In a series of articles i am exploring the conversation about the ‘Future of Work’, moving beyond a simple conversation about ‘where’ work happens, into a broader examination of ‘how’, and even ‘why’. The overarching narrative here is about the evolution of Organisations as our basic system of productivity and effect – we have Organisations to get things done – but ‘how’ they work is up for grabs.
The Pandemic has fractured parts of the older narrative of ‘office’ and ‘home’, but it’s simply an extension of a broader shift in the balance of power, and nature of engagement, that has been playing out for some years.
Today i am sharing a simple ‘Framework for the Future of Work’ which is intended as a starting point for discussion, couched around some core questions.
The four quadrants represent different aspects of enquiry:
- LOCATION of work – an examination of ‘where’ we work. This incorporates most of the current narratives around ‘remote’, ‘office’ and ‘hybrid’.
- MECHANISMS of work – an examination of the mechanisms by which we are effective in our work – incorporating questions of collaboration and innovation, but also the strategies and mechanisms of scale and optimisation – both things that our legacy Organisations excel at.
- AGENCY is an exploration of the ‘self’ in work and represents the notion that our engagement is now a discretionary, and multi dimensional, feature.
- IDENTITY seeks to understand the new landscapes of ‘self’ and ‘system’, where each starts and ends, and how the two relate. This is an examination of why we engage, our purpose and beliefs, and the varied economies that relate to this.
This is not a definitive list: i think we can set up a series of Frameworks, some of which may give us conflicting or contrary answers, but the value sits in our ability to reframe the conversation away from simple location.
One final context before the detail: in ‘The Socially Dynamic Organisation’ , i explored the origins of our existing legacy Organisational design with it’s roots in the Industrial Age and the principles of Scientific Management. One premise of this work is that our Organisations are entirely made up: they are not forces like gravity nor physical like rocks. Instead, we invented them, dreamt them up to serve our needs. In times of change, we must envisage the new. We must invent the Organisation fit for the Social Age.
Let me build out the four sections in a little more depth:
When considering the quadrant of Location – where we work – we look at four factors. ‘Space’, ‘Place’, ‘Ownership’ and ‘Belonging’. The easiest way to understand Space and Place is to consider your own house as either a set of map coordinates and a description of the building materials, or as your family home. Grid coordinates are ‘space’, home is ‘place’.
So our first question would be this: as your Organisation considers the Future of Work, are you primarily examining your owned Spaces, or your sense of Place. An Organisation that focuses on Space will think about leases and offices. One that thinks about Place will consider community, and connection. A Place based Organisation may have strong geographical links, but no actual office. By contrast, a Space based one may have a lot of infrastructure, but no true home or sense of belonging.
The next part of Location considers ‘Belonging’ itself, and asks the question ‘What is the nature of Belonging in your Organisation?’. Is it contractual and legal, or social and tribal, or both? It raises questions of ‘how do people join’ and ‘how do people belong’? An Organisation that has a focus on Belonging is one that values meta-structural connection, interconnectivity (which again i have written about widely in ‘The Socially Dynamic Organisation’). An Organisation with a more legal and hierarchical narrative around Belonging will see the challenge as one of Teams and structure – and hence will tackle change and adaptation looking through this lens. So which are you – structural or social belonging?
Finally, Ownership: the legacy office was owned by the formal Organisation – but what is the model of ownership in the new? A question may be as broad as ‘Who will be the Owner, or Guardian, of your future Place of Work’?
An Organisation that democratises ownership may see offices as part of their future, but ones with fewer formalised spaces: highly reconfigurable, flat and level (from a power perspective), where Estate Management may be more related to event management than building management. Places with a high level of connection to community – through both location and even e.g. art and decor.
This the of Organisation, which sees Ownership in a more fluid way as part of the Future of Work, may well be more permeable too: so whilst our legacy offices had battlements like a castle, the new ones may be more like community hubs, or shared ownership. This hits two benefits: it connects the Organisation more locally to Community, whilst also bringing the advantages of permeability of knowledge that we can access.
I will build out the next sections over subsequent articles.