The big reset. What’s the future of work?
Across the Pond- Marketing Transformed
35. The Big Reset. What’s the Future of Work?
Last week, we talked about leadership and how leaders had to adapt quickly and that one of the most critical parts of leadership is bringing everyone together. And that’s difficult to bring everyone together, when you’re working remotely. Interestingly, I’m working at the moment with one CEO who’s joined on day three of lockdown. I’m working with another CEO who relished the opportunity to be in the office around the team. Certainly, they saw that as what made them tick that interaction.
Also, I’m seeing junior managers promoted into new roles, or starting new roles, finding it difficult to define their new management persona and out of sight out of mind I think is a real issue, Sam when everyone’s remote. So, we’re going to explore how to overcome this and discuss how the work environment will look, and how that will stimulate growth and creativity, and we’ll do that as the world works out how to get us back to work and what that really means.
What does back to work really mean for the future? We’re also going to look at what we can learn from these countries and companies that work remotely as a matter of course. Did you know, Sam, Germany has the highest remote workers? I was quite surprised at that, the US is number four, I believe.
Yeah, that sounds about right.
And we’re going to see what we can learn from those countries and companies that haven’t seen any drop off, in terms of productivity as well. Interestingly, most CEO in trades are going to have pretty close to the top office space, what do we need and what are our options? And most junior managers are going to be questioning whether they like the new way of working and how do you stimulate the team.
I think there’s a lot of people who have got quite used to remote working. And it’s interesting, that even before Covid19, there was a Stanford professor and he’s one of many that’s talking about the workplace killing people and nobody cares. A gentlemen called Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford graduate school and interestingly within that article, he’s kind of talking about how stress is critical and how CEOs are the cause of the healthcare crisis because they’re the cause of stress, stress causes chronic disease, chronic disease is an enormous burden on the healthcare cost. Now, that’s clearly in the US, but I think it really shows that stress holds great presence in the workplace, and it might change. Post-Covid employees should look to make effective change. So, if remote working is increasing and no one cares from a workplace perspective, where does that leave us, Sam?
All good points there, Chris and it’s a bit saddening to hear that no one cares, and the data and the research on how toxic and disruptive it is, is quite worrying, and equally there are some bright spots.
If you look recently, I know it’s changing on a real time basis, but a woman called Kate Lister, who’s president of a firm called Global Workplace Analytics, her prediction is that thirty percent of people will work from home multiple days per week within a couple of years.
The Human Connection
So, this shift and the difference in percentages across countries and cultures is likely to increase for those jobs that you can do remotely. Obviously, if you’re in a manufacturing business or transportation or other industries you can’t work remotely. So we are really talking about more of those other professions where you can. But a toxic or negative workplace culture won’t get any better in this environment, because the technology itself won’t and can’t really overcome the barriers, in terms of communication, ways of working, power dynamic and management capabilities. All of those skills that you need to work well are still fundamental. And I recall, in a former employer, the adoption of Workplace by Facebook, which is their Facebook for work type product, for those who haven’t experienced it, which was initially actually resisted by IT, which was an interesting one.
There was left by the communications team, and leadership were quite reticent to participate in it, it was a perhaps more traditional hierarchy company. And I, you won’t be surprised, was an early adopter and it was an interesting experience where there was some sneering and sniggering at why are you doing it? Why are you always commenting and uploading video and content and sharing what you are up to? It was tough to get leaders on board, but slowly but surely they did, and they could actually see value and I think that type of communication became more of a regular cadence and a regular build, people actually saw the value of communicating in different modes and different ways.
As we look forward, look to today and the future, I have absolutely no doubt that remote work is going to be relabelled and probably going to be understood as distributed working, which is a kind of different philosophy. So, it’s not that we’re remote from the centre, there is no centre, we’re distributed in a dynamic way. People who are able to, perhaps, work closer to where they live or gather in smaller hubs or work in smaller collectives essentially, they might only need to meet up on a quarterly or biannual basis or even an annual basis, at an all hands type set up or all hands type meeting. And the headquarters, the corporal headquarters or the single headquarters could be more of a luxury status symbol that may happen because a lot of companies are already treating that in that way, shifting to a new dynamic.
Yeah, I mean that’s really interesting. It almost mirrors retail in a way where the physical presence becomes the experiential part rather than the actual delivering part. But cynically, it also reminds me of back in the day 1999 as well, a long time ago where flexible working was the buzz word at the time. I was working for BT, a telco at that point in time. Obviously already thinking they were about five or six years ahead and they had this remote network of sort of satellite offices, you could go and work in whatever office you want, all around the M25, state of the art office. What was actually really revolutionary from a cultural perspective, that these multi-million-pound offices were absolutely empty on a Thursday or Friday and everyone migrated to the smallest, grottiest, oldest office in London and near Holborn, because that had the best pub next to it. All the twenty somethings, thirty somethings, that was much more important than anything shiny. And I think that’s a good point about you can haul the best laid plans, you need to adapt to human culture, and human culture wants to congregate and socialise as well. So, be interesting how that works out, Sam.
Yeah, human connection’s not going to go away, it’s going to be different, we have to see how that evolves. And as you talk about that there as to how people behave when given that option there’s another dynamic that is happening which is a shift to the idea of a flipped workplace. Which is more about the ability to facilitate, to coach and engage digitally, right? It’s about connecting with people in a way that really elicits engagement.
I’ve worked and I’ve run an abundance of sessions where the feedback has been, wow, you’ve actually designed this for remote workers, for people who have been working in companies for ten years and it’s the first time they’ve actually felt this interaction wasn’t just a traditional, dare I say boring meeting. It’s about being able to listen well and multitask but you’re not doing it from a place of doing multiple things, you’re actually using signals to interpret how well the team is understanding and digesting the information. For example, I’m not sure how many people have used the annotation function that some of these platforms have, I do it in Zoom, which is the ability to get people to draw or to write or to mark, to vote, but to do something interactively on the screen and that means you do less presenting. So, if there’s an hour meeting, you’re doing less talking, you’re actually soliciting a discussion and you’re using audio and visuals to get the best out of people.
So, you really need to listen, you really have to design the content for the audience, for engagement. It’s less about what you want to tell them, it’s more about who you are talking to and how better to connect and engage with them. It’s about asking questions and having that set up to engage in discussion and be flexible and somewhat let go of control when you are connecting with people.
Yeah, I’ve tried that. It’s ok, Sam, I think. But again, I think, people need to be educated on what to do and time to get to grips with it. I think over time the use case will improve, it’s not actually that intuitive at the moment and many different demographics will need to get used to different ways of operating. So, I think the tech still probably has got another iteration before we can really be that happy with it, but a lot of remote working already works very well.
Greater deep-thinking time, better quality of life, as long as you can sort your bandwidth out at home, less commuting time leading to less overall pollution, and there’s a new industry springing up around home working or remote working which we’ll talk about a bit later on.
But, physical contact, the need to bring people together- that’s irreplaceable. Or is it? Do we just need to get used to it not being there? That applies equally to the way we work as it does to the way we shop.
I was really interested, I read this article with the Tesco boss, David Lewis, Tesco grocery retailer in the UK and worldwide now. In 2016, he ran a ‘Doomsday’ exercise to plan out how and if they could cope if their head office had to shut down completely. I mean, interestingly, he remarks that, that was seen as a bit of an extreme example, like what sort of scenario would mean that we would have to close down? Now, sounds like great foresight now, doesn’t it? But thanks to that exercise, I think Tesco felt like they were semi prepared for remote working, two years they’ve been using Zoom to get staff together, and their headquarters normally has six thousand five hundred workers, which I think is amazing, and it’s not down to thirty people in their headquarters.
But interestingly, and I thought this was fascinating, obviously that stuff they’ve done well in the past pre-planning, but in the article he talks about how Tesco had to radically change what they did to operate, the obvious ways in terms of retail presence, protective kits, physical distancing, one way systems which we all know now, but at the same time, it’s also about how management teams adapt, as well. Although everyone is breaking records and meeting targets, they’re still not meeting demand, which is pretty amazing at the way they’ve more than doubled the amount of home delivery slots, I think one point two million they managed to get it up to and now it’s about one point five million. But at the same time, everyone’s trying to provide greater capacity, but no one really knows what the habits are going to be of consumers after the Covid19 crisis is over and becomes a distant memory. Will they return back to previous habits or will new habits be born? And I wonder if that’s the same for employees as well, Sam?
Just Another Fad?
Well, from the employee perspective, I think I’m going to make that call, like in one of them TV shows where they’re going to call an election or call a result, and say: ’Look, yes, this remote culture is gonna stick around for a while, it’s here to stay’. There’s a couple of factors that are really coinciding. One of them is the safety concern of going back to offices, and also in the last decade or two, there’s been this backlash against open plan, that’s been built into a lot of office structures and office cultures, and in the US it’s already started with companies shifting their back to work model.
So, they’re saying, ok, as we go back to work, over the mid-term to long-term we’re going to do it differently. And in the US, Nationwide, which is a Fortune 100 insurance company, have said they’re actually going to have smaller offices in locations where maybe there’s a state mandate, they need to for legal or other sort of reasons, management or agreements they have in place on a state by state basis. But ultimately, they’re actually going to transition to a new hybrid model where they’re going to have I think four or five corporate offices, reduce down all the others and shift employees to a permanent remote working status, and they’re probably already doing that without much say so from those employees. So, that’s just a shift that companies are going to make before the end of 2020.
There’s probably cost saving but there’s going to be a culture shift in doing that. The other challenge going on is to really enforce social distancing in the office without leasing new space. Companies are probably going to have to reduce the number of people in offices, anyway. So, that’s something that’s just going to have to happen. About seventy percent of offices in the US are open plan and so they’re going to have to redesign those or design in how many people are there and with this backlash I talked about, there’s just been a lot of data and evidence saying, look, these open plans haven’t really been productive, they have reduced productivity, they haven’t actually delivered better collaboration.
In this new environment they’re probably going to have to put in more cubicles and private spaces and mitigation to prevent groups from, quite frankly, from breathing on each other. You’re going to have better materials, fixers and furniture, hygiene dispensers, even air quality circulation now, those standards which are in place, they’re probably going to be higher, because employees are probably going to be more scared and concerned about it and they’re going to want certainty before they return.
In the building industry, before the pandemic there’s been an evolution to a more human centred environment but there’s more and more data and documentation and the industry really is vested in making an office environment better, because there’s lots of infrastructure and businesses in that sector that unless they build a better structure and experience, humans aren’t going to want to go back to offices.
Well, we should look to China, Sam, for an idea of where this could lead and what leaders will have to cope with. Many of their decisions will be about creating better wellbeing for employees and customers alike. It’s fascinating, there’s a number of reports about this as well, picking up on some points you said, in 2019 it was reported that China’s air pollution levels were half of what they were in 2014. But interestingly, there was a report called ‘Every breath we take’, which is a nice title there, which reported that twenty five percent of office buildings surveyed had worse air quality than the air outside, which I think is absolutely staggering. And as a result, in recent years, it’s reported that office leases have decreased by about four percent in areas with high air pollution and therefore, people are voting with their feet, which is fascinating and actually now.
There’s a lot of companies, a lot of real estate and architects actually trying to address that. And again, China leading the way in terms of their response, looking at temperature checks at the start of every work day, allotted arrival times to reduce congestion in elevators, limiting elevators to two people at a time, separating employees into an A/B team, each team alternating days spent in the office to limit density, larger distances between desks and one way flow systems. So, a huge number of measures that have been taken tactically, I suppose with regards to Covid19. But, at the same time, they’re addressing that air filtration system and have been and have upgraded a lot of the air quality in their offices. But this is an issue in the west as well.
Clearly, business owners are legally obliged to ensure that they’re offering workplace health and safety, but a UK YouGov survey reported that seventy percent of workers complain about poor air quality, and a third of workers surveyed a concern that indoor air quality is negatively impacting their health. There’s a whole load of other stats, but the bottom line is that people believe that it’s affecting their productivity and it’s affecting their health. So, I’m interested, Sam, how will this affect us on a day to day basis and our productivity and creativity?
Well, Chris, that’s a big question, and as we look forward we should think about what changes are actually going to stay and stick with us in the way we work and the way we market in the future. I can see a few, and I won’t go into it. There's like multiple lists out there but one of the ones I think is going to impact our physical and cultural workplace is this mantra of management by walking around. Which is a phrase that Tom Peters, I think, was popularised and he claims in his thirty years of management this is the biggest idea that he has. Which is basically the simple premise of simply walking around and connecting with people in person. So, this is not new, this is not a new thing but as we return to offices, I think there’s going to be a huge need for leaders to actually engage with people and to have that skill of building and cultivating those relationships.
Now, obviously, in the digital form, how easy is it to get a CEO or senior leader or for example CMO, to do that well? I don’t mean for them to be bombarded all hours of the day with messages, but I feel that there is a role for them to be able to access and engage in forms, be it videos, messaging, town halls, phone calls, making themselves available. Having multiple ways of connecting with their reports but also, showing up with the wider organisation and it needs to be in an engaging kind of way. So, that’s one thing leaders are going to have to continue to do.
The other thing that’s going to shift in how we work and we’re going to demand a difference is that, standard nine-to-five will become a thing of the past. The ability to just treat people as adults and masters of their own productivity and creativity. One of the ideas I love and that I’m seeing much more of these days is companies giving their employees stipends or money basically or reimbursements for equipping their home and turning it into a more productive office space. So you don’t need to fear where the laptop stand is, people are getting extra keyboards and mics and screens and those types of things being sent to employees just to improve their productivity. For example, very specifically, there is a realisation that you kind of need two screens. If you’re in a remote session and you’re trying to share your screen and present something, you actually need one screen perhaps showing the people on the call on the other screen to actually manipulate.
So, these are the kind of basics now, shifting how you show up and how you operate at home. And the other thing that I think is going to be around for a while is, movement to a shorter work week. This four-day work week is going to become even more needed as we see more and more data that people are actually working longer during the Covid environment, so, now, they’re going to be demanding a shorter week and a different compensation to cover the fact that they’re actually working longer and harder.
Where to Invest
Yeah. Absolutely good points there. Do you know what? I saw an article where it basically said, ‘I bet you don’t think that the cost of office chairs is overpriced now’. And I totally identify with that, where you’re suddenly sat in your dining room chair for about five weeks you just think, oh my god, this is ridiculous. So, yeah. Equipping your office. I’ve just invested in a stand-up desk - hasn’t arrived yet but I think that will revolutionise it, and there’s a whole new set of customer needs to be met. Again, how one crisis becomes an opportunity; there's a new market being created here. Stand up desks, Sam. I’m not sure that’s up your street but again, they’ve seen quite a lot of demand.
There’s a nice review from a lady called Rachel Krantz from Bustle who tried out a treadmill desk for a month and wrote about it and actually, talking about how it stopped her dreading going into the office, it made her feel less claustrophobic, she felt that she was actually claiming her life back a lot more and some really, really positive stuff. You get, it’s horses for courses isn’t it? Some people talked about increasing energy and that working and of course, you’re helping achieve that ten thousand steps a day target.
But other people find it a bit distracting, getting a little bit sweaty in their work outfit in the like, which horses for courses. And it’s not just treadmills, there’s obviously the desk cycles as well but fascinatingly, I don’t think there’s as much interest in desk cycling as there is in treadmill but, guaranteed both of those will go through a few iterations as they come. And the one thing that kind of strikes me about all of this is, already, there is a combination of focus on wellbeing of employees as well as seeing new opportunities from a commerce perspective. So, yeah, lots to look out for I suppose.
You’re hitting the nail on the head there, Chris. In terms of the shift in what actually matters and this health and wellbeing now, is becoming even more. So, we’ve talked about air quality and the physical environment, the ability to have a standing desk is no longer something that’s for the elite or the senior leaders, it’s just seen as something that helps me do my job and do it well. Other forces that are in play that I think are going to a better place are the forces that will push the workplace to become more equitable.
Ultimately, what we’re going to be doing more of is collaborating, connecting to drive a problem with a solution. Then we’re trying to come up with ways to implement a decision that’s already been made and so, there’s more emphasis on facilitation sessions and creative sprints that allow us to really drive business growth, versus in prior- the standard meeting where a boring PowerPoint is used to send people to sleep. That should be on its way out because in this shift to remote work if all you’re doing is back to back to back remote meetings, what ultimate productivity is happening? And that is being questioned more and more.
There’s obviously a resisting force to this and the decline in face to face interactions may mean that there’s a risk for the elite, those at the headquarters physical space may actually have more connectivity and more presence, and equally though, with this more distributed workforce and that mindset, there’s more opportunity for these remote groups to actually connect using the technology, using chat, using messenger, using video. They actually have more resources available and it’s designed for the operations of the company. I think the other thing that’s going to be very powerful is collaboration in the cloud. It’s very, very significant in terms of who gets credit and who does work in secret or in public.
There’s going to be a mindset shift of true collaboration and being more transparent, and that should start to show up in the culture, because there’s going to be more balancing between synchronous and asynchronous communication. So, there’s no divide between who gets the information and who doesn’t. And there’s going to have to be more planning and consideration so, it’s orchestrated in a way where everyone receives the information and everyone gets the recognition and everyone can participate, whether you’re in Australia or America or the same company, now that stuff is becoming more important and you’re going to have to figure out how to do it in a fair way for everyone, not just the single headquarters located in one country or in one state.
Yeah, I like that. That’s like the block chain for recognition isn’t it? so tracking the recognition through from start to end and how you identify that. So, Sam. Look at the time, it’s just gone really quickly today. Amazing really. I think there’s so much more to talk about on this subject.
Today’s Three Key Takeaways
I believe, we have to face the fact that the shift is here to stay. The percentage of remote working will increase, and it will continue to increase.
You’ve got to start to think, we’ve all got to start to think how we stand out as an employee? How we get our point across and continue to get the recognition and the rewards for our work.
People are going to be voting with their feet. Employees and customers and consumers are shifting their behaviour, so, the question is, how are you going to act?
Yeah, brilliant, Sam. I think episode 36 is going to be fascinating. back to that CEO, who’s new in managing the business in lockdown. What do they do? The junior business manager trying to make a mark, how do you tackle this? And really, honestly, I think wellbeing will be the name of the game. Financial wellbeing, customer wellbeing, employee wellbeing, so, all areas that we will be exploring in the next session, number 36, Sam.