2017 – The (future) death of the office

The sense that ‘you have to be at work to do work’ is a charming anachronism that’s increasingly irrelevant.

We used to come to these places because they had the tools we needed to deliver the outcomes we were paid for, like a workshop or a farm.

Then we came to these places because that’s where the knowledge was. You had to access information binders, attend meetings to get the news and listen to the gossip around the water cooler.

Then we came to these places to enjoy the culture—the free breakfasts, the Friday night beers, and the lunchtime social sports.

And all the time we did this, we looked at the physical environment as a necessary evil. As a mindset reinforcer, we should say, ‘I am at work; therefore, I should be doing work. ‘ Hell, some of us looked at it as an environmental proof point that our companies loved us. “It’s so Scandi / modern/comfortable/unorthodox!” “Look, there’s street art — but it’s inside!”

Deep down, we’re enjoying the new paint our wardens slathered over the concrete. We don’t need to be here anymore. Our tools have evolved beyond having ‘the best computer of your life at work’. Our knowledge is mainly cloud-based, and our software is increasingly cloud-based. Our culture is driven by conversation and information exchange, something we can do more naturally and efficiently by messaging than in person.

Being at work decreases the likelihood of doing deep-focus work. It massively increases the instances of interruption, working against one’s own productivity rhythm and amplifying ambient noise and activity.

If you need to be seen at work to have the value of your work measured, there’s a problem. If your contribution can only be quantified in hours spent sitting at your desk, then either your contribution or the quantification methodology is an issue. Being at work is supposed to connote responsibility, a sense of duty, and camaraderie—but it’s starting to do the opposite.

Most of us do better work with less distraction and noise, more control over our tools, and more focus on outcomes over process or compliance. The need to be observably, measurably, and quantifiably at work diminishes our agency and drives up our adversarial relationship with the people we’re supposed to be comrades with.

How would you work around it if you couldn’t bring your staff together in a place you owned? By embracing agility, flexibility, and trust.

So why not do that now?


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