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.
Tis the season for year end reviews. And one of the more intriguing collections I have seen is the “Top 10 Trends Presentations for 2013”. A good chance to see how the pundits view the progress of the Dynamic Work trend.
One of my favourite trend-ologists, Mary Meeker, of KPCB, added an entire section to her annual trend review titled “Asset-Light Generation” (slide 59). It is essentially ‘Dynamic Work’ expanded from the professional and corporate environment to a full lifestyle perspective. ‘Dynamic Life’ if you will.
She starts off noting “Asset-Heavy lifestyle consumes space, time and money.” It is a vision of the virtualisation of nearly everything including Music, Video, Housing, Transport, Services, Textbooks, Wallets, and (of course) Employment (see below).
On the benefits of Dynamic Working, I’ve presented studies, charts, arguments, case studies. But the vogue medium on the Web these days are Infographics. Fortunately, that boundless source of material, Portfolio Working, shared a superb one (part of which is shown above…click to see entire) recently (thanks Katie).
When working on a Dynamic Work engagement with Betfair, the one group of staff that was most reluctant to doing any remote work were the developers. They enumerated reasonable concerns about the machine power required for their work unavailable on a laptop and the need for regular interaction. I wasn’t sure, but I opened my mind to possible limitations for Dynamic Working for this segment. As such, I introduced such concepts cautiously to the Red Bee Piero organisation I subsequently joined. But in the end, the results have been as strong and positive as any other team I have ever introduced them to.
First of all, not everyone wants the option to work remotely and that’s fine. Those folks just continue with the status quo as a few have. Secondly, Piero has probably one of the highest spec technical platforms of any PC-based systems (Dual Quad-cores with special graphics accelerator board), and yet we have been able to find an HP model on which it operates just fine. Finally, the team has coordinated to have days where they make sure they are all in so they can have the interactions, consultations and collaborations. But on days some choose to work from home, they report more concentration, less distractions and time/energy saved from an eliminated commute resulting in general happier staff and the productivity has been great.
What is Obama’s Achilles Heel in the current election? What is the one issue and statistic that Romney keeps returning to with the most effectiveness? Employment. It’s an equally big issue weighing over just about every world leader from Greece to Egypt. People want jobs. And young people – with energy, vigour and dreams – are disproportionately anxious for them.
Dynamic Work holds great promise as a tool for increasing employment. By allowing companies to make more productive use of workers, their ROI and business case justification becomes easier. By introducing greater flexibility in commercial terms, companies can take o more workers at less longer term risk.
These assertions were underscored by a recent statistics released by the UK’s Office for National Statistics. Kevin Green, CEO of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation commented…
“More people in work than ever before and the lowest unemployment in over a year is another significant step on the road to recovery. The truly amazing thing is that during the past year of a technical recession, and in spite of austerity and public sector cuts, the UK has created half a million jobs. The job numbers are being driven by flexible working - the number of full time posts has grown but the increase in temps and part-time workers has been even greater. Too many people talk down the value of part-time work, but it’s here in black and white – over 80 per cent of part-time employees chose to work that way.
The counter claim to these promising numbers is that such ‘part time’ work is really offers less pay and less security. But, the higher pay and higher quality may come in the total ‘portfolio’ of employment rather than in a specific job. The bartending actor whose glass washing enables his dream pursuing.
A US Census Bureau report “Higher-income workers have more work-at-home flexibility” provided further evidence of standard of living quality for flexible workers in both monetary and non-monetary terms...
“’Mixed’ workers who work both at home and in an office are generally affluent, with median household income of $96,300, according to census data. That compares with median household income of $74,000 for people who always work at home and $65,600 for people who always work onsite, the researchers reported. Nearly half of the people who worked at home exclusively were self-employed, but experts say there are other explanations for why those who work from home make less. Some employers are finding that especially among younger workers, the ability to work at home and forgo a gruelling commute is such a beneficial perk that they are willing to accept a lower starting salary in exchange for it.”
The morale of the story is that countries need ‘Dynamic’ leadership now more than ever before.
TechCrunch’s piece “10 Office Tools And Workplace Norms That Are Going Extinct” with an endangered species list for the “new work world” habitat. (thanks Geoff). Half are obsolescing technologies, but the other half are victims of surging Dynamic Work…
- Tape recorders (79 percent)
- Fax machines (71 percent)
- The Rolodex (58 percent)
- Standard working hours (57 percent)
- Desk phones (35 percent)
- Desktop computers (34 percent)
- Formal business attire like suits, ties, pantyhose, etc. (27 percent)
- The corner office for managers/executives (21 percent)
- Cubicles (19 percent)
- USB thumb drives (17 percent)
I would add a few more to the list…
- Network cables – Put your money into wireless infrastructure and don’t be put off by the nervous nellies who are convinced that performance and security won’t be adequate.
- Assigned desks - An extension of the ‘corner office’, ‘desk phone’ and ‘desk computer’ items above.
- Briefcases – This one was proposed by Geoff and highlights the shift from the ‘paperwork’ office (that briefcases are designed to carry and protect). This item is the most nostalgic for me as I carried a briefcase for many years of my life. They evoke something more solid, aesthetic, and professional that the black nylon computer sacks of today.
No, not ‘Bring Your Own Dynamic-ness’. But, ‘Bring Your Own Device’. A surging concept in the ethos of Dynamic Work.
Susanne Dansey’s ‘Cowshed’ explores this growing concept in a recent post…
“BYOD is an acronym for “Bring Your Own Device”, in other words – using your own technology for work purposes. The workplace is changing and the tools we use to work are changing. Gone are the days when employees will quietly accept whatever hardware the IT department has provided. Many of us are now using our own smart phones and tablets for work purposes making BYOD commonplace. People are working more of the time, at times that suit them and with devices they like. Boundaries between work and home life are becoming more blurred and many welcome the flexibility this brings (e.g. working parents).”
For many years, I lugged double. My personal laptop and my office laptop. My personal phone and my office phone. Why? Because the IT departments had very specific notions of the devices that they wanted me to use (namely cheap and consistent). I invested in my own devices because I wanted something more powerful and individual. Once again, the power of virtualisation enables a have-your-cake-and-eat-it win. IT departments don’t really care about the nuts and bolts or the form factor and style of your device. They just want (a) computer power, and (b) secure, controlled policies (as in system management profiles). Today, they can provide a sandbox virtual environment either remotely in a virtual environment or locally in a virtual machine. If your kit meets the specifications to run these environments tightly controlled by IT, then their view can be ‘knock yourself out and get whatever device you want and feel free to use it for whatever you want outside that corporate ringfence’.
At the heart of Dynamic Work is the spirit of flexibility to the right approach and right tool for the right job. Electronic productivity tools have too long been a one-size-fits-all standardization that imposed to many burdens and limitations on the users both professionally and personally. But BYOD looks to unshackle all of that.
I was drawn to Tim Harford’s book ’Adapt’ by its theme and subtitle “Why Success Always Starts With Failure” which lies at the heart of my other online exploration. The author, Harford examines a range of failure dynamics and how to manage them. You can never really avoid them so the best prescription to acknowledge and embrace them and then cope with, if not exploit, the consequences.
One of the case studies he examines is the retail chain Timpsons. The progressive leadership by John Timpson has resulted in a number of organisational innovations as you might expect with a company that embraces risk taking, but the one that caught my eye in the context of Dynamic Work is ‘peer monitoring’. The walls that Dynamic Work breaks down are not just geographical and chronological, but also potentially organizational. Peer Monitoring is a powerful concept provides an alternative to conventional Command and Control hierarchies. People are becoming more familiar with the fundamental concept as it is a common one in the digital world of online communities…
“Peer monitoring is closely associated with the virtual world: it’s the fundamental building block of Google’s search algorithm (giving weight to how popular a site is with other sites), phenomena like eBay (which relies on buyers and sellers rating each other’s reliability) and Wikipedia (in which anyone can edit anyone’s else articles), and the open-source software movement which has delivered such successes as Firefox and Apache. But as Timpson shows, it’s applicable far behind the cutting edge of crowd-sourced technology…I witnessed [another] striking example of peer monitoring on my visit to the Hinkley B nuclear power station…Just as [our group of senior executives] were about to leave the meeting room, a portly middle-aged lady in a hard hat walked in pushing a trolley laden with sandwiches. She took one look at us and politely but firmly admonished our host that we’d left our shoes in a place where they constituted a tripping hazard, and asked us to move them…The instant correction of a problem, no matter how small and no matter what the hierarchical relationship might be between the head of safety and the tea lady.”
Whatever Timpson are doing it works for me as I am a regular and delighted customer at my local branch in Marlow
Microsoft is back investing in Dynamic Work which seemed like a reasonable enough prod for me to dust of this blog with an updated post. Specifically, Microsoft Europe has sponsored a study of flexible working, “Attitudes Towards Flexible Working” with the research firm Vanson Bourne. Some of the findings, as reported in HR Magazine, include…
“The majority of business leaders across 15 Western European countries are 'very optimistic' about the business and employee benefits of flexible working practices, but have yet to implement a strategy for making new ways of working a reality, according to Microsoft and research firm, Vanson Bourne. Although businesses increasingly grant employees flexibility about when and where to work, the biggest barriers for employees include the right technology access and managerial guidance. Full flexible working is a reality for only a minority of knowledge workers in European businesses. The study among business leaders found the Western European countries in which businesses are most likely to allow their employees to work flexibly are Germany, the UK and Norway; the countries in which businesses are least open to flexible working are Belgium, Portugal and Italy….Most significantly, a majority of employees have not been made aware of the flexible working policies and guidelines in their organisation: 63% of business leaders (53% in the UK) say they provide their organisations with flexible working policies, but only a third of employees responded that their business has a policy in place (32% in the UK). Furthermore, a quarter of businesses (9% in the UK) measure the impact of flexible working (on employee satisfaction, productivity and customer satisfaction, for example).”
‘Office Worker Factories’ are on their own deathbed. .
The ‘Industrial Age’ of the 20th century was defined by factories that produced goods at scale. When you mention ‘Industrial’, people think Rust Belt, smokestack, blue-collar engines of manufacturing. But just as prominent to the Industrial Age (probably more so in the final decades) were the ‘Office Worker Factories’. Behemoths of assembly-line processing by white-collared, college educated ‘knowledge workers’. But just as automation and globalisation has displaced most of the Rosie the Riveters, the same forces have now made redundant the legions of Peter the Paper Pushers. Documented in William Whyte’s classic ‘Organization Man’, regimented In and Out Trays worked on synchronised 9-to-5 shifts managed by overseers.
The ‘Service’ economy (eg. finance, information technology, logistics) has long looked down its nose at ‘Manufacturing’ sector as outdated and obsolete. Little did it realise that the Service sector is just Manufacturing’s younger sibling. Now it too has hit its dotage in the Industrial family.
Seth Godin recently penned a post “The forever recession (and the coming revolution)” which dramatically dissected the decline of the staid, fixed, old infrastructure across all sectors of the economy. Clearing the way is the Dynamic new approaches to business…
There are actually two recessions: The first is the cyclical one, the one that inevitably comes and then inevitably goes…The other recession, though, the one with the loss of ‘good factory jobs’ and systemic unemployment--I fear that this recession is here forever. Why do we believe that jobs where we are paid really good money to do work that can be systemized, written in a manual and/or exported are going to come back ever? The internet has squeezed inefficiencies out of many systems, and the ability to move work around, coordinate activity and digitize data all combine to eliminate a wide swath of the jobs the industrial age created…The industrial age, the one that started with the industrial revolution, is fading away. It is no longer the growth engine of the economy and it seems absurd to imagine that great pay for replaceable work is on the horizon.
I'm not a pessimist, though, because the new revolution, the revolution of connection, creates all sorts of new productivity and new opportunities…Most of the wealth created by this revolution doesn't look like a job, not a full time one anyway. When everyone has a laptop and connection to the world, then everyone owns a factory. Instead of coming together physically, we have the ability to come together virtually, to earn attention, to connect labor and resources, to deliver value.
Stressful? Of course it is. No one is trained in how to do this, in how to initiate, to visualize, to solve interesting problems and then deliver. Some see the new work as a hodgepodge of little projects, a pale imitation of a 'real' job. Others realize that this is a platform for a kind of art, a far more level playing field in which owning a factory isn't a birthright for a tiny minority but something that hundreds of millions of people have the chance to do.
This revolution is at least as big as the last one, and the last one changed everything.”
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