7 things you (workplace folk) should know about the #futureofwork – #wtrends14

I spoke yesterday at the Workplace Trends conference in London. The overall theme was Designing for Inclusion. Neil Usher (a confirmed, but lately absent, tuttler) got together a dozen fine people to present our thoughts in pecha kucha style (20 slides each, 20 seconds per slide). Under the stressful bondage of the format, I can’t be sure what I said, but the first half of what I intended to say was about coming to understand the need for less structure in working life, but that no structure at all meant nothing much would happen – that we have to introduce just enough structure to make something happen, and no more. If I remember rightly (ask someone who was there), I then I went on to talk about what people like me can tell people like them about what to expect in the future workplace.

I’m not so arrogant and narcissistic as to imagine that the future of everyone’s work will be just like mine is now, but I do believe William Gibson’s idea that “the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed” and that the ways of working that the people I hang out with are developing will become much more widespread. I have no firm evidence, just an observed trend in that direction over the last ten years, that things we do are becoming more mainstream.

So here they are:

  1. We’ll work anywhere
    We recognise that no environment will ever be perfect, but we can make the most of any space that comes along.  Stop worrying about making somewhere that fits every need – keep it simple and we’ll adapt.
  2. But not necessarily the same “anywhere” everyday
    There is no single space or form of space in which people can best work.  There are times when conversation is required, there are times when the group needs to work quietly side by side and then there are times when everyone needs their own private space and total isolation.  So it can be anywhere, but it will not be the same anywhere all day everyday.
  3. Allow for user-driven co-creation
    Your staff are likely to be doing co-creative work outside of “work work” no matter what they do 9-5.  This might not be in a traditional creative form like crafts or singing in a choir, it could just as easily be learning through the co-operative playing of a game in a virtual world or being part of the building of a world-class encyclopaedia online.  We see ourselves as co-creators of our experience and of the things that matter in our world.  So we’d like our “anywhere” to be partly co-created with us and we would certainly like to be able to modify it together rather than waiting for someone else to sort it out.
  4. Remember that your people are highly connected
    People in any organisation are directly and regularly connected to their customers, stakeholders and competitors and they are connected with each other too.  They compare notes and they have worked in other places.  They know when their organisation is cutting corners or giving them a raw deal in comparison to their friends.  We want the best of what eveyone else has, but tailored through a co-creative process to our own current needs.
  5. Flexibility means “Small Pieces Loosely Joined
    No single individual or organisation has to do everything.  In fact, the best environments, those most flexible and conducive to creativity, come about when they are made up of “small pieces, loosely joined“.  We want to be able to pick’n’mix the elements of our working environment and be able to replace one element with another easily.  We don’t want to be locked in to any one furniture solution or combination just because it seemed like the best way of doing things yesterday.
  6. Balance homophily with diversity
    We learn a great deal about ourselves through exposure to diversity in our environment.  We get to see ourselves differently, reflected in the people we meet and work with.  But we also like to work alongside people with whom we share common ground.  Homophily means “birds of a feather, flock together”.   Help us to meet and work with other people, but allow us to be with our own herd when we want to be.
  7. Get behind tummeling
    Even when you do all this, when the pieces of the puzzle are laid out perfectly, it will not work in the way you thought it would.  When you gather people together, you never really know what is going to happen.  And that is good! It’s a feature, not a bug.  What you then need are a few people who will take on the role of holding the space and reminding people what they are there for.  This is not facilitation or management, not telling people what to do, rather, it is being the conscience of the group and creating a field in which the group can explore what they are there to do.  It requires a special sort of person – one who combines calm presence with the ability to motivate and inspire.  We call these people “tummelers” which comes from the Jewish tradition of having someone who encourages participation in festivities.  You know these people, they are the ones among you who not only *can* herd cats, they positively enjoy doing so.  Insist that your spaces include a tummeler.


When #tuttle was attracting a crowd of about 80 people every week at the ICA, the old-school networking entrepreneurs came a-sniffing. “How can you do this?” they asked. “You’re supposed to keep people out, that’s how you make people want to join, then when you’ve created sufficient demand, people will be eager to pay to get in, but still you keep it exclusive and the demand and the prices grow and grow.” And I just said “I don’t know. I can’t be bothered with all that. If people want to come, let them.” And they continued to make a living at it and I didn’t make a bean. And I’m happy with that.

On the other hand, there were people who came and said “Oh, I know how to get you more people here. You should be having speakers and a theme every week and have a website so that people can join in online.” And I said “No. That’s not what I’m interesed in, thank you. If people want to come who can’t come, then they can start their own.” If I was feeling polite.

I’m still attracted to the idea of a club that’s just as big as it needs to be. It’s not for everyone and it’s not trying to be. But it’s also not keeping anyone out if they want to be a part of it as long as we’ve got space in the room. And if we don’t have enough space, perhaps we need a bigger room or another branch.

I’m thinking about this because I’ve been looking at ello which seems to want to be Facebook, but nicer, without the ads, but with no clear sense of what’s going to support mass participation other than ads and avoiding the question of how the current investors are going to make their money. There was quite a kerfuffle when it arrived, because we do seem to want something other than Facebook and Twitter and the rest, but this really doesn’t seem to be it.

And then along comes tilde.club which feels much closer to #tuttle territory. It’s not meant to be a social network. It’s just a server with a bunch of user accounts, like the account I had at University until 1996. Many of the users are re-creating that early web vibe, but others are just using it for writing again and the social aspects of simply writing and linking to other people’s writing are being explored and rediscovered. All just on one server. And only restricted because there’s only so many people you can support. If you want to do your own, then you can do your own.

When I suggested we call the London Social Media Cafe “The Tuttle Club” there were a few people who bristled at the word “Club” but I think it’s what I want. A club that has me in it. And my friends. And some people that I don’t know yet, but might find interesting to talk to.

So I bought the tuttle.club domain name. And it’s making me think.


I just caught myself thinking that I might settle down with a nice cup of tea and watch the telly.

This isn’t quite as bad as it once might have been. I wouldn’t actually have been watching a broadcast on BBC1 or anything like that. I’d have been choosing from something on Netflix. Or perhaps iPlayer. But at least I would have been choosing what I watched unlike the old days when we watched what they wanted us to watch.

Shocked at my unconscious move to passive consumption, I thought about writing something here. In fact I thought about a whole load of stuff I could write. And then I got to thinking about my favourite old blogging fantasy. That after a hard day’s work, I would eat my dinner and then instead of watching telly, I’d sit down and write about my day, about the things I’d thought and noticed. Every day. Well apart from, you know, a few days here and there. But really that I would have that sort of routine, that sort of everyday life where you do things every day.

And I don’t really. Or if I do, I resist doing things every day in order to avoid the pain of having an everyday life.

So I opened up my laptop and then before I knew it, I was scrolling through Facebook. Which, of course, is just a very slow crowdsourced version of watching telly. And then I finally got round to writing something and this is it. No wonder I don’t do it every day.