Category: Ways Of Working


The Office Is A Skeuomorph (first published 2017)

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?


A Manifesto For Better Work

I wrote this a few years ago for a company that no longer exists. But I still use it to motivate myself. This is the culture I thrive in. One day, it’s the culture I’d like to build into my own agency.

Wear good shoes. If you’re going to be comfortable going the extra mile, make sure you have what you need to support you. Be vociferous about what you need to deliver your best.

Listen carefully. Do not listen so that you know when to answer, but so that you understand. Give your full attention to the problem. Do not strive to find the answers, but to ask the right questions.

Lead as you want to be led. You are not accountable — you are responsible. We are a cultural constellation, and we each choose ownership of our output, attitudes, products and ideas.

Call people out. We will never do great work if we are afraid of speaking the truth. Attack the problem and not the person, and never let a misunderstanding take root for fear of a difficult conversation.

Keep your promises. Every broken promise is a crack in the lens through which our clients see us.

Know your value. Understanding why our clients chose us is key to solving the challenges they bring us. We do not sacrifice quality for speed. We do not sacrifice integrity for quick wins. And we do not devalue our product.

You are the bridge. Whatever your role, you connect our clients to the ideas and products we deliver for them. By working together, we create a human chain that anchors our clients to our business.

Embrace the topography. The tapestry of our skills makes us able to offer unique insight and an unrepeatable product. Exploit the individual peaks and troughs of experience that team members bring to the table. Turn over every stone.

Solve the equations. We are not artists for art’s sake. Our work is connected to reality, and we are responsible for providing things that work, not things that look good. We create solutions, and we enter discussions with our clients and suppliers as equals working together. Everything we put in front of a client needs to answer a need, solve a problem or further their cause.

Get your hands dirty. Actively seek to know more about the world you’re working in. Poke the box, push the buttons, and investigate the dark corners of the problem. Our work is practical, and by being enthusiastic about the world the problem lives in, we become explorers with our clients.

Fess up. Be honest about the things that go wrong. It’s the easiest way to stop them from going wrong again.

Ship the product. Endless iteration is a treadmill that exhausts without actual progress. Recognise when the polishing is cosmetic, and declare that it’s done. A living product does more good than an unborn concept.

Accolades don’t replace pride. Screw awards and competitions. The value of our work is measured in how quickly clients trust us with the next big problem.

Make better mistakes. Make them faster and louder. Failure is the first step to building something you know will stand up, and we should make our solutions fail as often as possible before we ask someone else to pay for them.

Prove it. Our solutions are not proverbs or psalms, transmuted to fact by acceptance or time. Prove everything you can with articulation, metrics, observations and demonstrable knowledge. ‘We do this for a living’ means nothing anymore — so does our competition.

Back your solution. Own your expertise and stand up for it. You were hired to be an expert, not a yes-person.