Office: est. 1726
In England at least, keep reading.
It’s nice to stop for a moment and think: alright, so when did offices and office districts actually became a thing?
A quick search reveals the push for office structures dates back to Roman times, the first office buildings in England around the industrial revolution, the birth of the open-plan office thanks to Frank Lloyd Wright (honey, we gotta talk), and more (source, source).
From memory, I recall there’s always been tension between remote and on-site.
You’d think the push for remote work would always come from a small group of mavericks, but:
As early as 1998, Sun invested into remote work because they had products for remote work, and to cut costs (for some reason, they believed sales and managers needed to share body heat and couldn’t be remote).
Earlier, in 1992, British Telecom was in the same boat: we sell internet, you should work remotely and buy our services.
Even further back in the 1950s or so, people like Walt Disney (the futurist), envisioned that we'd work from home computers.
So it’s kinda interesting to see that for the service industry, the preference for offices has oscillated throughout the times.
Wonder how the office will evolve from this point forward.
The technology for the “transmission of intellectual value over long distances” has existed since the 60s (ref), and commoditised over time.
The culture of remote work, however, is still very much in the genesis stage: some have it, most don’t.
Remote work isn’t using Zoom or Slack, it’s changing behaviours.
The critical change in behaviour required for remote work is trusting each other.
Radical candour helps you achieve that trust.
On the management side, you build trust by being candid about the challenges ahead. There’s no point in blinding your team to a risk, leadership is caring about the whole team and getting everyone to focus on overcoming that risk. Part of that involves making sure everyone is on the same page.
As a contributor, candour shows leadership is in control, or at least has the same or greater situational awareness. There’s nothing worse for trust than feeling like leadership is asleep at the wheel. Trust is reciprocated, and trust between both parties is the best way to ensure everyone shares information with each other, no matter if positive or negative (there’s no bad information).
I’ve known people who hid information from each other because they feared how others would take the bad news, that it would demotivate or panic people. We’re all adults, don’t do that. Be candid, show the hard truth, and how you plan for the team to overcome that challenge.
The value of trust is as clear as water for me, if you need any reinforcement, listen or read my notes to the A16Z podcast episode about “Teams, Trust and Object Lessons” with Ben Horowitz (A16Z) and Dick Costolo (ex-Twitter), or this tweet from Tony Fadell.
A Year Later: How’s the Office Looking?
According to this article by The Information, most staff want 3-5 days working remotely, but few expect their employers to deliver on that.
And they’re right, despite the success of fully-remote companies like Doist, Buffer, Zapier, or GitLab, only Cameo seems to have fully committed to this collaboration model:
- Mostly Office: Apple, Netflix, Google, Goldman Sachs
- Hybrid: Microsoft, Uber, Salesforce, Facebook, Spotify, Adobe, Pinterest, Twilio, Cisco, Snap, Zendesk, Box, Twitter, Square, Nvidia, Zoom, Zillow, HSBC
- Remote-first: Shopify, Dropbox, Affirm
- Fully remote: Cameo, and maybe: Airbnb, Amazon
Note how most companies opted for a hybrid remote work policy. We know hybrid remote doesn’t work well because the collaboration constraints are different, and when that happens, it’s the majority that gets prioritised.
The majority of these companies will revert back to office as default, claim to have given remote a chance, and write it off.
I think we’re missing serious critical thinking about what the problems of office, hybrid, and remote work are. In the majority of conversations I’ve observed, people are very quick to assign a cause to a problem and deem it unsolvable.
In this episode, the consensus is that remote work tools and etiquette aren’t there. Saying remote work is the future is a bit presumptuous of me, because I know friends and coworkers who really struggle with it, but this William Gibson quote comes to mind:
The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed.
Sure, tools for remote work can be improved, so much so, that it’s actually my day job at Doist. But remote work is already possible with the state tools like Twist are currently at. The challenge right now is teaching people what healthy remote work looks like, which in my experience is also valuable for office work: trust built through candour, collaboration built into process, strategy through critical thinking, etc.
Claims that “remote lacks serendipity”, usually followed by examples like “you can’t just start, overhear, or join a conversation when working remotely” are very strange. I dunno, I’ve had more serendipity working remotely because I’m not limited to conversations that are happening right now, or somewhere around me. I can passively listen and participate in sales, marketing, or support discussions, as well as chat or setup a meeting with one or more people if needs be, without worrying about meeting room availability or if someone’s in the office or not.
Every working style has its challenges which you can identify and tackle. You can also just say remote or office work isn’t for you, but writing off either style, without trying to solve its problems first, doesn’t sound fair.
- WPP on The Future Of Advertising - YouTube
- WPP saves $30M USD/Month on travel because of COVID
- 2% of WPP employees want to work from the office 5 days/week
- WPP CXOs now talk directly instead of relying on middle-people
- WPP spends $7BN USD/Year on Google
- HBR: Making the Leap to a Digital-First Enterprise - pdf
- 78% say digital product users have formed lasting habits during the pandemic and that their digital adoption has accelerated and will never return to previous levels.
- COVID has accelerated customer acquisition, time to focus on retention.
- 12 Charts That Show How Tech Took Off During a Year of Shutdowns - article
- Average broadband consumption per household rose 40% in the US
- San Francisco office vacancy rate highest since 2005
- Delivery services, Discord, Zoom, TikTok saw the biggest increases in 2020
- Rush to create new tech companies and to go public to capitalise on the pandemic market
- Bitcoin value increased 6x
- A small indie developer found “users are more than willing to use their Apple accounts when encouraged to do so”: Apple 42%, Email 41%, Facebook 9%, Google 8%. - source
- 6,000 music albums were released in the UK in 1984. Today, streaming services make available a similar volume - 55,000 new songs - every day. - free source, paywall source
- "Apple users take a trillion photos a year. Peak for film was around 80bn, in 1999” - source
- Zero-click Google searches rose to nearly 65% in 2020 - source
- According to Google, this is because in 2020 more people reformulated their queries, looked up quick facts, searched for local businesses, opened results directly in an app. 🤔