Sam Radford

March 30, 2021

The future of work

For over a year now we’ve been talking about the things we’ll do, ‘when things get back to normal’.

Whether at home, or at work, it’s been a recurring theme.

But will that ever happen? Will, specifically, our work environments ever be the same again?

Time only ever moves forwards, and I can’t envisage any scenario where our world goes back to exactly how it was. 

And plenty of that will be a good thing. There’s no doubt in my mind there are a lot of benefits to working remotely and conducting more meetings online. The same is true for spending less of our time travelling to and from office buildings.

Speaking of which, Reuters published a story last week about Britain’s Nationwide Building Society:

Nationwide has told all its 13,000 office-based staff to work from anywhere in the country. The lender said on Thursday it will not renew the leases on three of its offices in its hometown of Swindon in the southwest of England but will retain its headquarters there along with other regional hubs.

The company I work for also has no plans for returning to how things were. I was already a remote worker, but the vast majority of my office-based colleagues will not be returning to our offices when this is over.

Some people, as you’d expect, are happier about this than others. 

Me? I love remote work. I’m happy in my own company; I like the freedom to structure my own day; I like the flexibility to pop out and work in a coffee shop if I want to. (Well, pre-Covid on that last point!)

But many thrive off the physical interactions with others. I get that.

My sense though is that, for most of us, the future of work will be hybrid. More meetings will be online permanently moving forwards. And is anyone going to miss sitting on a train for five to six hours to attend a one hour meeting? (I’m speaking from experience in case you can’t tell!)

How much better for the environment is it going to be if we travel less and meet online more? As is clear from my example above, it’s a huge time-saver too. 

Yes, there can be some benefits to the commute to work or the travel to a meeting. It can give us enforced head space. Which is vital to good, deep work. But can’t we learn how to manage our day to protect that head space at home too? Block out parts of our day, avoid back-to-back online meetings where possible. It’s not rocket science. 

Clearly there are still benefits to having some face-to-face time. I don’t think it needs to be every day for most knowledge workers though. For me, with the team I am part of, a day together once a month, or even every other month would be enough. We then also have a two-day residential (in ‘normal’ times) four times a year with the rest of the people working on our programme. That’s enough for our needs!

And, I should add, it’s not just that it’s enough, it’s important! That time together, face-to-face, is often where deep-rooted relationships get forged. And it’s that which enables the remote working together to flow so much more smoothly. 

That’s why this hybrid future of work is – or has the potential to be – a big step forward. There’s a lot we still need to learn about working from home and doing that well. There’s plenty we’ll need to figure out about finding the right balance between working from home and sharing a physical space with colleagues. 

There will be bumps along the way. There have been a lot of bumps as we’ve hustled our way through this last year! And we’re not through those yet. I’m optimistic though. There is a pathway ahead that is win-win for the future of work and how we go about it.

It might not be the normal we were used, but that’s not a bad thing.

What about you? What would your ideal future of work look like? I'd love to hear from you – just hit reply or drop me a note. I read all your messages, and always try to respond.

–Sam

Re: My vaccine dilemma

In yesterday’s post I wrote about my vaccine dilemma when presented with a chance to get my first jab. Thanks for all the emails in response! It was helpful in processing my thoughts further. There was definitely a recurring theme of, ‘take it if the chance arises again’. 

Also, I listened to John Gruber and Ben Thompson discuss this on the latest episode of their podcast, Dithering (£). That was a helpful conversation, and this from Ben stood out in particular:

Don’t feel bad about [getting overflow appointments]. The vaccinations are going to go bad, so you need to get them. Everyone needs a vaccine – you’re not taking it away from anyone… Anyone who’s in one of those categories that really needs it has had access to it for weeks now.