Making Sense of the Week That Was: Hybrid Work — Change is coming
Grey Swan Guild News Wrap Edition #35 of Volume 1 | 17 September 2021
Editor: Rob Tyrie
This week, we take a look at hybrid work: what it is and what it might be.
There is a central dogma to knowledge work, which includes overhead activities like managing, checking, coordinating, orchestrating, communicating, explaining, summarizing, cutting and pasting. That central dogma was this — it was better for the company and the workers if they were closely located in campuses or buildings. And city planners leaned in to ensure collections of business in denser collections of downtowns and business parks. It made sense at the time.
That central dogma has been challenged by modern communications and information systems based on the Internet for decades. The 1995 internet itself was one of the first “killer apps”; providing the ability for information workers, knowledge workers and creatives to work, learn and teach from anywhere in the world where there was a connection.
What was not an option in 1995 was the internet’s ability to recreate the physical and social bandwidth of a co-located office or a face-to-face meeting with multiple members. As bandwidth increased, only parts of businesses and sectors moved to remote work. I was one of those people who, over the last two decades, moved from office work to remote work and work from multiple offices in multiple groups. I have built teams and companies preparing for this eventuality, but a 100% remote working operation is not a normal default state for most businesses. The social conversation we are having about hybrid work is specifically for knowledge workers as defined by Peter Drucker in 1959. Indeed, hybrid work will never be the default for all work because of the nature of manufacturing, entertainment, health and other frontline services work that at their core are human-to-human centred.
The Pandemic’s impact on public health and safety, as well as new rules and restrictions enforced by governments limiting gatherings, have accelerated the move to remote work and flexible working hours. The structures and strictures are so intense that the very idea of management, controls, and incentives are being completely redefined.
This has moved in stages. At first in the spring of 2020, remote work and flex time schedules were set up as interim measures, but as we moved through financial quarters and results were measured, some companies have moved to make permanent changes in work practices and policies because they are more resilient and more profitable. Internet, email, instant messaging, collaboration software and video calling have performed and kept up with the global demand. Knowledge workers settled into the new “remote work” temporary situation, which, one year later, became the “new normal”.
Now, as vaccines roll out and organizations began to plan to bring workers back to the office, we are seeing the workers push back against “business as usual”, including commutes and office hours.
At the Grey Swan Guild, we believe that the future of work will include a battle over the freedom to chose where, when and how to work. The last two years have fired up the same divisive arguments over control of the factors and relations of production that Marx and Engles illustrated and made history with in The Communist Manifesto. Yes, that divisive.
I believe that the collective emotions we are experiencing due to this sudden move to hybrid work are akin to the stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As Elisabeth Kubler-Ross noted in her theory, the model is not linear: we spiral through these stages and we may regress from acceptance to anger again, especially if our freedom or our pay are cut because we choose to work from the suburbs of Saskatoon, where the average price of a house is less then $250k CAD.
What stage are you in? What stage is your company in?
There are so many grey areas. Is hybrid work more productive or less productive? Will the speed of innovation slow down without co-location? Does it benefit all works or just some? Does it help management more or less? Will workers be paid less or more to work in offices or from home? Who will pay for the risks of working remotely or from home? Will the cost of living in cities be added to or removed from pay packets, or will incentives become more focused on results? Will work from home exacerbate the digital divide? Who will protect un-unionized workers? Will older non technical workers keep up with the changes? Will this cause a rise in unions in some knowledge industries? Will remote workers become second-class workers? Are women in a worse position than ever before in working from home? Will social isolation hurt people’s mental health?
Are you working remotely now? How will that change for you in the next year? Is that knowable?
The known unknowns and unknown unknowns of hybrid work are what this Wrap is about this week as we take a look at points of view, analysis and news of the changes and revolutions that might occur in the future of work. Trillions of dollars of economic impact and wealth transfer hang in the balance.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about hybrid work. Why not join us on Clubhouse this Sunday the 19th September 2021 at 8am PST | 11am EST | 4pm BST | 5pm SAST to make sense of it all, have your say and engage with your favourite Grey Swan Guild Wrap Editors: Doyle Buehler, Sylvia Gallusser, Sean Moffitt, Agustín Borrazás, Rob Tyrie, Louise Mowbray, Ben Thurman, Antonia Nicols and now new additions to our team Esmee Wilcox, Geeta Dhir, Gina Clifford, Su McVey with Clubhouse Captains Howard Fields, Scott Phares and Lindsay Fraser.
In the meantime….Let’s Wrap.
The Great 😇
1.Reinventing the business model. Two of the best outcomes of the pandemic may be the availability of technology and the emergent demand to create new working mechanisms. Having remote work available as a common option may just make the world a better place. Here’s one of the many “silver-lining” essays from the Enterprise Project. And for context, remote working is not actually a new thing: Ben Franklin, Isaac Newton and Shakespeare were all remote workers.
“Today, the world’s largest work-from-home experiment is an invitation to think more broadly about an organization’s future business model (real estate, supply chain, workforce, leadership, et al.). It could be the surprising silver lining to this crisis.
2.Competition breeds innovation. It may not be great from the perspective of the planet or humanity, but Zoom’s business results are great for them, their industry and their shareholders. Zoom makes parts of hybrid work work. Their market cap is now $85.5B (By comparison, Ford’s market cap is $53B).
If you aren’t a Zoom shareholder, you may still be able to appreciate the impact that competition they brought to the markets. Zoom’s success was a real wake-up call to Microsoft, Google, Citrix, Cisco and others as they moved rapidly to innovate in order to compete. They all got better.
Another winner in the software market is Canva, helping remote designers and marketers everywhere collaborate. Canva is now one of the world’s most valuable startups after raising $200M in new funding at a $40B valuation. Cofounders Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht promise to donate 30% of the company away. That’s great and heartening.
3.Hybrid work… well the remote part. 64 million people, approximately the population of France, have declared that they wish to be Digital Nomads: People with no permanent address, working remotely from anywhere in the world with total freedom and combining travel and professional opportunities. It’s such a sizable movement that they have created their own embassy, and over 20 countries have already developed visas to attract international workers to live and spend money locally. Consumption taxes like the VAT help, of course, and Canada and the US do not have these programs, which can be limiting. Still, US citizens and Canadians can cross the border and get a B1 or B2 visa that allows for vacation or work if they are working for a US- or Canadian-based company.
The Good 🤩
1.Movin’ on up. Maybe the right approach is to get the hybrid work you want it is to change jobs. It is the perfect time to negotiate how you want to work if you are in a role that is in demand. We note that wind turbine service technician jobs will grow by 68% over the decade . Large increases of workers will be in the health care sector where nurses, physicians assistants and physical therapists will all have high potential. Here are some of the other fastest-growing jobs in the next decade from Visual Capitalist. Career opportunities trending in 2020s, visualized (USA).
2.Flex work FOMO. There is no playbook for returning to the office. This collection from The Financial Times collects half a dozen new lessons for managers in including this one:
In regular polling, most PwC staff of all ages have said on average that they were keen to be in the office two to three days a week. That has been borne out so far, and the numbers in offices have doubled over the past two weeks to more than 4,500. Ellis believes the return is motivated by “a combination of appetite and fear of missing out”.
3. Why the future of work will be hybrid. Let’s be clear, it is the best of both worlds. Organized, direct connection face to face when needed. A drop in commuting time and costs, flexibility in time slicing, and being close to family and community are all advantages that people want to keep. Autonomy over one’s jobs is a key feature in employee retention, so a hybrid work option may become part of the war for talent across industries.
A survey in May showed that 55% of US workers want a mixture of home and office working. In the UK, employers expect the proportion of regular home workers to double, from 18% pre-pandemic to 37% post-pandemic. In China, employment expert Alicia Tung has predicted that in 10 years’ time, there will be a 60/40 split of onsite/remote work.
The Bad 😬
1.We’re not going to take it. The flexibility to work from anywhere may be a boon to workers with access to technology, but teleworking contributes to income inequality. An IMF study finds that 15% of workers in countries included in the research do not have the ability to work remotely. How do we ensure that this rising tide lifts all boats? — QZ.com
2.Hybrid ain't all that. We know it’s supposed to bring benefits, like more flexibility and autonomy for workers. We also know that it’s a working model that many employees want — some studies show that up to 83% of workers want to go hybrid after the pandemic. Yet what about the fairness of “two-track” cultures, the need for collaboration vs. the investment required for safer workspaces, how to fairly accommodate parents and caregivers who may need to work from home, avoiding the pressure for Presenteeism and other knock-on effects? The BBC brings a case against hybrid work.
3.Thank you, next. One of the disadvantages of remote working is the loss of rituals and human contact, painfully highlighted in this article about the experiencing of quitting a remote role where you were mainly known as an image on a screen. If our needs to be connected, to have attention are not met appropriately at work, we may look for inappropriate ways of getting them met. So what might happen if these trends continue? How does one quit properly in a hybrid world? We assume it will be on a Wednesday, in person as one should and not in a Team GIF overnight.
“It was all very lame and anticlimactic.” London-based software engineering consultant Ruth* is describing her final day at her former company earlier this month. She had no leaving drinks, not even virtual ones, and sent a goodbye leaving email before setting her last Out of Office. “It left a bitter taste because I’d killed myself working for them, but at the same time it made me feel like I’d made the right decision. But no closure, not like you usually get.” Instead, a year and a half of her career ended with her wandering aimlessly around Oxford Street, window-shopping.
The Ugly 😱
1.Remote work and the connection to depression. Working from home can be isolating and cause sadness and loneliness.
About two weeks after much of America’s workforce switched to remote set-ups, Google search traffic for “symptoms of anxiety” hit an all-time high. Office life has its stressors, but our own homes seem to be giving the conference room a run for its money. For people with existing mental-health conditions — or without the childcare, technology, space, healthcare or employer support they need to work from home successfully — that dynamic is amplified.
2. Forcing an un-forceable thing. Be prepared to face the consequences if you force staff to work in the office in times of changing restrictions and uncertain health and safety conditions. While banks like JP Morgan. Citibank and Goldman Sachs are rallying to go back to the office, the staff isn't buying it. And who angsting really? Is it the managers who do not really add any value to a modern connected company? In a 2016 review, two analysts estimated that there was over $2 Trillion of excess management in the US. That trouble. In this Atlantic article, those bullshit jobs are called out. We ar concerned it is those managers who are trying to prove their worth by rallying around rearward thinking CEO to maintain their self-esteem and egos by filling cubes and lunchrooms.
Enabling employees to achieve work-life balance will go a long way in ensuring that they maintain productivity and engagement. A recent Accenture research study on the future of work stated that employees who had a hybrid work situation during the pandemic “had better mental health, stronger work relationships, and were more likely to feel net better off and less burned out working for their organizations.”
3.Benefits? What benefits? Along with other countries, the U.K. government announced that it was ending a COVID-related increase in its social security system (payments for people in low pay work, with disabilities, and out of work). Amidst lots of press on how this will push people into poverty, this centric health view takes a more factual stance — that it is affecting people in areas of poor health disproportionately.
The Grey Zone of Uncertainty 🧐
1.Here are some insights from Umran Beba, one of the Grey Swan Guild experts on the future of work and diversity in the workplace. She is a Partner at August Leadership.
Both employers and employees have seen that remote work works to a good extent.
Objections do come are in the form of culture, belonging, collaboration and home space inequities.
The best solutions we are hearing are collaboration spaces and days, example Tuesday-Thursday or two days a week.
If companies do still have offices, they have started to open mostly in July, invite people freely or with specific guidance.
The numbers are still low and expected to be low in the next few months.
We also hear January as new date of strategy announcements for hybrid work.
Some companies are moving into fully remote depending on the business model while others insist for return.
For new hires, relocations are not very welcome, people want to stay where they are and commute occasionally.
My conclusion at this point is a collaboration space and period during the week based on needs will be positive.
If the jobs are in the frontlines, that is a totally different situation where people need to be in manufacturing, service or health care jobs.
There is talent shortage in most of the hourly jobs and costs will increase as a result or already increasing both in terms of labor and raw materials.
As these developments are taking place, we see large numbers of women leaving workforce in the last 18 months and people question the meaning of this as we plan what employers should be doing going forward.
Future of work is here and the need of an EVP Restage is absolutely needed.
2.Thousands of workers have been heading back to the office over the past week or so. As they do so, the prizes and pitfalls of hybrid ways of working are already becoming reality. When it works well, hybrid working adapts to how people work best and engages everyone. Done poorly, hybrid places extra demands on people and frustrates everyone, says a new paper from Dr. Sharon Varney:
3.Zoom’s new “Video Engagement Center” provides video-optimized workflows to take customer meetings to the next level. We think this is in a step in the right direction towards replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual experiences, but customers will tell how well this will work. We will be tracking the term “Customer Video Engagement” now.
Zoom’s biggest new announcement is what it calls a Video Engagement Center, a service that will connect customer service reps and technical support to users for video-based consultations or walkthroughs. The tool could also be used in a shopping or retail context, with salespeople demonstrating products in brick-and-mortar stores or dedicated digital ones. Zoom expects to launch that product early next year, along with templates on how to integrate it into customers’ workflows and apps
4.Remote work is proving to be productive work — but is that a pandemic effect? Anyone working remotely in software in the last decade understands that remote work is productive and has critical advantages for workers and employers and their clients, says this study from Mercer. This year Microsoft completed a study of over 61,000 workers. The researchers had access to all mail, messaging and call between Dec 2019 and June 2020. They found that workers that did not depend on cross-organization collaboration were more productive are those that need external interactions were less productive. There are some clear challenges here — the time period was soon after office closures and mixed in non-pandemic data. And there is also a wariness that has to happen when a Software company that sells collaboration software tells the world their research indicated that their customers should buy more and more expensive collaboration software. The work was published in Nature — Human Behaviour. Take it with a grain of salt.
5.Network World recommends that companies kill off temporary solutions and embrace remote work as the new normal. This is smart. New policies will cause some staff will leave and new staff will replace them and they will adapt. Remote work capability is like transportation infrastructure: once a new road is built and proves to be faster and more efficient, it is not going to be dismantled. That said, double-check some of the biases in this report given its sources. While Remote Work is Here to Stay, Temporary Solutions Must Go Away.
The collection of images, videos and charts delivered by the zeitgeist that is the internet and the news cycle.
Map of the Week:
Best cities in the US. Boise? We are in. This is the decade of domestic migration.
Rage Quit. It not just quitting, it is flipping the desk and storming out is a storm of goose sh*t and feathers and burning all the boats and the bridges. A term originating from the gaming sphere is coming into meatspace now. here’s a great article from the BBC about the phenomenon. Why rage-quitting is all the rage this year — BBC.COM
Data of the Week:
Where the new jobs are, as of Sept 2021.
Meme of the Week:
Photo of the Week:
The “We Work Look” is no longer about your sock game.
Music of the Week
This week is edition #35 of a compendium of stories and headlines we’re tracking in the Grey Swan Guild’s Global League of Sensemakers’ Newsroom. Imagine a newsroom that went deeper, had little bias and didn’t have to get their points across in 40-second sound bytes or linkbait headlines. That’s us.
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This month our Feature Guild City of the month is Seattle. If you know of passionate leaders, thinkers or change agents from Emerald City, release the Kraken and have them join our Guild and our Seattle Guild Town Hall September 22.
We have opened up another Medium and Clubhouse flank to the Grey Swan. Based on the pioneering successes of our Grey Swan News Wrap effort we have created “The Futures & Sensemaking” Series with an array of articles forthcoming about the why and how of making sense of the world. Our first well-attended session happened this last Friday on “Why Futures and Foresights Matter?” Next up Episode #2 is “Why Sensemaking & Critical Thinking Matter?” on Friday, September 24th. Join us as we peel back the curtain on how the best among us make sense of the world.