An Assemblage of Memories
Cormac McCarthy | Factoids | A Menu, Not A Recipe | Work Resorts v Remote First | Charter Workplace Summit
Quote of the Moment
We’re all of us pretty much an assemblage of memories.
| Cormac McCarthy, Stella Maris
The proportion of college graduates who go into teaching is at a 50-year low. | Jessica Grose
I wonder what the impact of that is on teacher quality?
Financial wellness among workers dropped to 42 percent in June, according to a recent Bank of America Workplace Benefits Report, the lowest rate since the report began in 2010. | Peter Coy
The Economic Policy Institute reports that U.S. employers steal tens of billions each year in various forms of wage theft:
The latest numbers on new claims for unemployment insurance, which sometimes acts as an early warning signal for slumps, are, according to people who know this stuff, “phenomenal” — at their lowest point since January. | Paul Krugman
So the predictions that curbing inflation would require increased unemployment turns out to be hooey.
Researchers found that firms with the highest level of future preparedness outperformed the average with 33% higher profitability. And it’s not just profits—future-prepared firms also beat the average by a 200% higher growth. And with the rate technology is transforming society, this future-facing foresight becomes more necessary. | Annie Atherton
Short Take: A Menu, Not A Recipe
Kim Witten offers this charming sleight-of-hand in Stop Trying to Manage Your Time. Do this instead:
Turn your to-do list into a menu
Reframing can go a long way. Sometimes we get overwhelmed with all the tasks we’ve assigned ourselves. How could this all possibly get done in a day? In most cases, it can’t.
What if we looked at our to-do list more like a menu of choices that we could select from?
Like going to a restaurant and expecting to eat everything they offer, giving ourselves the goal of completing everything on our task plate is a job only for the most seasoned and competitive hot-dog eaters. And even they feel terrible afterward.
So, if you can’t whittle your to-do list down to a wholly consumable size, transform it into a more palatable offering. Allow yourself to fill a reasonable plate for the day and avoid the headache of your KPIs being bigger than your schedule.
This is more or less my work pattern. I have a list of things to do for every project, and I pull a few things to work on each day, based on various factors, like deadlines, project cadence, and — just as importantly — where my curiosity is pulling me.
This is the art of productive procrastination, as Saul Griffith styles it, a cure for the weariness that arises from following a task list like a recipe and not a menu:
Flip between two projects to prevent focus fatigue.
Or three or four.
Work Resorts v Remote First
Irina Anghel reports on what I consider a hallucination of office designers, commercial real estate companies, and office furniture vendors, praying that the urban doom loop doesn't become a black hole consuming all their hopes. This madness is ‘work resorts’, where employees should be thought of as tourists.
She summarizes in this way, as a sort of perk that will lure workers back to the office:
Think of office workers as tourists. Check them into a building that they can write home about, mix them with like-minded people and make them feel taken care of, and they’ll put up with the commute.
At least that’s the idea behind “work resorts,” or offices that are more like boutique hotels than glass-and-steel skyscrapers. Outdoor gardens, cosy seating areas, co-working spaces and more secluded desks — all with a sleek, hotel-like feel — offer something for every type of worker. Art galleries, restaurants and cafes on the ground floor transform the building into a destination for the wider community beyond office workers.
The concept of work resorts is emerging as banks and other large employers are slipping out of aging high-rises in traditional business districts like London’s Canary Wharf or Paris’s La Defense, settling instead into more compact spaces surrounded by shops and cafes. Sticks like strict return-to-office mandates have so far produced mixed results in luring people back to their desks. A recent BCG study found that for firms requiring staff in the office full time, less than 70% of employees complied with the policy. Designers and architects […] say turning offices into places people actually want to go to will be a successful carrot.
Yes, designers and architects would like that to be true, but as Anghel herself admits, less than 70% of those required to be in the office full-time are complying.
Earlier this week, I listened to Drew Houston, the CEO of Dropbox, recount the difficulties they had during the pandemic — when they were forced to adopt a work-from-home model — and how they tried to take a middle road once the pandemic abated.
They quickly decided to leapfrog past a work resort model — which other corporations are trying with low success — into what they call Virtual First. They first launched that initiative in April 2021, as reported by Bruce Horowitz in August 2022:
The most important change at Dropbox is this: the office is no longer the daily workplace for its nearly 2,700 employees. Under a new program dubbed Virtual First, launched in April 2021, Dropbox employees are expected to work virtually at least 90% of the time and only come into the office for occasional group gatherings in a space that has been specifically redesigned for group brainstorming sessions, special educational meetings, and fun activities like happy hours.
“This is a very important dot on the timeline of the shifting nature of work,” Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox, tells TIME. “We’ve always believed that companies that give flexibility will outperform, out-attract, and out-retain the companies that don’t.”
Working virtually isn’t just an option. At Dropbox, the cloud-computing company’s leadership says, it’s the way forward. That means most Dropbox employees who want to live well outside the high-priced San Francisco Bay Area can relocate— and keep their jobs. Each employee is qualified to receive an annual $7,000 work-at-home stipend to cover anything from childcare to gym membership to a spiffy new ergonomic desk and chair. And it means that all gatherings must meet a set of specific criteria before they are scheduled. On top of that, employees are granted about half of each workday to focus on their own Dropbox work projects, or even on their own personal needs, such as a doctor’s appointment for a child.
The company maintains a central goal that at least 10% of people’s time should be spent together, in regional, department, and team get-togethers, to build camaraderie and to undertake the sorts of activities that lead to group cohesion. These may take place in the company’s Studios (its few remaining offices), but are more likely to take place in public venues, like resorts, hotels and coworking spaces. Otherwise, the Virtual First approach relies on distributed, async work, with minimum viable screen meetings, and a heavy reliance on tools for coordination, communication, and cooperation (normally lumped into ‘collaboration’).
Dropbox, and its near abandonment of conventional offices, represents a model for a post-pandemic operating system for work, one that puts people’s wellbeing first, adopts an outcome-focused model for productivity, and takes the steps needed to nurture group cohesion and cooperation.
Meanwhile, office designers and architects continue their efforts to hypnotize senior management to adopt the ‘work resort’ frosting on what is still the old ‘get back to the office’ cake. Dropbox and others are hooked on a better, healthier, and more sustainable model, without the preposterous expenditures for downtown real estate and the human costs of mass commuting, an activity that is harmful and pointless, as it puts hundreds of millions in cars, trains, and buses.
We will have to address the question of what to do about hollowed-out downtown city centers, but the answer can’t be that hundreds of millions of knowledge workers who can obviously do their work out of the office must return to commuting to the city cores across the world to prop up an obsolete model of urban economics, or a philosophy of work centered on presenteeism.
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Charter Workplace Summit
I’ll be attending the Charter Workplace Summit in NYC, 26 October 2023.
My first event in quite a while. It’s free to attend virtually, if you want. I will be live tweeting, at least some of the time.
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