Happy 6th Anniversary to Dynamic Work. I started this website back in 2009 having just left the megacorp of Microsoft to spread the gospel of flexible working. Actually, Microsoft inspired my first insights into its possibilities with some of their own forays into the area, but they never really followed them through (a bit like most of their initiatives and “visions” in recent years).
Now I have recently departed from another megacorp – Ericsson – with a similar mission in store. I haven’t been posting much here due to work and other demands of late. But that might change a bit with my new focus.
Stay tuned. And stay Dynamic.
PAST: Workers of the World Unite
FUTURE: Workers of the World Untie
Dynamic Work trends, captured succinctly and effectively in the infogram above are driving greater and greater flexibility for workers unshackling them from the chains of time, place, role and terms.
It’s not just “work” that can be flexible, but it’s counterpart…vacation (or “holiday” in the UK). Certainly, the workplace has instituted a number of innovations for how people take their time off – carry over, in lieu, etc. But some companies with the Dynamic Work ethos have gone the full extreme of flexibility…unlimited holiday.
The NBC piece “Some Companies Give Workers Unlimited Vacation” describes…
“Although companies may worry that employees would abuse the policy, Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits for SHRM, said that most workers fear taking too much time off could damage their reputation. "What we see in some cases is a portion of the population taking less time," he said. More often than not, Elliott said, workers take about the same amount of time off as those with traditional paid-time-off benefits. Companies also claim a financial win. Days off are not accrued, and if an employee leaves, a company doesn't have to pay them out for unused days.”
The scenario seems like a John List experiment in behavioural economics. But companies don’t need to depend on inherent altruism nor variants of Prisoner’s Dilemma to determine how their staff will respond. Ultimately, such schemes depend on a context of measured accountability. Then, as Dan Price, founder and CEO of credit card processing company Gravity Payments in Seattle, notes. "The idea is that you are now judging employees on their work and results." As I would always say, I don’t care if you do your month’s work on day 1 and then spend the rest of it in Barbados. As long as the work gets done (which also has to account for dependencies stake holding colleagues have on your expertise and contributions in their time frames).
Here in the UK, the industry trailblazer Richard Branson is one of the leaders in this initiative…
“We should focus on what people get done, not on how many hours or days worked. Just as we don't have a nine-to-five policy, we don't need a vacation policy."
The concept underscores that effective workplace contribution is not about the activity or presence. It’s about the outcomes and results.
Time to flex your business mussels. The summer solstice brings the Fowey Mussel Festival a celebration of that mulish mollusk, the mussel. Most of us have stumbled upon them anchored on coastal rocks where they are constantly battered by the pounding surf. As it turns out, it is not calcified obstinacy, but rather flexibility that secures its position so strongly. NBC describes the role model the mussel is having on a number of engineering problems in its piece “Super-strong mussel fibers could inspire earthquake-proof buildings”…
“[Mussels] are anchored in place by a stringy outcrop of cabling that emerges from between their twin shells. Usually, even the most vicious of high tides can't pry them loose. The secret to their tenacity is the special design of the rope-like strands that bind them, researchers now find. They're got a bit of stiffness and a bit of flexibility, they report in the July 23 issue of Nature Communications, and that's what keeps the mussels sticking around. ‘If you're an engineer, you're trying to fix things very rigidly,’ Markus Buehler, professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, told NBC News. ‘But nature has taught us here that to make things resilient in the long term, there needs [to be] a flexible structure.’…Twenty percent of the cabling that holds the bivalves in place is strong, but flexible. The rest is stiff. When it's tugged away by the force of a crashing wave, the flexible bits help the structure give, just a little bit, dissipating some of the stress on them.”
Business engineers can take similar inspiration from this dynamic of flexibility mixed into stable structure.
People are not machines. White collar factories were set up on the premise that banks of workers could methodically work their brain all day long the way a blue collar work would work their muscle all day. As it happened, even muscle work had its limits as identified by Robert Owen (born today in 1771)…
“In the late 18th century, when companies started to maximize the output of their factories, getting to running them 24/7 was key. Now of course, to make things more efficient, people had to work more. In fact, 10-16 hour days were the norm. These incredibly long work days weren't sustainable and soon a brave man called Robert Owen started a campaign to have people work no more than 8 hours per day. His slogan was ‘Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.’ It wasn't until much later that Ford actually implemented the 8 hour work day and changed the standards. One of the first businesses to implement this was the Ford Motor Company, in 1914, which not only cut the standard work day to eight hours, but also doubled their worker's pay in the process. To the shock of many industries, this resulted in Ford's productivity off of these same workers, but with fewer hours, actually increasing significantly and Ford's profit margins doubled within two years. This encouraged other companies to adopt the shorter, eight hour work day as a standard for their employees.”
Modern day managers are similarly shocked by companies who today double the flexibility of work and achieve proportionate returns of productivity.
These limitations of physical endurance are all the more acute and volatile for intellectual output as described in Huffington Post’s piece “The Origin of the 8 Hour Work Day and Why We Should Rethink It”…
“The basic understanding is that our human minds can focus on any given task for 90-120 minutes. Afterwards, a 20-30 minute break is required for us to get the renewal to achieve high performance for our next task again. So instead of thinking about ‘What can I get done in an 8 hour day,’ I've started to change my thinking to ‘What can I get done in a 90 min session’.”
The article has a brilliant explanation for this productivity dividend of flexibility – the Ultradian Rhythm. The UR reinforces my predisposition to never have a meeting last longer than 90 minutes.
“Outside the prison or military, it’s hard to conceive of a less free institution for adults than the average workplace.” – Clay Shirky
“The real source of wealth and capital in this new era is not material things...it is the human mind, the human spirit, the human imagination, and our faith in the future.” -Steve Forbes
May Day, May Day! The good ship HMS Marxism is sinking fast. And one of the icebergs it has struck is the changing nature of work.
Marxism withers away on the political landscape as a now endangered species of economic theory clinging to existence in a few remote micro-climes. Many factors have contributed to its decline, but a big one is the shift to the digital revolution of the Information Age. The Social dialectic was a theory born of the Industrial Revolution which now, like the Manifesto, enters its twilight days.
In a certain way, Marx can declare a form of victory. Workers of the world now have more ownership of the ‘means of production’ than ever. The factory is now their brain. In the Industrial Age, humans possessed intelligent muscle. Machines could pound, melt and move, but you needed a human to manoeuvre, assemble and finish. Then, as the industrial complex grew ever larger, a legion of office work factories were built in countless suburban office parks to handles the complicated gears of paperwork and bureaucracy.
Today, computers, robotics and control systems have put human dexterity and knowledge worker factories on the inexorable path to obsolescence. Manual and organisational dexterity yields to analytical and social skills. The key jobs left of economic value are those things machines can’t do (yet): relate and create. Thus, the two enduring areas of work are those which leverage those skills. Customer relationships, service, management, leadership, entertainment, art all require ‘relating’. Analysis, problem solving, strategy, design, and art all require ‘creating’ (in ways that computers have not yet mastered).
Just because exploitative Capitalists have not yet figured out way of detaching the human brain from workers, it doesn’t mean that clever Fat Cats aren’t able to find other ways to dispossess the labour force essential asset. Misinformation, underinvestment in training and contrived work practice all serve to corral the workers most valuable tool.
For those of revolutionary spirit wishing to exploit May Day as the traditional celebration of worker progress, the banners today should read ‘More Investment in Education’ and ‘Down With Media Propaganda.’ Anything that enriches the minds of workers enhances their utility, competitiveness, value and ultimately their quality of life. Anything that deludes, misinforms or otherwise weakens the minds of the labour force becomes the new means of exploitation and subjugation. The Fat Cats may not be able to literally ‘own’ your brain in a financial sense, but they can ‘own’ it in a figurative sense if they have deceived, manipulated or brainwashed it.
Dynamic Work – flexibility of time, location and contract – is the new clarion call for the legions of labor seeking a better work life.
International Women’s Day today. A day to celebrate the distinctive gifts and challenges women around the world share across all facets of life including the workplace. One of my favourite pieces marking the day is the video posted on my other blog, Maldives Complete. So inspired were we that my wife Lori and I bought the art piece Dhaalu Girl featured in the video from the artist Aishath Aima Mustafa (her first art sale).
The BNET piece ‘Why Men and Women Work Differently’ highlights a few of the differences women present and face. The kind of differences that a Dynamic Working organisation can accommodate so readily. Unfortunately, I find that well-meaning pieces like this simply reinforce cultural and sexist stereotypes. I endorse the article for raising insights as to how people can differ in approaches, but I disapprove of the gender pigeonholing. It is not about respecting “women’s” multi-taking and nurturing. It is about respecting anyone’s multi-tasking and nurturing (I’m actually a pretty accomplished multi-tasker, eg. I exercise, listen to podcasts and organise the garage simultaneously each Saturday).
Respect for ‘diversity’ (and Dynamic Work) is less about ‘men and women’ working differently, and more about how *everybody* works differently. Gender is just one prominent and conventional variable. Diversity programmes which slap on a few female-specific accommodations do a disservice to women in the end as well as to the rest of the staff and the business itself.
I recommend Cash Justin Miller’s “The Advantages of Cultural Diversity in Business” (thank Eileen). ‘Cultural diversity’, as well is not merely ethnic nor geographical differences, but any difference in upbringing, experience, tradition or background. When this level of diversity is respected, the consideration of gender will be a non-issue..
I’m not talking about packing up your office and sailing around the world. Though, frankly, that is entirely feasible too these days. If there is an expert on remote working to even that extreme it is friend and former Microsoft teammate, Matt Dunstan (left above). He not only spearheaded some of the more ambitious initiative in the team to make the workplace and the work style more flexible. His latest expedition is to introduce such dynamic commercial navigation to businesses down under. His new venture is…
“Called 2nd Base, it is designed to give access to a network of work-friendly venues where people can escape the home office and work alongside likeminded people. The service is a new take on co-working in that the guys are not setting up a purpose built office, but instead have negotiated for space and facilities in existing, attractive venues.”
The charter is entirely to Joe Pilizzi’s piece “Why It’s Time to Ditch Your Office” (thanks Adain)…
“Most organizations are set up for how we communicated decades (or more) ago. The reason we had to go into the city is because communication was impossible without face-to-face interaction. For the majority of non-manufacturing or non-retail organizations, this is not the case any longer. For most of us, we can get our job done with as much as a smartphone, with access to email, social media and office interaction. Need to have a meeting? Skype or GoToMeeting are at our disposal in two seconds if a meeting is absolutely necessary. How about Google Hangouts? Instant messaging is at our fingertips. Our IT services are in the cloud. There was a time we needed the office, but for most of us, that time is over.”
Pilizzi enumerates a handy and succinct enumeration of the business benefits to flexible and remote working…
- Better Productivity
- Happier Employees
- Access to Better Talent
- Lack of Overhead
- Get Out of the Past
Dynamic Work all started at Microsoft. It stemmed from a convergence of post-millennial technology and business trends I witnessed from a front-row seat. My examination of all business “dynamic” started with executive briefings at the company as well as some of Microsoft’s own initiatives, and inspired me to embark full-time on the crusade. Despite being lured back to an executive position, I continue to track the topic and even make the occasional post here.
So it was a bit nostalgic to stumble upon this piece presented by former UK colleague now Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft Dave Coplin. A half decade on and the messages are still the same. But the presentation is superbly enhanced by the inimitable RSA animation. A few gems I pulled from Dave’s treatment include…
· “Flexible working is about taking control of how you work”
· “Openness of sharing. Open by default.”
· “The biggest concern about remote working is ‘trust’. And not between boss and staff, but among team members themselves.”
One of the reasons I got lured back into corporate life was that Microsoft had de-prioritised this area (making it harder to partner with my Microsoft-centric network). It is reassuring to see my professional alma mater still evangelising these changes in the workplace.
Armistice Day today celebrates the contributions and sacrifices of men and women in uniform whose own extraordinary experiences bring insight and perspective to our ordinary lives. The crucible of the battlefield tests principles at the extremes that we can apply in more peaceful contexts. Perhaps literal life and death is not on the line, but financial and emotional survival can be at stake facing the challenges of everyday life and business.
One of the seminal works on battlefield insight is Robert Greene’s, 33 Strategies of War. In it he espouses the dynamic approach to flexibility and versatility…
“Understand, in life as in war, nothing ever happens just as you expect it to. People’s response are odd or surprising, your staff commits outrageous acts of stupidity, on and on. If you meet the dynamic situations of life with plans that are rigid, if you think of only holding static positions, if you rely on technology to control any friction that comes your way, you are doomed: events will change faster than you can adjust to them, and chaos will enter the system.”
Everything new is old again.
Yahoo has cemented itself as the now tired veteran of the Digital Age. Perhaps a sign of how far the digital age has come when the early pioneers start to look and behave schlerotically behind the times.
What does Yahoo not know that everyone else does? The new CEO Marissa Mayer claims to be taking a step back in its flexible work practices for the sake of solidarity – “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”
She has a point. Jamming people together in time and place does manufacture a sort of contrived cohesion. I reminds me of the old trick to get two fighting cats to be at peace…lock them in the bathroom for a few days until then are at peace with each other. Unfortunately, Mayer’s reset is nothing more than a surrender to the lowest form of togetherness. Sort of like puns being the lowest form of humour.
This bold-faced retreat to the sub-basement of corporate cohesion made me reflect on the hierarchy of unity in the organisation world. I do think that some bonds are tighter than others. I would propose the following hierarchy starting at the highest and working down…
1. Purpose – THE WHY: The ‘mission’, the ‘why’. This is what unifies dispersed cells of radical organisations who have never met each other and don’t work together. This is a common theme in the most successful organisations like Apple and Nordstrom. Hugh MacLeod and Mark Earls have explored this concept with great insight and creative eloquence.
2. Obectives – THE WHAT: Even if you don’t have a higher strategic purpose, you can still have a more pragmatic ‘purpose’ typically defined by SMART objectives.
3. Process – THE HOW: At least if you are synchronised in a symphony of aligned process, then you will have a crude form of uniformity. Perhaps brittle and vulnerable, but at least functional to a certain degree.
4. Presence – THE WHERE/WHEN: Sticking two human beings next to each other is the lowest form of integration that exists. Sort of like sticking an Apple and a PC next to each other so you can work on both ‘together’. Yes, it is form of togetherness, but the efficiencies and impact that forced proximity (note: voluntary proximity is a powerful thing) creates is fragile and wafer thin. It is the foundation to such bureaucratic poison as tedious meetings, expensive air travel and relocations, and mind-numbing commutes.
Dynamic Work can take a number different dimensions…time, place, role, contract. But what would you get if you tried to push the envelope on all of these dimensions at once. ‘Dynamic Awesomeness’ according to Vishen Lakhiani of Mindvalley. His TEDxAjman talk “Building the World’s Greatest Workplace” paints a utopian picture not of some pie-in-the-sky thought experiment, but a real, incorporated, profitable, tax-paying business that is pioneering so many dynamic principles at once. And the results are striking.
- Time – “We incorporated flexitime. At MindValley you choose your own working hours. You can choose to spend Monday to take the day off to go watch a movie. And then make up for it on a Sunday. It doesn’t matter to us.”
- Place – “You need to be able to give people the freedom to be able to use this space in any way they want.”
- Role – “We open up the way we run our business to give our employees freedom and power.
- Rewards – “Gamification of work”
Truly ‘awesome’ (a well-worn adjective in their descriptions of work life). A highly recommended TED talk, be prepared to either be inspired or envious.
Out with the old and in with the new…
This media icon says goodbye with a coincidentally an image itself portraying another anachronism of the 21st century…the office building.
A New Year and a new promise of freedom from the shackles of industrial age working practices. Today the on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, workers stand to gain whole new freedoms of when, where, what and how they work with the surge of Dynamic Work in the world.
In a similar way to which technology like the cotton gin contributed to the emancipation of the American slaves, digital technology today is emancipating the wage slaves of present day. It all sounds like goodness, but history holds valuable lessons that despite the moral rectitude of emancipation, the transition in the aftermath held repercussions that in some respects are still being felt today. Most notably, a major segment of the population was displaced from one economic activity without clear support for transitioning into a new economic role. This displacement led to poverty, disillusionment, confusion and an on-going cycle of a new form of economic oppression.
Today we celebrate the emancipation of the ‘wage slaves’, but already that very same group rightfully is getting uneasy feelings about the new liberated environment they face. Despite the Faustian pact of giving up so much of your life and control to a corporate existence, people have made peace with that trade-off and justifiably fear that an imposed liberation could leave them worse off. One of the most prominent protests against abolition was that the slaves were ‘better off’ than their subsistence existence in Africa (possibly for some) and ‘better off’ than they would be scraping an existence ‘on their own’ in a foreign land (possibly). Despite the utilitarian arguments for the benefits of slavery, above all it is a moral issue the rectification of which is deemed to trump any cost or inconvenience even to those being emancipated.
Still, sometimes Faustian pacts, giving up freedoms and dignities, are preferred paths for individuals. Whether it is Asian labourers aspiring to work in sweat shops, impoverished women plying sex trade or investment bankers working insane hours and stresses (the parallels between the latter two prominently highlighted in the film ‘Pretty Woman’), many people opt in to these painful professions for the rewards and escape at the other end.
The freedoms that new technologies and work practice innovations proclaim must not be lead to a lost generation of workers thrust into new modes of working for which they are not adequately prepared. Despite the critical mass of the Dynamic Work movement, the progress needs to continue being evolutionary and careful in order to avoid painful displacement and costly disillusionment.
Dynamic Work looks to forge ahead strongly in 2012 according to the latest research on top trends reported in Time magazine’s “The Beginning of the End of the 9-to-5 Workday?”…
“The traditional eight-hour workday may soon be the exception rather than the rule. New evidence shows that we’re reaching a tipping point in terms of workplace flexibility, with businesses seeing the wisdom of allowing employees — young ones especially — to work odd hours, telecommute and otherwise tweak the usual 9-to-5 grind. One of the top 12 trends for 2012 as named by the communications firm Euro RSCG Worldwide is that employees in the Gen Y, or millennial, demographic — those born between roughly 1982 and 1993 — are overturning the traditional workday.”
- Gen Y workers won’t accept jobs where they can’t access Facebook.
- Gen Y-ers value workplace flexibility over more money.
- Gen Y workers are always connected to jobs through technology.
Every day the film classic ‘9 to 5’ is looking more and more like a period piece.
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