The nature of the office workplace has changed almost beyond recognition in the last 30 years. The pace of change in terms of activity, responsibility, speed of communication, access to information and people, and complexity of the ‘transaction’ whatever the company might be engaged in, are all vastly different.
Gone are vast numbers of manual tasks and with them activities and roles in the workplace. What is required these days is the kind of innovative, problem solving approach to work where each individual has the potential to have a meaningful impact on business performance, both positive and negative.
Yet despite this enormous and disruptive change, one thing seems to have remained consistent….the apparent need for employees to gather in expensive, heated or cooled environments and work in some kind of collective, thought factory. What’s even more bizarre as you walk around these places is the complete lack of communication and perhaps collective thought that actually seems to be happening. Most occupants are ‘plugged in’ to whatever they are into, the rest are engaged in some earnest activity on the PC / laptop that they do their work on and whatever communication that exists, is conducted a kind of library style whisper so as to avoid disturbing those around them. Far from any collective endeavour, the individuals seem to be attempting to insulate themselves from those around them.
But you say, what about the meetings where important things are discussed and decisions are made? Well in my experience, the extraordinary emergence of the ‘meeting’ seems to correspond with an equally extraordinary amount of time wasted where the vast majority of the participants are playing with their phones and doing what they would normally be doing, if they weren’t in the meeting. Finding a well facilitated meeting these days is often a bit of a challenge.
So why not work from home on a regular basis, ie more than once a month!? From a productivity perspective, there is no doubt that it is beneficial…just taking the commute out would seem to add anything upwards of an hour to the average day. On top of that is the time taken to get dressed for work and the downtime that most people experience having sat on a crowded commuter train where all their senses are actively turned off! Then there is the savings in terms of travel cost, expensive coffee and sustenance whilst at the place of work. Finally, there is the ability of the individual to work at a time when they are most effective…be that after some exercise, after delivering the children to school or at 2am when they are suddenly struck with an idea. What I’ve always asked of my colleagues is that they give me that time…not the time which they feel contracted to work.
But it’s not happening…despite all the technology, ease of communication that makes the home office easy and cheap to run. And the reason: a lack of trust from the employer that the individual will actually do what they’re required to do.
And with that lack of trust goes the decision by the employee not to invest his / her discretionary time to work (that time which he can choose to dedicate to his employer but is not obliged to)…a concept Emmanuel Gobillot talks about with great passion and knowledge – worth looking up if you have a moment.
By the way, my editor in chief (aka wife) has just described a personality type for whom working from home is a complete anathema because it provides none of the feedback that they are looking for from a work experience! In other words, it’s all about human interaction.
Where do you stand on this?