Silicon Valley stuck in the Industrial Age

“I think back to the situation when Yahoo disbanded telecommuting,” Allen says. “Marissa Mayer caught a lot of flak for that. I’ve been doing research on flex-work arrangements and work family issues for many years and knew it was not a panacea for individuals to better manage work and family lives.”Other tech giants, such as Google, have moved away from work-from-home policies in favor of creating sometimes quirky but amenity-rich campuses where employees are likely to strike up conversations, Allen says.

Taking this principle to its logical conclusion, the ideal would be for staff to reside on campus as many did in college. Then there would be time for even more conversation over dinner and breakfast instead of getting onto buses and into cars twice a day in the Bay Area’s notoriously congested freeways to shuttle back and forth to home. But most knowledge and information-based organizations still operate today in the Industrial Age model where their members split their lives between the office and home in a distant community. Is all that time spent commuting really worth the daily face time and opportunity for spontaneous conversation that can also take place with a phone call or teleconference? Or is the opportunity for co-located conversation being offered up as a pretext and justification to hang onto the Industrial Age way of working in centralized commuter offices?

Carol Sladek, a partner and work/life consulting leader at Aon Hewitt, says the journal article shines a light on one of telecommuting’s most difficult aspects: the difficulty in measuring outcomes.

Substitute knowledge work for telecommuting in this sentence and the challenge remains the same. Telecommuting is irrelevant. As suggested elsewhere in the article, the real challenge is managing knowledge workers relative to desired outcomes. That remains the same regardless of where people work.

Source: Human Resource Executive Online | Telecommuting, by the Numbers

It’s official: Working from home is the worst

“If it’s just about you banging out emails or writing a report, sure, you can do that wherever,” Waber said. “But the vast majority of stuff we do at work today—teamwork, not individual work—that is the stuff that really measurably suffers.” For big companies, that decline in productivity can be worth millions of dollars a year.

In a 2012 poll, 62% of employees said they found telecommuting to be socially isolating. And “jobs where individuals are most likely to be telecommuting involve sitting in front of a computer,” Allen said, so it makes sense that people working from home would get less exercise than those who have to commute.

Source: It’s official: Working from home is the worst

For many if not most knowledge workers, that is exactly what they do most of the day: sitting in front of a computer and writing documents and emails. And in many workplaces, they are expected to do that with minimal interaction with others, which is viewed as socializing and break time in the tradition of the water cooler — not working. The cultural ethic is nose to the grindstone in the style of the Industrial Age assembly line.

Tolan is certainly correct that in organizations that encourage collaboration, being face to face is ideal. But as Tolan suggests, most knowledge organizations do not operate as full time focus groups or think tanks. Constant co-located and spontaneous interaction among their members isn’t an organizational expectation. Tolan is also right in pointing out that not all knowledge workers have a suitable home office environment. A growing industry is stepping up to address this need with shared co-working office space in communities where knowledge workers live.

In addition, Tolan ignores the enormous business and personal cost to both knowledge organizations and their constituents to maintain what I term in my book Last Rush Hour: The Decentralization of Knowledge Work in the Twenty First Century as centralized commuter offices (CCOs) that involve hours of wasted time spent each week traveling between home and office, often entailing significant distance and time. CCOs are unnecessary with today’s information and communications technology that is rendering the Industrial Age daily commute trip obsolete.

What Your CEO Should Know about Productivity, Profits, Work, and Family | Anne-Marie Slaughter | LinkedIn

But we actually have a growing body of data in support of the proposition that working less means working better. This relationship between working better and working less holds particularly true in any job requiring creativity, the well­spring of innovation. Experts on creativity emphasize the value of nonlinear thinking and cultivated randomness, from long walks to looking at your environment in ways you never have before. Making time for play, as well as designated downtime, has also been found to boost creativity. Experts suggest we should change the rhythm of our workdays to include periods in which we are simply letting our minds run wherever they want to go. Without play, we might never be able to make the unexpected connections that are the essence of insight.

Source: What Your CEO Should Know about Productivity, Profits, Work, and Family | Anne-Marie Slaughter | LinkedIn

Anne-Marie Slaughter bores down to the essence of where value is added in knowledge work: freeing the mind to operate creatively — and not as an Industrial Age machine putting in set hours in an office or cubicle in a centralized commuter office.

As I wrote in my book Last Rush Hour, a lot of this creative thought is stimulated by something sedentary and often obese and out of shape  knowledge workers desperately need: prolonged exercise that gets blood flowing to the brain — the knowledge worker’s essential tool — and releases beneficial hormones. Stimulating that creativity thus offers the added bonus of potential enhanced health and lower health care utilization.

“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.

For once and for all, please stop with this ‘death of the office’ stuff – Workplace Insight

Even hugely disruptive factors such as the proliferation of co-working space appear to be nothing more than an important new addition to the market.

The reasons for this attachment to creating places to bring people together are explored in typically lyrical fashion by the incomparable Neil Usher here. All that remains to add is that so long as people work on the same things and need to develop relationships, they’ll want to share physical space.

Source: For once and for all, please stop with this ‘death of the office’ stuff – Workplace Insight

Of course the office isn’t dead. Knowledge workers will continue to need them. However, the maturation of information and communication technology (ICT) in the 21st century is redefining the office. The office no longer has to be in high cost towers in urban centers — what I term in my book Last Rush Hour as centralized commuter offices or CCOs.

For example, the co-working office space to which the author refers enables knowledge workers to avoid the enormous personal cost of commuting to distant CCOs when these co-working facilities are located in their communities. There, they can serve multiple organizations and their members residing in a given community.

I concur with the author that people naturally want to develop relationships with their colleagues and ideally share physical space. But for knowledge workers, that’s not necessary on an 8-5, Monday through Friday basis. Much work can be done apart from colleagues along with the benefit of quiet concentration. Collaboration can be done via ICT and avoid the major expense and time suck of daily commuting.