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.
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4 thoughts on “7 things you (workplace folk) should know about the #futureofwork – #wtrends14”

  1. I don’t disagree with what you, but I think the distribution of this kind of flexible working might be limited to certain sectors and levels of society.

    For people working in much of the service sector – shops, restaurants, finance, say – they will continue to work from their premises.

    There is a political dimension here, of course. Those who can afford to work flexibly – knowledge workers, say, who use intellectual rather than physical labour to generate income or wealth – might be the privileged few, for whom others do manual work.

    (Just thinking aloud, really. There’s some way to go…)

    1. But, for people working in call centres – why should they have to come to a big office? All that’s needed is an internet connection & a screen.

  2. Patrick -yes, I think you have a point. This is more about current office workers than those in shops, cafes, restaurants, hospitals and the like. That said, the way we work, and the way others work will have an impact on everyone and I expect there will be unintended consequences.

    Terence – yes, in theory, you’re right. A call-centre operative can work from anywhere. And many do. There is much to be said for a collective environment to counteract loneliness, to foster loose connections into tighter ones which can improve performance, to learn by osmosis and to really feel part of a team, part of something. That is very hard to replicate remotely.

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