trends

Happy entrepreneur working with a phone and laptop in a coffee shop in the streetAs early as 2002 one of my earliest studies of work patterns indicated that on average knowledge workers were spending only about 35% of their work time inside their assigned corporate facility. They were spending another 30% of their time working out of home offices, and the remainder in “Third Places” like coffee shops, libraries, public parks, hotels, and airports.

Think about that: a full two-thirds of knowledge work now takes place outside of corporate facilities. That sounds like a strikingly large number, but I and many others have conducted numerous studies clearly demonstrating that organizational work today is widely dispersed across many different kinds of locations. Most of us today act as if it doesn’t matter whether the people we are in conversation with are across a desk, across the room, across town, or on another continent.

Yet one of the most common complaints I hear about letting local employees work remotely even just a day or two a week is “How can I manage them if I can’t see them?” [click to continue…]

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Future Exit Sign 000018627375XSmallWe have just celebrated Memorial Day weekend in the United States. It has been an opportunity to reflect on our good fortune as a country, but more importantly to give thanks for the millions of servicemen and servicewomen who sacrificed their lives to protect us in way too many wars.

But this time of pausing and reflecting also got me thinking about how the working environments where most of us spend most of our waking hours have changed over the past twenty years – and will change even more going forward.

Those of us of a certain age can remember when our families sat down in front of the big box in our living rooms that brought us the 6 o’clock evening news. We shared that experience with our neighbors near and far; most of the country absorbed that information at the same time, and from one or the other of the three major networks that brought us all the television news and entertainment.

And most of us had one telephone somewhere in the front hall or living room; but we only used it for short, functional conversations with our neighbors and nearby relatives (calls were billed by the minute, after all). Once a year we might call a distant grandparent for a short “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Holidays” message; long distance calls were prohibitively expensive and the sound was often tinny and full of static.

In short, we didn’t have much choice in how we got our information or stayed in touch with out-of-town family and friends. Our world was relatively limited.

And the way we worked was very similar. [click to continue…]

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1502171419101371-social-hire-logo_ecI was recently interviewed by Social-Hire as part of their Expert Interview program. It was a wide-ranging conversation about the changing nature of the workforce, the need for a radically new kind of organizational leadership, and how to attract and retain talent in this age of networked knowledge that we’ve created.

Here is a brief excerpt that reflects my perspective on why so many of us are frustrated and discouraged about our work experiences: [click to continue…]

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cube farm4My colleague and good friend Diane Coles Levine is fond of saying “It’s a lot easier to think outside the box when you’re not in one.” That’s her way of pointing out that cube farms are not the best environment for creativity and collaboration.

I have written previously about my belief  that knowledge workers don’t just need a workspace, they need many places (“De Uno, Plures – From One, Many”). Work today isn’t monolithic or monotonous, and we need workplaces that offer variety and choice that matches what we do day by day or hour by hour.

And as I pointed out last week (“You Make It, You Own It”), when individuals make choices about where and when to get their work done they “own” those choices and are generally more committed to their work, more productive, and more engaged with their employer.

About five years ago I was part of an international research project team that was seeking to define the attributes of an effective workplace. Our Swedish lead researcher asked each of us on the project team to take a photograph of our favorite part of our own office and then to post it on the project website. [click to continue…]

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You Make It, You Own It

March 16, 2015

English_Bay_Vancouver_BCLast week I participated in IFMA’s Facility Fusion 2015 Canada conference in Vancouver. I enjoyed seeing many old friends and making new ones. But more importantly I enjoyed having my brain cells stimulated by so many interesting stories of new workplace designs and workforce programs.

If there was one underlying idea that linked many of those stories together for me, it was the power of choice. Almost every story we heard about workplace innovation mentioned increased variety within the workplace, and/or between alternative workplaces. And more variety clearly means more choice for the people using those workplaces. [click to continue…]

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Living Room Conversations

February 9, 2015

LRC_logo

(htttp://www.livingroomconversations.org)

Several years ago my good friend Joan Blades co-founded a national nonprofit group called Living Room Conversations, or LRC, with the explicit goal of improving the level and quality of social discourse around public policy issues.

Joan, like many Americans across the political spectrum, is deeply concerned about the apparent inability (and unwillingness) of people with differing political views to talk to each other – and more importantly, to listen to each other. We all know how “broken” the US Congress is; its national approval ratings have never been lower.

But Living Room Conversations isn’t trying to reform Congress (except through grass roots public pressure); it is a movement aimed at bringing “ordinary” people holding different basic views together in their own living rooms to explore issues such as voting rights, prison reform, immigration, tax policies, health care, the Middle East, and other major issues that seem to divide us from our neighbors – and yet are fundamentally important to our collective futures on this planet.

In contrast, my professional focus is on conversations at work, and how they affect organizational performance and the workplace experience for individuals and teams. [click to continue…]

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LargeCrowdSome time ago I heard a story about a CEO who had opened up his organization’s strategic planning process to solicit ideas from all of the company’s 5,000 employees. When asked why he did that instead of relying on his executive committee, he said, simply, “I woke up one morning and realized that 5,000 people are a whole lot smarter than five.”

But that kind of openness is highly unusual among senior executives. Most of the executive leaders I have known and worked with see themselves as the “deciders” and the visionaries whose instincts about what is needed are superior to everyone else’s. Most of them are convinced that’s why they are in a leadership position.

But in large complex organizations it’s not that simple.

As I pointed out last week (“Getting Everyone in on the Action”), there is valuable knowledge distributed throughout every large organization – but it’s usually buried deep within the rank and file, and most executive leaders do not seem interested in seeking it out. [click to continue…]

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Men Playing The Game Of Rugby UnionHow can you get everyone in on the action and still get action?

Several years ago I was consulting with a major international bank on the deployment of a global IT system. Coincidentally, the bank was also actively engaged in a company-wide cultural change program. Although I wasn’t involved directly in that effort I heard about it almost daily from my clients, who were senior directors in the bank’s IT group.

Unfortunately, what I heard wasn’t particularly positive; in fact, most of the comments were negative and highly emotional. My clients believed the new “vision and values” didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and more importantly saw them as being imposed unilaterally on the whole organization by the chairman’s office.

In fact, almost everyone I knew inside the bank referred to the change program as “Bob’s Vision” or “Bob’s values.” In short, no one other than Bob, the chairman and CEO of the bank, felt any ownership of the new vision or its accompanying values. The real tragedy was that Bob’s vision made logical sense from a rational business perspective, and the bank was in dire need of a major shakeup and redirection. Bob could see that but had been unable to persuade even his direct reports to support his initiative. [click to continue…]

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Orchestrating a Meeting

December 15, 2014

OrchestraConductor

(c) Derek Brad photography

Perhaps the ultimate example of a collaborative performance is a symphony orchestra.

Picture this: It is opening night for the local philharmonic orchestra. You enter the concert hall and find your seat. The stage is covered with chairs, instruments, and music stands but it’s otherwise empty.

You exchange pleasantries with the people sitting on either side of you, take your seat, and begin reviewing the evening program. It tells you what music you will be hearing tonight, who the conductor is, and who the guest performers are.

A few minutes after you’ve settled in you look up to see the musicians walking onto the stage. They find their seats, put their copies of the evening’s score on the music stands, and begin to warm up and test their instruments.

At first the musicians play individually; perhaps the violinists are running through a section from the third movement, while the horns are working on their key part in the first movement. Gradually the noise level rises, and of course it’s a cacophony; there is no harmony, no meaning, no collaboration.

The Conductor comes on stage and taps the baton on his music stand to get everyone’s attention. The entire concert hall falls quiet; then at the Conductor’s signal the first violinist plays an extended middle C; after a moment all the other musicians play the same note on their individual instruments. They adjust their instruments as needed to ensure that everyone is “in tune.”

Now there is a sense of unity, of harmony. And the Conductor initiates the first performance of the evening by raising his baton, looking over the entire orchestra, and focusing his attention on the Concert Master, or first violinist. The first note sounds and suddenly there are no individual musicians; there is only the orchestra and the sounds of the symphony.

You are now witnessing one of the finest examples of collaboration I can think of. [click to continue…]

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Monarch Caterpillar eating milkweed Those of us who study and write about the difficulty of leading organizational change often use the image of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly as a metaphor for dramatic transformation.

But wanting to become a butterfly doesn’t make you one. You have to want to become a butterfly so badly that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.

That’s a fancy way of saying that having even a compelling vision of the future isn’t enough; to get there you have to give up the past and walk away from the present.

But there is another component of the caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation that most of us don’t think about and certainly don’t understand very well. [click to continue…]

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