It’s not WHERE but HOW that matters

It’s not WHERE that matters, it’s HOW.

The conversation rumbles on about the ‘return to the office’, as evidenced by a rather flawed article on the BBC website titled “Should in-office workers be paid more?”. (The answer’s ‘No’).

Once again, we start with a crude dichotomy between ‘office’ and ‘Work from home’. Once again, assumptions are smeared across all employees as a homogenous bunch, rather than a collection of unique individual with their own preferences, needs and circumstances. Once again, the usual levers are pulled of ‘more money’ and ‘more stuff in the office’.

Once again, the focus of the conversation is WHERE people work, which entirely misses the point.

What’s really going to make a difference is HOW people work.

I can understand why the WHERE is a hot topic. Organisations have a lot of money invested in the  WHERE and, as that is changing, it raises a whole bunch of difficult questions, such as:

  • how much office space are we going to need?
  • how much of our investment are we going to have to write off?
  • how are we going to co-ordinate everyone?
  • what processes will still work and which will need replacing?
  • what tools do we need to make this work?

These are big questions right now, with significant consequences (not least for those who are facing them). It’s a big problem.

But, as Benjamin Franklin put it, “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.”

The massive opportunity here is that the ability of people to work anywhere makes whole new ways of working possible that not only provide major benefits but solve a whole load of other problems. 

Or to put it another what, because the WHERE is changing, we can now change the HOW and that can be hugely positive to the organisation and the people working in it.

Being office-centric locked in synchronous working practices that had evolved from factory floor. We may have overlaid all sorts of glossy stuff and put some fancy bits around the edges but we were still tied into the ‘work factory’ as our mental model.

Now we can, and must, move to a different approach to HOW the work is done. 

  • Asynchronous, self-directing, transparent, outcome-focused. 
  • A digital-first approach that removes friction, enables new connections, and reduces bureaucracy and oversight. 
  • A way of working that is flexible, agile, resilient, that pushes sense-making, decision-making, and action-taking out to the people who are closest to the customer.

Changing the HOW can release the potential of your employees, yield significant benefits in areas like innovation and collaboration, greatly reduce bureaucracy and costs and give your employees a better, healthier and more fulfilling life-style.

All the things that organisations say they want but have often failed to deliver.

Organisations that focus on changing the HOW will realise benefits that will dwarf any short-term costs they are facing on the WHERE.

And they will emerge as the winners.

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