Don’t count out the possibility that people want and need work. | Nick Bunker
Quote of the Moment
A lot of U.S. workers ‘retired’ during the pandemic’s bad days, although not at a rate higher than younger workers, Ben Casselman tells us. but they are unretiring:
The share of Americans reporting that they were retired did rise sharply in the spring of 2020. But retirement is not an irreversible decision. And [research](https://www.kansascityfed.org/research/economic-bulletin/what-has-driven-the-recent-increase-in-retirements/) from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City has found that at the pandemic’s onset, there was a steep drop in the number of people leaving retirement to return to work, attributable at least partly to fear of the virus and a lack of job opportunities, swelling the ranks of the retired.
As the economy has reopened and the public health situation has improved, these “unretirements” have rebounded and have recently returned roughly to their prepandemic rate, according to an analysis of government data by Nick Bunker of the Indeed Hiring Lab.
The tight job market may be enticing older workers back into the workforce instead of staying on the sidelines. We can expect many more people in their 60s, and even 70s back in the workforce, but at a slower rate.
This is an additional argument for minimum viable office, since these are not young people in need of work socialization: they know how to do their jobs.
Many states are setting up ‘returnship’ programs — in concert with major employers — to bring older workers who have been out of work for a while back into the workforce. It makes sense to tap this resource, and as soon as possible.
Oh, and in regard to Justin Kan’s admonition: they have probably failed at something along the way, but the scars have faded.
Rather than go all-in on online collaboration, agility and autonomous working, many organisations have instead opted to re-create the worst aspect of office life - non-stop, back-to-back meetings - in their online and remote working rhythms. Not only does this make it harder to get actual work done, it also risks eliminating the serendipity of bumping into people and reduces our network to a subset of strong tie relationships among our immediate colleagues, as Lynda Gratton writes.
As we keep repeating, the key question today is not where, but how we work. If managers can embrace online collaboration, service-oriented and distributed ways of working and write things down to make them shareable, then people and teams can do their work from home, office or client site, depending on what works best on a given day. This enables us to weave ties, relationships and networks between people and teams that can create a richer, more connected digital workplace that is less dependent on managers convening meetings to get things done. Work begins to flow.
A useful metaphor here, I think, is the notion of re-wilding in the context of work and business ecosystems that Stowe Boyd uses in this piece about the ecology of work. In moving from the industrial management model to something better, we need to focus on re-wilding our networks and ecosystems. Connected work systems are not only more efficient in energy and resource use than the old command and control approach, but also more adaptable, resilient and sustainable.
“Perhaps corporate leaders need to reconsider the ‘business as a machine’ mindset that places optimization of business processes above the agility and flexibility that underlies resilience. Instead of seeking to make the company into the leanest possible linear system—a strategy of reduction—leaders could instead aspire to looser, wider connections across the company, and an intentional diminishing of downward control. These are the hallmarks of deep resilience.”
Organisational design - and work systems design - will be an important battleground for the future of the firm, as well as other institutional upgrades we need if we are to avoid the problems that concern Jonathan Haidt and other observers of our changing societies.
In an upcoming essay at Webex Ahead, I contrast conventional linear organizations with emergent organizations, and one dimension of that difference is deep resilience instead of efficiency-at-all-costs.
Jenny Zhang is hypnotic in her exploration of the impact of technology, but Zhang’s writing cuts to ground truths:
Nine days out of ten, I am terrified about the future of the world, the rising seas and the burning skies. The only thing I’ve found solace in are the people who do still believe in reciprocity, the mutual aid efforts that have sprung up in the wake of the systemic failures of governments, the altruism that shines through when disaster unfolds, the same $20 that gets Venmo’d back and forth depending on whose need is greater at that time. This duty of care is, I think, the height of what it means to be human, and our commitments to one another are what shapes our senses of self, what we consider right and wrong. Who we are is inextricable from our relationships and our community.
Yes. Remember, honor is a duty we owe to ourselves.
I made the case for Minimum Viable Office at Reworked:
It appears that worker reluctance and the adoption of new skills to make distributed workforces effective have made a big dent in companies’ former reluctance to accept the minimum viable office model.
I quoted Steve Hatfield, a principal and global leader of Future of Work for Deloitte was interviewed about Deloitte’s ‘Return-to-Work’ survey:
Two-thirds of businesses say they will be implementing some sort of hybrid model that combines in-person and remote configurations.
In Writer Ocean Vuong: ‘Beauty is medicinal to me. It’s not useless’, the poet and author wonders about violence in English:
Vuong is preoccupied with the normalisation of violence in English. “You smashed it. You killed it,” he recites. In Vietnam, he says, “a country the size of California that has been at war for 2,000 years”, there is such awareness of death and violence that to speak of it is taboo. To say “death” is to invite it in. “We’re really perspicacious with that,” he says.
I just read about ‘body doubling’ from Steph Panecaslo:
Body doubling is the practice of actively and intentionally completing tasks in the presence of someone else, and it makes a tangible difference for those who struggle to retain focus. The double doesn't have to be doing the same task as you, they just need to be present (whether in person or via a livestream screen) and focusing on a project for the same amount of time.
That would drive me crazy since I have worked remotely for decades, but I guess it’s helpful for many.