A Matter of Perspective

It is a fascinating time. 

There’s a power play emerging between those who want people in the office and those who don’t want to be there.

The latest salvo comes from the “Centre for Cities Think Tank” and follows on from assertive statements from several large corporates.

I think it’s worth unpacking this, so here are some thoughts:

  • There are always going to be those jobs where people are better working in close proximity, where the nature of the job requires close, continuous interaction. I find it hard, though, to reconcile that with buildings full of cubicles and offices that keep people apart.
  • The water cooler is a myth. If we need water coolers to foster communication, we’ve lost the plot.
  • Bureaucracies first job is to expand their area of influence. It is difficult for those whose only job is to manage when they can’t see those they supervise. The survival instinct will kick in.
  • I cannot think of a single office I have ever visited where I feel, “I’d like to come in here every day.”
  • If our job involves a necessity for close supervision, I suspect that some form of automation is pushing at the office door.
  • If our job involves thinking and creativity, we need time, space, trust and a good measure of autonomy. 
  • Whether we are in the office or at home, we need leaders who lead and fewer, better managers. 

One of the basic rules known for centuries is that authority to act has to be located at the edge in times of uncertainty, with those doing the work. Although its origins lie in the military, from Sun Tzu onwards, the power of technology has made it equally applicable to modern work life. It makes the trench warfare school of commuting to the front line archaic for many, no matter how much the generals like it.

I think the debate is less “office or home” and far more about the nature of work, leadership and trust. The latest Edelmann Trust Barometer makes for salutary but unsurprising reading. Whichever way we look at it, people are dislocated from their work. 

We are at the end of the industrial era, and moving into, we’re not sure what. What is needed now are open conversations within businesses and, more generally, about what it means for us. 

The office/home debate is about as valuable as the water cooler myth. This is about the nature of work (and a clue; the generals won’t decide it)

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