and that rows of desk working staff is not the norm for the future.

“Meetings are a waste of time”

meeting
Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay

It was with some recognition and amusement that I read a recent article in the New Statesman on a study of meetings involving 76 companies and 25,000 employees.

It’s confirmed: meetings are a waste of time 

I had shared my own thoughts on meetings with colleagues a week ago, which I had written in January 2021. So it was nice to add to that discussion with this article.

There are some interesting lessons to learn from the study.

The most common meeting structure is one in which junior employees do the work of providing information to a manager, then wait and watch while others do the same. Mostly, it’s a performance – one that cements the social hierarchy of the company and the authority of its managers.

I have been in many of these kinds of meetings. However as a manager I did try and avoid these and have more structured reporting and meeting as a result.

I find that often meetings are held because people don’t prioritise reading reports and want to be told stuff. Highly inefficient and also pretty ineffective way of sharing updates and information, more so when it has to be cascaded down (and across) the organisation.

There are tools out there that can automate reporting (such as JIRA) and be used to create triggers that can then result in a meeting or conversation to solve the challenge or issue. Otherwise it can be slow waiting for that fortnightly meeting to share a challenge that you didn’t even know was a challenge until it got brought up in a meeting!

Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay

Meetings are also expensive.

…if a manager uses a two-hour meeting with 18 colleagues to make some decisions, they’re spending person-hours equivalent to one person doing an entire week’s work.

This kind of resourcing impact is often missed by those involved in organising and running meetings.

I am not sure even if meetings are the most effective way of making decisions.

The article says when one multinational was asked about trialling meeting-free days:

managers at one multinational did what managers do: they called a meeting. Then another. Then another, and another, and another, and… “They actually had 17 recorded meetings, at an average of two hours… 34 hours of their lives, they spent to decide whether they were to opt in!

At the end of those 17 meetings, they still hadn’t made a decision!

envelopes
Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

So does reducing meetings increase e-mail, well the study found that:

…the reduction in meetings didn’t lead to an increase in the other great stressor of white-collar life: email. 

Add to that the quality of email communication and collaboration rose as well.

In fact, employees’ satisfaction with how they communicated rose. More hygienic meetings lead to more hygienic communication elsewhere.

As you might expect I also have some thoughts on managing e-mail.

It doesn’t mean we should never have meetings, the study was about reducing the number of meetings, raising the quality of meetings and improving communication overall. With the aim of improving performance and productivity.

I do think as well as reducing meetings you should also look at how you structure and run meetings as well. Thinking about the purpose of the meeting, the urgency, the importance and who needs to be there.

Blocking collaboration

meeting
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

I don’t think anyone thinks they consciously and actively block collaboration, but we often hear cries for more collaboration, so much so that we wonder why we don’t collaborate more than we do. In this post I will explore the reasons for collaboration and some of the blockers that stifle collaboration.

So what do we mean by collaboration.

Collaboration is defined in the dictionary as: traitorous cooperation with an enemy.

That may not mean what we think when we say collaboration. Of course there is another definition which is: the action of working with someone to produce something.

The key part of that definition is to produce something.

So, meetings are not collaboration. They may be part of the process of working together to eventually produce something, but the meeting in itself is not collaboration. Collaboration happens when teams produce something.

Why should we collaborate?

One of the key reasons behind this is about having a wider set of skills and capabilities to drawn upon to produce that something.

Another reason is that it can avoid duplication of effort, collaborating avoids the need for teams to do everything to produce something, but also duplicating effort that may have already taken place, or is being undertaken simultaneously.

Finally with more resource devoted, stuff can be done at pace.

So what are the actual blockers to collaboration? Usually it isn’t one thing, it’s a combination of things.

The working environment can often hinder collaboration, if you are a geographically dispersed team you may not meet people on a regular informal basis. Unless you build in those informal connections, it can mean that the formality of meeting (online) can get in the way of collaboration. Teams that don’t know each other find collaboration challenging.

Another blocker can be a lack of trust, so failing to accept the work of others and duplicating their effort in your own way. Collaboration requires both trust and acceptance of the work of others. This is also about delivering what you promise.

When teams have different or competing objectives, then this can result in teams moving at different speeds or in different directions. When objectives come from strategic priorities then this is less likely to happen, where teams set their own objectives and align them to the strategy then you can have conflicting or clashing objectives.

Where goals and objectives are not clear, this can cause confusion, different rates of pace and failure to achieve. Collaboration requires clarity of goals and objectives across all teams. This is then echoed across the tasks and activities, who does what, what do they need to do, when they need to have it done by and how long will it take.

Even with clarity of goals and objectives, it is vital that there is a process that checks progress against the plan. You can use concepts such as agile for this, but whichever concept you utilise, the key is regular checks of where you are, what blockers are stopping progress and what are the next steps.

If the team doesn’t know what is happening, a lack of transparency, this can block collaboration. Using tools that allow everyone to see progress can result in better collaboration.

Without effective communication collaboration can slow and come to a halt. This comes back my earlier point about meetings. Meetings are not collaboration, but can be important in facilitating collaboration, only though if they are well organised and run effectively.

Collaboration does require teams to plan and think about their ways of working. Compromises have to be made to ensure effective collaboration. You have to trust, and trust is a two way street.

Exceptional excellence

pedalboard
Image by William Gallardo from Pixabay

You can have exceptional staff who are performing beyond expectations and still have an underperforming department or organisation.

Over the years I have worked for and worked with a range of oranisations looking at strategy

When you have a poor performing department, you can still have exceptional staff within that department. 

The problem with conflating this is that staff are then penalised for poor or ineffective management of the department.

This is explored in this blog post on misunderstanding excellence, which explores the concept that excellence of an organisation is not dependent on the excellence of its parts.

The excellence of an organisation is not dependent on the excellence of its parts.

Why does this happen?

Well part of the problem is that personal objectives are set independently and often not as part of a co-ordinated plan. As a result individual members of staff can achieve (and surpass) their objectives. However as they don’r relate or directly contribute to the objectives of the department, the department can fail to achieve its required objectives. So you have have outstanding staff and a poor performing department.

Similarly you can have a departmental strategy which is independent of the corporate strategy. So you can have successful departments, but not a successful organisation. Often you find that support or professional services are particulate good at setting departmental objectives that have no bearing on the strategic direction of the organisation.

So when it comes to working this out, who is responsible?

Well you could say the departmental lead, but I do think it is deeper than that, as you can also have excellent departments, but a poor performing organisation, for basically the same reasons as outlined for individuals. An added factor is often departments writing their operational plan and then mapping it it to strategic objectives. This is done so that departments can then say (and believe) they are contributing to the strategic objectives of the organisation. One of the results of this though can be be duplication (different parts of the organisation undertaking the same activities), it can also mean that certain aspects of the strategy are not done, or the underpinning requirements are missed, resulting in departments being doomed to fail, or at least underperform.

So what is the solution?

Just understanding the various relationships between personal, departmental and organisational objectives would help. Recognising the dependencies and underpinning objectives required to achieve objectives would also be helpful.

Finally do the organisational strategic objectives work for the organisation? Does the organisation know what is required to achieve them? That is something that can be missed or more often people assume that they know what is required and that what they assume is required is the same as everyone else. That assumption needs to be challenged.

It’s not just about the tech, we also need to think differently

Zoom
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Over the last 18 months virtually all of my meetings have been on Teams or Zoom, or once on Google Meet. I can probably count the number of in-person meetings I have had on the fingers on one hand.

As with most people’s experiences, the experience hasn’t been excellent or even good, it’s either been okay or awful.

Over the next twelve months, I am still expecting that most of my meetings will still be on Teams or Zoom.

So how could we make things better?

The BBC published this article: Can better tech make video meetings less excruciating?

On most video conference calls, only one person gets to speak at a time. It’s a deliberate, designed feature of platforms such as Zoom. But as Susan D Blum’s linguistic anthropology class found out, it makes having a natural conversation practically impossible.

Though the technology can be a limiting factor with this, part of the problem is we are trying to replicate what we do in-person and do it online using a tool such as Zoom. The reality is that the nuances of what made the in-person experience so effective are lost when we translate to digital and we also don take advantage of the affordances that digital can bring.

So technological solutions are only part of the solution, the other key aspect is transformation.

There is some aspects of understanding why you need the meeting in the first place.

Meeting
Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay

Even though all my meetings these days are online meetings I found this article by Atlassian on making meetings better, useful and interesting.

Running effective meetings isn’t simply a matter of doing the obvious things like sharing the agenda and starting on time. While those things are important, they’re just table stakes. The real key to running a great meeting is organizing and running them with a human touch – not like some corporate management automaton.

They have a useful flow chart as well.

When it comes to meetings the article also says

Meetings should never be held for the sole purpose of sharing information – that’s what email, chat, and company intranets are for.

The fact that many video meetings are excruciating or awful, maybe that before the in-person meetings were equally excruciating or awful, but we didn’t recognise this and the tech has exacerbated the problem.

So before looking for technological solutions to meetings, start reflecting on why you are having a meeting in the first place.

      • What are the objectives of having the meeting?
      • Do you actually need a live face to face online meeting?
      • Could you meet the objectives in a different way?

A simple example, you need to review some content or a document. You could do this in asynchronous live online meeting, but this isn’t always very efficient. Online can exacerbate those inefficiencies and make for a less useful and rewarding experience.

An alternative approach could be to undertake an asynchronous review of the meeting, using comments and collaboration on a shared document. It would take “longer” than a meeting, you might need a week or a few days, but people could choose as and when to engage with the process.

meeting
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

One kind of meeting I attend a lot are catch-up meetings, where we go around the “room” and provide an update on what we are doing and is happening.

I refer to Atlassian again: Meetings should never be held for the sole purpose of sharing information – that’s what email, chat, and company intranets are for.

So post your updates on Teams, Yammer or the intranet.

One of the reasons why we don’t do that, is because people don’t read the stuff they are sent, don’t engage with collaborative processes, or ignore company intranets and tools such as Yammer. As a result we have meetings, which we know people will attend.

The perspective we can solve engagement issues by having meetings, and so we need to improve the online meetings, misses the key problem, which is the lack of engagement. This is a leadership and management challenge not just about improving online meetings.

People have a personal responsibility to engage with corporate communication, give them choice, make it easier, but to think you solve it by having a meeting, is a similar thinking that people read all their e-mail.

Could write more, but I have to go to a meeting!

Managing your holiday e-mail

letters
Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

I really like this presentation from Zak Mensah about how to deal with e-mail when going away.

Email is like the daily newspaper – every day past its print day its usefulness fades until two weeks later nobody cares.

I agree very much of what Zak says in his presentation. I certainly put in an informative out of the office and put all e-mail received whilst on holiday to a folder to be dealt with as and when.

Better meetings

meeting
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Even though all my meetings these days are online meetings I found this article by Atlassian on making meetings better, useful and interesting.

Running effective meetings isn’t simply a matter of doing the obvious things like sharing the agenda and starting on time. While those things are important, they’re just table stakes. The real key to running a great meeting is organizing and running them with a human touch – not like some corporate management automaton.

They have a useful flow chart as well.

When it comes to meetings the article also says

Meetings should never be held for the sole purpose of sharing information – that’s what email, chat, and company intranets are for.

I have been reflecting on meetings at my place of work and how they could be better.

We have meetings, however rather than focus just on making meetings more effective, it helps to understand the purpose and objective of what needs to be done, and then understand if a meeting is the best way to achieve this.

We clarify and agree the objectives of what we are trying to achieve and then identify the best practice to achieve these. We make better use of asynchronous tools for communication and collaboration and use live synchronous tools to achieve objectives which may require a meeting. We should not ignore the social aspect of people coming together and that may be an aim which can be satisfied by meeting (either on Teams or in-person).

We may want to abandon the concept of the regular meeting and only meet when there is a business need or problem that needs to be resolved.

We may want to take time to inform each other via other platforms and channels and each will need to take responsibility to access those platforms.

Meeting
Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay

If we are to have meetings then it is important to plan and prepare for that meeting. This isn’t just about having an agenda.

Any meeting should be planned to ensure that the following is in place:

  • Inform
  • What is being discussed
  • Why it is being discussed
  • What you hope to achieve
  • Anticipate information and people

What is the point of the meeting?

  • Do you need to have a meeting?
  • Keep the meetings on target
  • They are not about problem solving
  • Prepare ahead of time, not during the meeting
  • Meetings should be short
  • Don’t wait, if it says 9:30am, then start at 9:30am
  • Have rules about who speaks and when
  • Focus on the meeting, don’t do other stuff during the meeting

Catch-up meetings (stand up)

  • What did you do since the last meeting? 
    • Team members comment on whether or not their commitments from the previous meeting were met.
  • What will you do next? 
    • Team members explain what they’re working on today and will have done by the next meeting.
  • What issues do you have? 
    • Team members explain where they are running into trouble with certain aspects of the project, work, etc…

One important thing to note is that for the meetings to be effective, problems can’t be solved during the meetings. These issues may not affect the whole team. As a result, spending an excessive amount of time discussing these issues with everyone is not a productive use of team time. After the meeting, schedule a problem-solving session with the individuals who these effect. Such an approach will allow for targeted resolution.

Meetings should be followed up by some kind of list of actions with responsibilities and timeframes (SMART). There isn’t always a need for detailed minutes, but a clear list of actions should be shared and reviewed.

Zoom
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

I also liked this section from the Atlassian article on the differences between effective and efficient.

It’s important to distinguish between effective and efficient.

An efficient meeting starts promptly, stays on track due to good time management, includes as few people as possible, and achieves the stated objective. Job done, right? Wrong. Efficiency is a superficial quality. It says nothing about whether the right people were in the room for the right reasons, or whether the meeting generated any value for the business.

An effective meeting brings a thoughtfully selected group of people together for a specific purpose, provides a forum for open discussion, and delivers a tangible result: a decision, a plan, a list of great ideas to pursue, a shared understanding of the work ahead. Not only that, but the result is then shared with others whose work may be affected.

Though a lot of these principles apply to both online and in-person meetings, the current situation which means we have to always default to the online meeting, means even more importantly that we need to do better meetings.

Could write more, but I have to go to a meeting!

Why have the meeting then?

Still useful and relevant, 44 years later….

Well there wasn’t anything anyone wanted to talk about!

Why have the meeting then?

It’s the weekly meeting!

This staff training film from Video Arts, Meetings Bloody Meetings,  has been quite influential on how I approach meetings and how I feel about meetings.

The fact that this film is 44 years old and I still think others could learn from it, shows how challenging it can be to change the cultures within organisations. However it can be done.

Work is still something you do, not somewhere you go

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Over the last few days there has been a wealth of press coverage, politicians talking, discussion online about people returning to the workplace. Sometimes the talk is of returning to work.

Hello!

Hello!

Some of have never stopping working, we have been working from home!

The headlines in the papers and on the web seemed to indicate that people weren’t working and that they should return to work. This is quite insulting to all those people who have been working, and working during a crisis as well as supporting potentially children in their schooling, as well as avoiding meeting friends and family. The main crunch of the issue appears to be the impact of people not commuting to the workplace and the impact this is having on the economy of the city centre and the businesses that are there.

At the end of last week, there was this article on the BBC News: Warnings of ‘ghost towns’ if staff do not return to the office.

Dame Carolyn said the UK’s offices were “vital drivers” of the economy, supporting thousands of local firms, from dry cleaners to sandwich bars. “The costs of office closure are becoming clearer by the day. Some of our busiest city centres resemble ghost towns, missing the usual bustle of passing trade.

This tweet echoed my thoughts on that article.

The issue is that the genie is out of the bottle now, both staff and businesses are seeing the potential benefits (and the pitfalls) of working from home. This shift in working patterns will not go away. This doesn’t mean that we’re all working from home permanently as we were under lockdown, but it does mean that we’re very likely not to go back to the way things were.

As a result the rest of the business world and the economy will need to reflect that shift and adjust.

coffee

What sparked my post more than anything else was this Medium post about remote work in the US, Remote Work Is Killing the Hidden Trillion-Dollar Office Economy.

Businesses dependent on workers commuting to offices were finding revenues were falling and falling fast. Some were those provides food and drink.

Starbucks attributed the loss of some $2 billion year on year to deserted urban office corridors

Then there was business travel.

…in the air, white-collar workers previously kept a parallel economy buzzing, with business travel accounting for 60% to 70% of all airline traffic. While leisure getaways have also been obliterated, it turns out the bigger punch is the Zoomification of business meetings, a cancellation of business travel that analysts expect to persist for up to two or three years.

Then there are the changes in real estate, with some companies ending leases early, not renewing, or even cancelling new offices.

Pinterest turned heads when it announced it would pay a $89.5 million contract penalty to cancel its lease on a flashy new 490,000-square-foot office building planned in San Francisco.

In the UK we know that train companies are now looking to see how they can reflect the shift from five times a week commuting to the office, to a model where people will only travel two or three times a week to the office.

Yes there is a real issue with the loss of footfall in places like London and Manchester and this needs to be thought about and dealt with. The shift in the working population away from the heart of the cities will result in major changes across the economy, as well as direct impact on the city centre economy. However I do fell that this is also a real opportunity as well to reduce the dependency on commuting and mass daily migration from the suburbs to city centres.

Paddington Station

Last week the BBC reported that there was no plan for a return to the office for millions of staff.

Fifty of the biggest UK employers questioned by BBC have said they have no plans to return all staff to the office full-time in the near future.

Within my own organisation, decisions are still being made about the future of the offices we have. However it is clear that we won’t be going back to what we had before. Even being a pretty much blended workplace anyhow, the covid-19 pandemic forced a non-office culture on everyone. Of course everyone won’t be able to work from home, and not everyone will want to work from home. Giving people a choice is important. What I am hoping to see in the future is that office space encourages and enables different ways of working and that rows of desk working staff is not the norm for the future. I discussed this more in an earlier post on changes to my office working.

Personally I think that if we can use this opportunity to move the work landscape from one where large portions of the population scramble to get to a single location via train or driving to one where people work locally (not necessarily from home) then this could have a really positive impact on local economies, as well as flattening the skewed markets that the commute to the office working culture can have on house prices, transport, pollution and so on.

This view was echoed in the FT opinion piece (paywall) by Sarah O’Connor, Goodbye to the ‘Pret economy’ and good luck to whatever replaces it.

The article talks about the rise and fall of Pret.

The rise of Pret has mirrored the rise of London and, until recently, they both seemed unstoppable Yet last week, Pret said it would cut 2,890 jobs, almost one-third of its workforce, after the pandemic wiped out “almost a decade of growth” for the company.

As with many other people, when the call came back to head back to the office, thought, let’s be honest do we need to go back to the office, travelling on trains and buses as well as going out for lunch? The coronavirus is still there, infection rates are rising in some parts of the country and there is still no vaccine and no cure.

My working patterns were not regular or consistent before covid-19, now as we continue to emerge from lockdown I am certainly not expecting major changes to what I have been doing over the last five months, just the odd visit to the offices and not much if any other travel. This will mean less coffee and probably not going out for lunch at all, ah well.

Isn’t it time to start thinking differently about work and the nature of work?

Well some of us have been talking about this for a while now.

Back in 2016, Lawrie Phipps published a really interesting blog post on the nature of work, Something, not somewhere, and increasingly somewhen

The web affords us new ways of working, new opportunities to connect.  It furthermore allows for a richer experience of work and life, rather than forcing us to segregate our time from ourselves via physical location, allowing us to choose when and where we are most productive, and how to conserve our face to face energy for those times that truly require it.

The coronavirus lockdown forced many people to work from home, and though many found it challenging, some thrived. We became better at using tools such as Teams and Zoom, and many found they were more productive, though some didn’t.

Of course working from home is not for everyone and this is where thinking differently about work and the nature of work needs to consider not just working from home, but also working from an office. The office doesn’t have to be the office, it could be an office.

I do hope that we could start not just working from home, but working locally as well, maybe in physical hubs, or other co-location workplaces. That way you can still work from “home” by working locally, but you also get the other benefits of working in a space with others Of course this isn’t new either. Many companies already did allow staff to use local flexible meeting spaces for meetings and working. There are quite a few companies that can provide offices and desks to hire, though these are suffering just as much in the lockdown as well, but when that’s less restrictive there are possibilities.

Of course the economic challenge in all this is how these shifts impact on workers, both those who are now remote working, and those who were previously employed in all those support businesses. The economics shifts we’ve had in the past, in the main de-industrialisation, were often managed badly. As industrial and manufacturing jobs disappeared and new service and office jobs grew, this wasn’t evenly spread across the country, and the end result was areas of high unemployment, slow economic growth and poor social mobility. At the same time saw excessive wages and costs, and where demand for workers could not be met, we saw large rises in commuting, as well as huge increases in house prices, which then resulted in even more commuting.

As we have this paradigm shift in working patterns, we need to think about how we manage that shift to reduce the impact on workers (as well as businesses) that use to depend on other works commuting to the office, drinking coffee and having lunch.