The Future, In Retrospect
Greg Satell | Workplace Walking | Factoids | Elsewhen | Blurry Visions
Quote of the Moment
The future, in retrospect, always seems inevitable.
| Greg Satell, How The Future Is Really Built
In How companies are using behavioral data to inform office design | Cloey Callahan talks to a CEO using location data about employees’ use of the workplace:
Erin McDannald, CEO and co-owner of Lighting Environments and its sister company, Environments, have been using data to understand how their 80 employees use their two office locations. Through data, they found that while they have 50% office occupancy, those coming in are using 100% of the space.
“We found that people want to stretch out and move,” said McDannald. “That’s different to pre-pandemic. People need a place where they can walk and talk.” An area of the office that was under renovation was open but without any furniture in it. From observing the heatmaps, McDannald could see people were using it as a runway. “They would put their headphones in, talk on the phone and would walk. Every new office needs a walking track because we all got up and moved during the pandemic,” she added.
If offices were designed with wellbeing in mind, from the outset, we’d have a lot more ‘runways’. And dedicated childcare.
About ‘Quiet Promotion’, when people get more work and responsibilities without a title change or raise (via JobSage):
When it comes to an increased workload without additional compensation, 78% of workers have had this experience.
After a coworker above them left the company, 67% have absorbed the work.
Of those surveyed, 73% have had a manager ask them to take on additional work.
When an employer has asked them to do more work, 57% have felt manipulated or taken advantage of.
The share of employees willing to support enterprise change collapsed to just 38% in 2022, compared with 74% in 2016. | Gartner
Only 61%of people believe they are paid fairly, when taking into account their responsibilities, skills, and experience. | via Officevibe
Only 29% of workers now trust that their company’s leaders have their best interests at heart. | Accenture, The Future of Work 2022
Elsewhen: posts from April 2022, 2021, 2020
(By the way, there are hundreds of older Work Futures posts behind the paywall, which should be an obvious incentive to subscribe.)
Between The Preferable and Detestable | Stowe Boyd, Work Futures (April 2022) | We're in there somewhere.
Companies are Private Governments | Stowe Boyd, Work Futures (April 2021) | And Basecamp has just slipped into autocracy.
Abandon Everything | Stowe Boyd, Work Futures (April 2020) | WFH EFT | The End Of Business Travel? | Offices Are Worth Less | Remote Workers Aren’t | Workflow Management
Jerome Roos lays out an argument about how people think about the future, these days, starting with the claim that both pessimists and optimists are wrong:
We are presented with two familiar but very different visions of the future: a doomsday narrative, which sees apocalypse everywhere, and a progress narrative, which maintains that this is the best of all possible worlds. Both views are equally forceful in their claims — and equally misleading in their analysis. The truth is that none of us can really know where things are headed. The crisis of our times has blown the future right open.
He starts with the pessimists:
The doomsayers would probably beg to differ. In their perspective, humanity now stands on the eve of cataclysmic changes that will inevitably culminate in the collapse of modern civilization and the end of the world as we know it. It is a view reflected in the growing number of doomsday preppers, billionaire bunkers and post-apocalyptic television series. While it may be tempting to dismiss such cultural phenomena as fundamentally unserious, they capture an important aspect of the zeitgeist, revealing deep-seated anxieties about the fragility of the existing order.
And then, the optimists:
Recent years have also seen the resurgence of a very different kind of narrative. Exemplified by a slew of best-selling books and viral TED talks, this view tends to downplay the challenges we face and instead insists on the inexorable march of human progress. If doomsday thinkers worry endlessly that things are about to get a lot worse, the prophets of progress maintain that things have only been getting better — and are likely to continue to do so in the future.
He then tries to square the circle, saying the two are actually one:
These two visions, at face value, appear to be diametrically opposed. But they are really two sides of same coin. Both perspectives emphasize one set of trends over another. The optimists, for one, often point to misleading statistics on poverty reduction as evidence that the world is becoming a better place. The pessimists, by contrast, tend to take the worst-case scenarios of climate breakdown or financial collapse and present these real possibilities as unavoidable facts.
Rebecca Solnit made a similar argument, saying that pessimists and optimists are alike in their certainty, and those who embrace uncertainty — those who hope — are the third third of humanity:
Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognise uncertainty, you recognise that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists.
Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It is the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterwards either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.
Roos sort of tails off, making a halfhearted case for taking the long view, apparently believing that just contemplating the cadence of catastrophes being followed by periods of calm, rolling on and on, will perhaps bring us hope:
Our age of upheaval may well result in some global catastrophe or even the collapse of modern civilization — but it may also open up possibilities for transformative change.
But this falls short of what I think his essay needed to end with, which is a reason for hope, and some more practical recasting of the mindset that we, the hopeful, need to adopt.
What we need might be blurry visions of the future, as explained by Debra Meyerson in Rocking the Boat:
[Those] who want to advance change cannot operate without a general vision of the changes they are seeking, and yet visions that are too clear and specific can be overly constraining. Blurry visions of the future allow people to be flexible and take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves… It simply means that they hold visions that are sufficiently ambiguous to allow for strategic flexibility.
Meyerson was writing about organizational change, but the words are still true when applied to the wicked problem that the world’s course represents.
We need to embrace the uncertainty, knowing what we wish for even when we do not know how the shape of events will form, or how we will take unspecified actions at indeterminate points in the future. We must adopt a mindset of constructive uncertainty, pursue our blurry visions, and hold onto hope, even when the optimists and pessimists are declaiming their certainties. Only then will we be open to changes that appear out of the fog of uncertainty and ambiguity.