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. You know, like a workshop. Or a farm.
Then we came to these places because it’s where the knowledge was. You had to access binders of information, had to be in the meetings to get the news, and had to be around the water cooler to hear the gossip.
Then we came to these places to enjoy the culture. The free breakfasts. The Friday night beers. The lunchtime social sports.
And all the time we were doing this, we looked on the physical environment as a necessary evil. As a mindset reinforcer — to say to ourselves ‘I am at work, therefore I should be doing work’. Hell, some of us looked on 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!”
Except I think think that deep down, we’re actually just 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 mostly cloud-based. Our software is increasingly cloud-based. And our culture is driven by conversation and information exchange, something we can do more naturally and easily by messaging than in person.
Being at work decreases the likelihood of doing deep-focus work. It massively increases the instances of interruption, of working against your own productivity rhythm. It amplifies 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 methodology of quantifying it, is an issue. Being at work is supposed to connote a responsibility, a sense of duty, a camaraderie — but it’s starting to do the opposite.
Most of us do better work with less distraction, less noise, more control over our tools, and more focus on outcomes over process or compliance. The need to be observably, measurably, quantifiably ‘at work’ diminishes our agency, and drives up our adversarial relationship with the people we’re supposed to be comrades with.
If you couldn’t bring your staff together in a place you owned, how would you work around it? By embracing agility, flexibility, and trust.
So why not do that now?