Yahoo and Best Buy recently sparked off a controversy on whether remote work is right or office work is right.  What if they are both right and both wrong?

As students of the workplace, we believe the answer is more nuanced than the headlines.  Certainly as Max Nisen alluded to in Business Insider, quoting Tom Gimbel from LaSalle Network, ‘..this [Yahoo] is, a corporate turnaround and a culture change for a broken company.’, every company is different and must design its work strategy unique to its challenges and culture.

Having said that, there is an important discussion going on here.   Work is changing.  According to Lynda Gratton, author of The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here: “The speed at which the nature of work is changing is staggering …What we are witnessing now is a break with the past as significant as that in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries…”

We have moved from an agrarian age to an industrial age to an information age and most recently into a networked age of distributed work.

Work trends

Work trends

Technology is fueling the ability to work anywhere.  Our world is urbanizing with soon to be 50-75% of the world’s population living in cities. Huge demographic changes are in play.   The boomers are leaving the workforce, and GenY is entering in record numbers and reshaping the workplace. We are seeing the early signals of carbon footprint actually driving decisions and behavior.  We no longer can afford to go to work and come home less healthy.

Co-creation is ascending as the new dominant model of innovation, creativity and differentiation.  In this world – being together and being apart both matter.   As a truly mobile worker, I will never be chained to a single location or a single desk again.   The addiction of choice and locating work in the environment that best supports the work needed has taken over.

So let’ take each one separately – coming together and having choice and control over where you work (both on campus and off).

Coming together is important.  Creativity, innovation and a strong sense of culture all build off of connections and trust. There are many ways to build these networks but certainly being together,  having meaningful fun and having a common sense of purpose are high on that list.   It is also important to ask, why do high performance mobile workers still come to the office?   They come for very simple reasons: people need people, people need technology and people need spaces that bring those two together in effective ways.

Having choice and control is equally important.  Our lives have become more complicated – many of us need flexible schedules and/or our work demands it.  In a 24/7 global world where and when is the office that everyone can come into (and have a life)?  Different types of work are best done in different settings, and all of those settings may not be on the corporate campus.  Serendipity does not only happen with your coworkers – often the crosspollination of two very different situations is where the big idea comes from.

Finally wellbeing demands we move more.   There is a world where we can go to work and come home healthier.  The first step is exactly that – take more steps, move more often. We like to talk about working in a palette of places and a palette of postures. This very simple approach not only improves health, but improves creativity and the chance for the unexpected ‘bump-in’ where a great idea is discovered.  This palette should include places where the anthropologist can meet the programmers; the mathematicians can meet the linguists; where entrepreneurs can meet corporate innovators – both within the same company and without.

We have also studied highly effective and highly desirable entrepreneurial firms and found that they share some attributes, including:

  • Their personality comes through.
  • They have the freedome to be themselves.
  • There is passion for their craft.
  • A sense of community makes them part of something bigger.
  • They have meaningful fun.
  • They have a choice on how and where they want to work.
  • They take time to connect.

Note the last two – it isn’t about being ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the office that matters.  It is about being part of something and having the freedom to work where the work is best.