January 2010 - Posts
When I worked at Microsoft, some of the more cynical managers tutted some of the work-from-home practices as ‘shirk from home.’ Curiously, the sincere sentiment among the staff was that home was often the only place where quality work got done. Staff came into the office to show face and attend internal meetings which chopped up the day so only slices of time were left for the most basic transactional activity like batting back urgent emails. But everyone knew that come performance review time no one was going to get a high rating for great meeting attendance and email responding. At the heart of every job was a role that required serious thought, insight and creative output. And the consensus seemed to be that this often got done when one was able to clear a day of distractions, steer clear of the office chock full of distractions and sit down and concentrate.
This week, Dilbert author Scott Adams reflected on this creative dynamic...
“People often ask how I get into the writing frame of mind. To me, it feels like being the night watchman in a museum. My job is to make sure all the doors are locked, and the blinds are pulled, and the lights are out. As a writer, you need to shut out all of the distractions from your other senses. I make sure I'm not hungry, tired, uncomfortable, or listening to anything. Then, like the night watchman, I go room by room with my flashlight until something scares me, surprises me, or makes me laugh. I have to feel something. And when I do, that's the part I keep. Then I wrap up the inspiring words in ordinary words, to form sentences. That part is more craft than art. Writers tend to work early in the morning, or late at night, when brains are naturally able to focus deeply on one thought. In the middle of the day, distractions are unavoidable. I wonder if anything worthwhile has ever been written in the afternoon.”
I shared this reflection with friend and creativity guru Hugh MacLeod and he concurred with the sentiment completely. His comment on Adams’ insight was, “I know this one.... Explains why Hemingway always got sloshed in the afternoons...”
Dynamic Work is a way for staff to align the right work environment with the work at hand. For most roles in modern business, this work is quite diverse and a conventional one-size-fits-all office space simply can’t serve all needs best.
Ever more terms keep cropping up to describe the new workstyles of the digital age. Steve Clayton’s post a while back referred “Co-working.”
“I am increasingly a "digital nomad"...Increasingly I find myself working from home or a hotel room in my current job. Sometimes I like the solitude but more often than not, I find myself hankering after a coffee or lunch out of the house. This may have something to do with my poor cooking skills but I think it has more to do with my need to have other folks around. I don't necessarily need to talk to them, I just like the buzz.”
Co-working starts to address the question of ‘what exactly do we need an office for?’ and ‘what would we miss?’ There is a camaraderie, energy, serendipity to people assembling together even if working quite independently together. The rise of formal (www.coworking.pbwiki.com, business centres) and informal (cafes, libraries, Wifi enabled pubs) collectives.
This week’s Boston Globe featured as big piece called “The end of the office... and the future of work” which naturally caught the eye of many of my colleagues and friends (thanks Aidan, Jim, Katie and Mom). Dynamic Work breaks down the 4 basic dimensions of ‘flexibility’ in the workplace to place, time, role and contract. The Globe piece really focuses in on the ‘contract’ dimension. How the relationship between employers and employee is changing to be more flexible...
“The United States Government Accountability Office has estimated that so-called contingent workers - everything from temps to day laborers to the self-employed to independent contractors - make up nearly a third of the workforce. And forecasters believe that proportion will rise. The growth is being driven partly by economic factors, with the uncertain economic climate making short-term contract workers more attractive to firms than full-time employees, but of course broader technological changes are at work as well – cell phones, PDAs, and broadband make it easy to farm out work, even complex, interactive tasks that previously only made sense to do in-house.”
A lot of the messages echo the notions of ‘Portfolio Working’ that my friends Barrie Hopson and Katie Ledger.
One of the first issues I faced over a year ago is what to call this ‘thing’. This trend, this approach. Certainly, there is no shortage of buzzwords being coined regularly to capture different dimensions to ‘Dynamic Work’.
CNN has done a piece which captures a much of the distributed, indeterminate, flexible nature of ‘where’ side of working. The article ‘Working in Wi-Fi Limbo’ (thanks again Dr. Bret)
“If you ask Adrian Miller where she works, her answer may depend on where she happens to be standing. Miller calls her messenger bag ‘global headquarters.’ She calls a New York City lobby her ‘satellite office.’ ‘My office is my briefcase,’ says Miller, who offers sales training to companies and networking advice to individuals. Miller is a member of a new breed of worker who doesn't work at home or an office. They work in limbo, somewhere in between. They are the urban nomads who drift from one Wi-Fi watering hole to another with their laptops -- working alone while surrounded by people.”
When I first speak to people about ‘Dynamic Working’, often the response is ‘Oh, you mean ‘home working.’ To which I respond, ‘Well, that is one alternative place people can work, but there are also cafes, business centres, hubs, libraries, park benches...just about anywhere...’
MSNBC featured a fine piece titled “Chatty Workers Are Best Telecommuters” (thanks Dr. Bret) with a delightfully colourful introduction...
“For years the workplace commentariat has been nattering about the no-collar workplace. Companies will hire brains, not bodies. Work will go to the talent — instead of the talent extreme-commuting to the work. Teams will go transnational, warming the undersea cables with their space-and-time shifting video meetings. The workplace of the future, they've said, will be no workplace at all. Technology will turn the globe into one giant Wi-Fi-enabled kibbutz. A post-face-time world where everybody can Tivo their work. This is one of those dreams that has actually panned out. The office — in our pocket! (Or pocketbook!) But for every miraculous solution, there's another problem created. And so it is with the wonder of wireless work.”
The article makes a number of key points that Dynamic Work endorses completely...
- New characteristics to productivity - Often, the most difficult hurdle to implementing Dynamic Work are the managers, the management skills and the management practices. All of these usually need a complete overhaul in the new approach to getting things done. That change includes identifying, assessing and enhancing someone’s productivity. In the past, conventional wisdom would cite ‘chattiness’ as a sign of distraction and lack of focus, actually correlates strongly with someone able to maintain and support the increased opportunities and demands in a distributed environment.
- No one size fits all – Dynamic Work is no more of a panacea than any other innovation. Each member of staff and the role they serve is its unique blend of skills, personality, preferences and demands that will embrace some of the potential changes and balk at other. A hallmark of Dynamic Work’s engagements is identifying the various clusters of roles and ‘psychographics’ to figure out tailored approaches and tools for different groups.
- Shirk from home’ – A persistent myth is that without direct supervision, workers will fritter away hours unproductively. Obviously, a central part of the solution is to strengthen ‘management by outcome’. But, the article highlights that the tendencies are actually quite the opposite to the fear - " ‘Mobile workers are far more organized, personally, than their office-bound counterparts,’ says a researcher. ‘They have to be on top of their game the whole time.’"
Microsoft has long pioneered innovations in the workplace through the use of technology and the current trend of ‘Dynamic Work’ is no exception. It was my personal work in this area during the most recent years of my tenure at Microsoft where I got an up close perspective on the accelerating changes happening in the workplace typically enabled by technology.
One of the ways Microsoft’s helps companies to exploit new technology is through its Enterprise Agreements (EA) and Software Assurance (SA) programmes. These licensing services not only provide easy and discount price access to the latest technologies from the Microsoft stable, but also include a range of services and extras to assist companies in their adoption and best use of those technologies.
One of the services available is ‘Business Value Planning Services’ (BVPS). EA and SA holders can use vouchers included in those agreements to get up to 15 day consulting engagements free of charge. The services are provided by specially certified Microsoft partners.
“BVPS is designed to help customer Business Decision Makers (BDMs) develop a plan to leverage the strategic value of the Microsoft Information Worker (IW) platform by improving an impactful business process, working with the customer to document, analyze, optimize, justify, sequence, and propose a plan to improve their business using Office System. We provide a reliable, repeatable process for certified BVPS partners to conduct, and be compensated for 3, 5, 10 or 15-day engagements according to the level of their customers’ Software Assurance benefits.”
One of the firs things Dynamic Work Limited did when it set up this year was to get its BVPS certification so businesses with EA and SA benefits can use them to engage Dynamic Work to explore new ways of changing their business and how technology can pave the way.