June 14, 2021

From Work from Home to….

The future of work and the workplace is understandably on many people’s minds right now — both personally and on behalf of their organizations. One way of looking at it starts with a Workplace Pendulum, with the extremes in the swing being the office and work from home (WFH).

The pendulum was stuck at the office end for a long time — so much so that most infrastructure planning was about multi-billion expenditures to get people to work via road, rail and subway. And much planning at the kitchen table was about handling housing costs and commuting trade-offs. Then the pandemic, as we have experienced, swung the pendulum to the other extreme where it in turn became stuck. In doing so, the pandemic made the impossible possible and made the familiar — the daily trip to the office — impossible.

An easy way to think about the future involves the pendulum swinging, in a managed and slower way, back in the opposite direction but to some hybrid (work at the office; work from home) mid-point. This makes sense, but it doesn’t really capture some of the options for employers and employees.

For employers having trouble getting talented people to relocate within commuting distance of their urban or rural headquarters, there are new options. For employees, new options open up involving “Who do I want to work for?” and “Where do I want to live?”. From the Caribbean to Canada to Scandinavia, regions and countries have invited moving daydreams to actions. We will soon be getting the reports back from adventuresome designers, writers, executives and more.

For organizations charting their future, strategic choices need to consider not only time and space, talent and costs; they also need to address the chemistry that goes into organizational culture. There is no point in having great strategies on paper (or, more accurately, on a Zoom call) only to have the culture unravel around you. After all, as has been long observed, culture trumps strategy.

Several observers offer useful insights into work with a much larger WFH factor. One is Tsedal Neeley’s Remote Work Revolution. Neeley commenced her work well before the pandemic but incorporates insights from the last year and a half. Interestingly, the book is less about commuting, office-sharing or job design and is more about leadership and bringing together people with great and diverse capabilities in circumstances that require a different set of leadership skills. That is not surprising as Neeley’s area of specialization at the Harvard Business School is organizational development.

In our own case, as we write this blog, we are reflecting on our partnerships in Ontario, consulting work in Montreal, task-focused work with an associate on another continent, current work in Peterborough, Ontario for which one ingredient is a satellite connection to Stoney Lake.

So, as we contemplate and plan for the next swing of the pendulum, we are enthusiastic about what we see and experience. Creative capabilities, problem-solving, surprising partnerships and new pieces in the equation promise benefits for individuals and families, organizations and communities as we re-imagine what is possible.

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From Work from Home to….
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