Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

The office is an efficiency trap

Anne says: This is a fascinating (and quite long) read. I’m not sure whether it was the heading that attracted me, or was it that I wanted to see what evidence they were going to present? Not that I needed convincing – I think we all know about efficiency in the office (or not)! However, the subtitle is intriguing: As office design evolved over the last century, one feature remained: the goal of filling your life with even more work.

The article is adapted from a book: Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home, by Anne Helen Petersen and Charlie Warzel. The complexity of figuring out new ways of working, new ways of designing offices, and also considering designing spaces in homes are challenges to be faced over the forthcoming year (or 2). So, why is this article worth reading now? It starts with a historical perspective on the development of the office. Some of these descriptions were like a walk down memory lane for me – cubicles, open plan, informal spaces, shared cubicles, no desks (hot desking) and of course, how the role of technology was an integral player throughout.

A major shift occurred in the 1990s, led by Googleplex in California. The spaces intentionally changed the focus on the desk to introduce more spaces where people could hang out (and be creative – recognising they were still working, just not at their desks). Googleplex included gardens, soccer fields, tennis courts, gyms, and numerous (subsidised) cafes – it was designed to meet “all your basic work-life needs”. Yet – something wasn’t quite right here. The authors warn that the design was both “seductive and dangerous”. The danger became longer hours in the office environment, extended hours of on-site socialising (and working) with colleagues – at the expense of external friendships.

While developing a collaborative, social culture might be desirable, did the Googleplex (and others that have followed it) take the extension of the office too far? The authors describe the Trojan horse effect that firstly infiltrates, then engulfs your life. This saw work-life balance become obsolete – because work and life became inextricably intertwined.

Now – step back and consider our current hybrid challenges. How will office design impact remote workers? Will we create a divide between those who are present and those who will not be onsite enjoying the same experiences? Then, if the onsite teams are bonding through informal (work) activities, how will those working remotely have the chance to make these types of work connections?

The authors aren’t offering an answer to these questions in this article, perhaps there are answers in their book. However, it was a wake-up call to a view of office and work design. What are we trying to achieve, really?

Read: https://www.wired.com/story/office-efficiency-trap/

Workers in the office feel less connected than those working from home, study finds

Jakkii says: The headline of this article jumped out at me immediately when I saw it, and conveniently it’s also an interesting addendum to Anne’s piece and comments, above. This quick read comments on a finding from a recent study by Accenture:

Some 22 per cent of fully remote workers say they feel “not connected,” while the share for those in the office is nearly double. (emphasis mine)

Looking at Accenture’s media release, that ‘nearly double’ figure is 42%, which is a huge number of people working in the office feeling disconnected at work. Interestingly, hybrid is also higher than fully remote, with 36% of hybrid workers reporting feeling disconnected. They don’t really give any answers as to why this might be, though they do say “while in-person time is vital, physical proximity that lacks leadership support, flexibility, technology or sense of purpose doesn’t necessarily translate into people feeling deeper connections to their work and to each other.

I think this harkens back to the question Anne asks above, about providing equal opportunities and access to experiences across the board, whatever work type and work place people choose on any given day. It requires intentionality by leaders to ensure everyone is being brought along the same journey, and that we lean on approaches like implementing rituals and tools to enable connection amongst teams and connection with individuals and the organisation.

Read: https://www.smh.com.au/business/workplace/workers-in-the-office-feel-less-connected-than-those-working-from-home-study-finds-20220524-p5ao5l.html

What does the four-day workweek mean for the future of work?

Jakkii says: The headline is an intriguing one, though I should say up front that this article doesn’t really answer the question, beyond its suggestion that the four-day workweek is the future of work. What it does do, though, is provide some interesting stats from some recent research into the four-day workweek.

From the experiments and pilots run by companies (and countries like Iceland) so far, along with this most recent survey data that the article references, overall it seems the four-day workweek is a net positive, increasing productivity and employee wellbeing. If that trend holds as pilot programs and experiments continue, ultimately with a four-day workweek everybody wins in the workplace. And by extension, we should all win as a community, too, with higher rates of wellbeing, reduced stress, and more time off to invest in leisure – and spending. Apparently, 54% of people surveyed said they’d use their extra day off to go shopping, though, of course, whether that would prove to be the case remains to be seen.

I’m certainly a fan of the concept of a four-day workweek, I’ve written many times over the years about my strong belief in the need for flexibility and autonomy to enable people to be empowered to find the best ways for work and life to fit together for them – as has Anne, and, of course, her article touches on work-life balance again this week as well. The four-day workweek isn’t, however, an entirely simple proposition. There isn’t any real reason a type of work can’t be done using four-day workweeks, however, businesses that operate 24-7 and businesses that serve customers in industries such as retail and hospitality would likely need to increase staff to allow everyone to work a four-day workweek. Given the notion is that the four-day workweek comes with the same pay, that is a not insubstantial increase in costs for a business – or a net loss to wage-based employees who work fewer hours for the same hourly rate (if that’s the interpretation of “same pay” in this case). Either way, would the market bear increased prices to fund four-day workweeks? Maybe? I guess that’s data yet to be found.

For so-called knowledge work, though, it certainly sounds all the more promising as a benefit to both employee and employer. I’ll be watching out for results from upcoming pilots in places like Scotland and Ireland with great interest to see how they compare to what we’ve seen so far.

What do you think? Is the four-day workweek the way of the future? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on social media.

Read: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/what-does-the-four-day-workweek-mean-for-the-future-of-work/

Friday Five

Five things we think you might find interesting this week:

Sydney Business Insights – The Future, This Week Podcast

From our colleagues at the University of Sydney Business School, this week, podcast hosts Dr Sandra Peter and Professor Kai Riemer discuss that as cryptocurrencies plummet, some stablecoins are not so stable.

Listen: https://sbi.sydney.edu.au/stable-coins-not-so-stable-cryptocurrency/


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