A great post pandemic sorting among knowledge workers and organizations at hand.

More than a year into America’s great work-from-home experiment, many companies have hailed it largely as a success. So why do some bosses think remote workers aren’t as committed as office dwellers? Recent remarks of numerous chief executives suggest the culture of workplace face time remains alive and well. At The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit this month, JP Morgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon said remote work doesn’t work well “for those who want to hustle.” Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has called it “an aberration that we are going to correct as soon as possible.”

Source: Bosses Still Aren’t Sure Remote Workers Have ‘Hustle’ – WSJ

These comments demonstrate that for some organizations, gathering daily at a centralized, commute-in office (CCO) is an integral part of their cultures that cannot be easily erased in a single year. But it should be borne in mind that while CEOs have a large degree of influence on their organizational culture, it’s not absolute. Cultures are defined by all their members.

Now that their staff members have been freed of the personal time burden of daily commuting, many are understandably reluctant to reassume it. Knowledge organizations are now having to redefine their cultures for the post pandemic world going forward. They’ll undergo a sorting process as some staff depart for more virtual organizations while others who prefer working in a CCO align with CCO-based organizations — most likely those who live close by.

Certainly working in a CCO has its advantages, such as the social contact and in person communication with colleagues. But as commutes grow longer as metro areas sprawl and housing costs rise, the daily trip to and from a distant CCO becomes impractical where it might not be in small towns and less congested areas where knowledge workers can commute to the office by foot and/or bicycle. These less populated locales have also proven popular as CCOs closed down over the past year and knowledge workers sought more affordable and less congested settings, some in other states and countries.

Some knowledge CCO-based organizations may become the office equivalent of teaching hospitals where senior staff and managers closely interact with and supervise more junior staff and inculcate them in the cultural ways of their organizations. Others such as boutique consulting shops won’t have CCOs and attract as they have in recent years experienced people who can work as location independent team members and don’t require close supervision.

Pandemic forced organizational change, shattered Industrial Age boundaries defining knowledge work

Pandemic social distancing restrictions served as an organizational change intervention, forcing knowledge industry organizations to reassess their cultures and beliefs about how work gets done. Pandemic restrictions virtually overnight switched off the gravity that pulls knowledge workers into a centralized, commute-in office workspace. As those restrictions are lifted amid mass immunization campaigns, knowledge organizations continue to confront these fundamental questions.

For most knowledge organizations, their cultures are strongly rooted in the belief work is being definitively performed when people are present in the office, reinforced by social connections made there and functions such as group lunches and celebrations. The organizational hierarchy is visually represented and reinforced in the office layout, with managers assigned corner and window offices and the rank and file in cubicles on the inside of the floor. A knowledge worker’s manager is clearly identified on the organizational chart. Clocks on the wall define when work is expected to be done.

A decade before the pandemic, author Dave Rolston in his 2013 book Four Dead Kings at Work predicted the death of these anchors that traditionally defined the boundaries of knowledge work in the Industrial Age: 1) One centralized workplace; 2) A single manager; 3) Performing a single defined job and pay grade; 4) At the same time each week.

The pandemic hastened their death requiring organizations to flex or abandon them. The elimination of the centralized office workplace and the erosion of the 8-5, Monday through Friday work time diminished the first and last of the kings, bookended by the daily commute. After more than year of foregoing commuting, knowledge workers have realized the enormous personal time burden it imposes, taking time away family, community, and health promoting behaviors such as adequate sleep, exercise and home cooked versus takeout and restaurant meals. Not to mention clothing and transportation costs.

This realization within knowledge organization has major implications for where knowledge workers will live in the coming decades and for traditional urban planning predicted on centralized settlement and development patterns forming sprawling metro areas requiring ever longer commutes.

Going virtual requires rethinking how knowledge work gets done

Transitioning to a truly remote workforce requires a top-to-bottom rethink of how business is conducted on an everyday basis, with an emphasis on asynchronous communications. This is the single most difficult thing companies face when making the transition from a “meetings-first culture to a writing culture,” Hansson said. “Most newbie remote companies thought remote just meant all the same meetings, but over Zoom,” he said. “That led to even more misery than meetings generally do. You have to make the transition to an asynchronous writing culture to do well as a remote company.”

Source: After embracing remote work in 2020, companies face conflicts making it permanent | VentureBeat

As knowledge workers and their organizations have de-emphasized the role of the centralized, commute in office (CCO) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the problem of too many online meetings has cropped up under the moniker of “Zoom fatigue.” Essentially, it’s creating an electronic office where working is defined by real time presence. As David Heinemeier Hansson of Basecamp (formerly 37Signals) explains, there is more to shifting from a CCO-based organization to a virtual one than where the work gets done and communication about it occurs.

The other factor in going virtual involves not just becoming more location agnostic. It’s also becoming more independent of when those activities are performed. Not everyone needs to be working and communicating at the same time, i.e. 8-5, Monday through Friday as established in the 20th century Industrial Age economy. As Hansson notes, that requires moving away from real time spoken communication in meetings to written communication.

And that’s a good thing. Writing forces people to more carefully think through their thoughts and ideas and what it is they want to communicate. It also provides a written record of challenges and progress on a given project. As more knowledge organizations become virtual, this is an important cultural step in the transition. And it has broader social and environmental benefit, according to Hannson:

Aside from operational efficiencies, remote working also benefits the environment, something that became abundantly clear early in the global lockdown. NASA satellite images revealed an initial decline in pollution in China, but as the country gradually resumed normal operations, pollution levels increased accordingly. Much of this change can be attributed to traffic, and Hansson feels remote work is one way to help the planet while improving people’s mental health.

“I’m less interested in how we might benefit [from a greater societal push to remote work] as a company, and more interested in how the world might benefit as a whole,” Hansson said. “More remote means less commuting. And for a large group of people, a better, less stressful life. That’s a massive step forward for the planet and its inhabitants.”

No going back to the office: Death of kings of industrial age knowledge work being hastened by pandemic

Lifestyle changes take about four to six months to become established habits. For organizations, the time scale is considerably longer. And years for society as a whole. The principle is new habits and ways of doing things must be repeated over sufficiently long durations in order to become firmly rooted. Once they have, a break with the past has been achieved and change has occurred.

The social distancing of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the rapid virtualization of knowledge work as working in crowded cube farms and centralized commuter office (CCO) spaces was not conducive to controlling the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The course of the pandemic in much of the industrialized world will likely play out over roughly an 18-month-long timespan.

That’s long enough for organizations to grow accustomed to working virtually, especially since some were already doing so well before the pandemic’s public health restrictions hit in spring 2020. Knowledge work has been undergoing a fundamental shift for years, disintermediated by information and communications technology (ICT) that no longer requires a set time and place for performing it.

In his 2013 book Four Dead Kings at Work, author Dave Rolston identified four rulers of knowledge work in the industrial age: set job duties performed under a single manager at one place (the office) and the same time (8-5, Monday-Friday). The pandemic has hastened the death of at least two of those monarchs: time and place. By the time it ends around the middle of 2021, it’s likely few knowledge organizations will use their office real estate as they did before the pandemic. Working virtually without co-locating staff in office space during set business hours will have become an ingrained habit by forced adjustment. There will be no going back to the daily commute to the office habit. Knowledge organizations will look to downsize their office real estate footprint and more rationally utilize it.

For many, elements of existing office space offer smart conference rooms to better enable complex presentations, deep discussions, brainstorming and strategizing. But sprawling square footage of offices and cubicles will no longer be needed. The space could end up being converted to residential living space placed on the housing market or to house staff and guests attending those presentations, deep discussions, brainstorming and strategizing sessions when spread over multiple days. Other possibilities include recreational and fitness facilities, theaters and food services.

Knowledge workers can do without the daily commutes or the office furniture, observed Sid Sijbrandij, co-founder and CEO of GitLab, at the CNBC Workforce Executive Council virtual event. But as social beings in an organization, they require camaraderie, he adds. That can be had virtually as well as face to face in other brick and mortar settings such as eateries and conference centers, both of which have been severely adversely impacted by public health restrictions and will be looking for a post-pandemic bounce. Organizations and work teams can convene in them on a less than daily or weekly basis and carry less office space costs on their books.

Shift out of centralized commuter offices a long term trend

What will COVID do to housing? Home builders, city planners and market watchers say the jury is out on whether the COVID-19 pandemic will in fact prompt deep long-term changes in Sacramento communities. Will more Sacramentans move to the suburbs or to the hills for elbow room, figuring they may no longer have to deal with a congested commute to downtown offices? Will home prices continue upward, making home ownership increasingly elusive for many? Is it time for home builders to chop up their open-floor plans and begin building sound-proofed offices and home gyms? Or will the COVID era fade by next spring if a successful vaccine arrives, sending state workers back to downtown offices, people back to fitness centers for their workouts and families and friends back out to restaurants, bars and clubs? “Is this just a 2020 thing, or a 2025 thing?” University of the Pacific economist Jeffrey Michael said.

Source: Coronavirus, home prices send Bay Area families to Sacramento | The Sacramento Bee

It’s actually a 21st century thing. Information and communications technology advances are replacing the roads and highways of the 20th century when knowledge workers needed to commute daily to centralized, commuter offices (CCO). No more. They can begin their workday as soon as they get up and have a cup of coffee rather than an hour to two later after arriving at the office.

This is a long term trend. Public health infectious disease control measures put in place with with current pandemic accelerated it. The gravitational pull of the CCO was already weakening.

Working against the trend is a persistent belief that the best knowledge work requires knowledge workers to be in the same place every day — the office. Face to face communication is important since knowledge workers like other humans are social beings. Reinforcing those social connections however does not require a centralized workplace and the hassle and time suck of the daily commute since meetups can be most anywhere and anytime that’s convenient. What’s needed now as this story suggests are homes with dedicated office space. Also neighborhood co-working centers within walking or cycling distance. Performing knowledge work in the 21st century need not involve turning the key to a motor vehicle or boarding public transit as it did in the 20th.

Silicon Valley renders itself obsolete

Out of habit, inertia, or just a plain fear of change, many white-collar workplaces have avoided allowing employees to regularly work from home — but that may soon change. Plenty of so-called knowledge workers are finding that they can comfortably do their job from just about anywhere they have a wifi connection and their laptop. Large majorities of workers in the consulting & research (85%), insurance (84%), advertising and marketing (73%), finance and financial services (70%), legal (68%) industries have been doing their jobs remotely as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, according to the NBC|SurveyMonkey data. Among these same workers, most report wanting to either work from home all the time even when it is safe to return to the office, or at least wanting to work from home more often than previously.

Source: How Silicon Valley work-from-home ‘forever’ will hit every worker

Silicon Valley as a centralized work location has essentially rendered itself obsolete. In its early days, it was all about location. It had fertile mix of engineering talent, proximity to Stanford University and the larger San Francisco Bay Area as well as plenty of space for microchip and computer manufacturing plants run by household names such as Intel, Hewlett Packard and Apple Computer.

People and place combined to make Silicon Valley what it is. Or was. Now the world changing information and communications technologies it innovated as this article points out allow knowledge work to be done most anywhere, regardless of location. Even Silicon Valley.

And not a moment too soon as high housing costs and long commutes over congested freeways have made it a less desirable place to work. But Silicon Valley certainly deserves kudos. Its products have helped shrink the time and distance burden of daily commuting, benefiting knowledge workers wherever they make their homes.

Rethinking knowledge work

Bosses acknowledge that remote workers don’t suffer from productivity problems. Research has found telecommuters who can work outside normal office hours and don’t have to spend time commuting often are more productive than their cubicle-bound counterparts. Rather, managers want their teams within view and are willing to trade some efficiency for the serendipity that office-based conversations might yield.

Source: Working From Home? The Boss Wants You Back in the Office

Although information and communications technology (ICT) has eliminated the need to commute to an centralized, commuter office (CCO) every work day, many organizations stubbornly cling to the old paradigm out of habit even as peak hour traffic congestion grows and makes it less practical and inaccessible.

Diane Mulcahy notes executive and human resources professionals contend the CCO supports team-building, culture and collaboration. That’s likely true. But it comes at a terrible personal cost to staff member wellness and work satisfaction, not to mention the cost of maintaining CCOs. It’s not a good and sustainable tradeoff and it’s time to acknowledge that circumstance.

Silicon Valley ICT companies adhere to the CCO model, building huge, high dollar corporate campuses and busing staff there daily from San Francisco over jammed freeways. In the larger scheme, to solve this problem requires rethinking knowledge work. To what extent does it have to be done face to face and what can be done without staff being co-located? If team members must be in close daily proximity over the course of a project, a brainstorming session or an agile sprint, might that be done on a temporary basis with team members housed in close proximity so they don’t have to commute? In this framework, the CCO is replaced by a conference or meeting facility, with knowledge workers spending most of their time working in their communities in home offices or satellite or co-working spaces.

The solution to traffic congestion has to come from the demand side since adding more freeway lanes or smart vehicles isn’t the answer. That will require knowledge and information economy organizations to rethink how they manage and allocate resources.

Ongoing paradox of SF Bay Area that underutilizes ICT, chokes on traffic congestion

If it seems as if you’re spending more time behind the wheel than ever, it’s not an illusion. Since 2010, the amount of time Bay Area drivers endure crawling along in freeway congestion has soared 70 percent.That’s the highest level of “congested delay” — time spent in traffic moving at speeds of 35 mph or less — since traffic experts began keeping track in 1981.

Source: Drive across Bay Bridge tops list of Bay Area’s worst commutes – SFGate

The San Francisco Bay Area continues to underutilize its signature product — information and communications technologies (ICT) — that could make a big dent in its world class traffic congestion by reducing commute trips.

Instead of commuting along freeways to offices located elsewhere in the Bay Area, ICT enables knowledge workers to remain at home or in the communities rather than playing road warrior each work day. But the Industrial Age commute to the office habit is proving to be very enduring even as traffic congestion and associated delays and adverse quality of life impacts continue to increase.

ICT, declining role of CCO forcing redefinition of knowledge work

The maturation and proliferation of information and communications technology (ICT) is upending the concept of knowledge work. During the late Industrial Age, knowledge work meant working Monday through Friday 8-5 in a commute-in office. If a knowledge worker made the commute and showed up every workday, 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week — ipso facto they were performing knowledge work. As Dave Rolston wrote in his 2013 eBook Four Dead Kings at Work, these strictures of time and place are breaking down.

In the process, that collapse is forcing a redefinition of knowledge work to mean, well, work and specifically the work product — and not a daily trip to appear at a centralized commuter office (CCO). After all, that daily commute adds no intrinsic value and in fact extracts significant personal cost from knowledge workers that can reduce their morale and interest in what really counts – their work projects.

The current time is one of transition away from Rolston’s dying kings of the traditional workplace. Take, for example, the growing buzz on workplace flexibility and telework or virtual/remote work. It represents a shift away from the CCO and illustrates the tension between the traditional CCO and new, emerging ways of performing knowledge work beyond the CCO.

The CCO took many decades to be established and knowledge organizations have invested enormous sums in them. So even though ICT has effectively obsoleted them by distributing knowledge work outside the CCO, they won’t disappear overnight. But their role will fade as time goes on. In the meantime, a new definition of knowledge work will be formed that is independent of the CCO.

“Telework” is outdated in age of location independent work

There are still a remarkable number of offices filled with modern-thinking people, trying to solve modern day issues that look like they were constructed in 1984. And while I love nostalgia as much as anyone, you don’t see Google and Facebook flaunting photos of high, padded cubicle walls and flourescent lights. Why? Because they want the most out-of-the-box, creative and collaborative employees working on their future-thinking initiatives.One of the biggest barriers I face in my work, promoting workplace flexibility, is the notion that employers think I’m talking about sending everyone to work from home. Again, “telework”, a term coined in the 70’s is also antiquated. It is in fact rooted in the notion that you have to be anchored somewhere to work, which is just not the way your average employee operates in 2015.

Source: Transforming the Workplace | Calgary Economic Development

Robyn Bews nails the transformation that’s taking place in how knowledge work gets done. She makes a key point I discuss in my book Last Rush Hour: the terms “telework” and “telecommuting” are based on the Industrial Age notion that knowledge work must be performed in what I term “centralized commuter offices” or CCOs for short. Under this outdated paradigm, “tele”working in another location is the exception rather than the rule.