Death of the Office? Branson Says Yes…

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This topic contains 37 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by  Mark Hammer 6 years, 11 months ago.

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  • #177007

    David B. Grinberg

    Richard Branson, the esteemed founder of the Virgin Group, predicts in a blog post (also featured on LinkedIn) that the current brick-and-mortar office work culture will soon be a “thing of the past“.

    He says this is due to several trends, including the changing nature of work, steady advancements in mobile/digital technology, and the desire of more employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

    According to Branson:

    • “Many employees who work from home are extremely diligent, get their job done, and get to spend more time with their families.”
    • “They waste less time commuting and get a better work/life balance.”
    • “To force everybody to work in offices is old school thinking.”


    1) As we observe National Telework Week, do you think Branson is correct?

    2) If not, why?

    3) If so, how soon will such a dramatic work transformation occur in the private sector versus the public sector?

  • #177081

    Mark Hammer

    Where Bloomberg, Mayer, and Branson differ in their perspectives really comes from the sorts of jobs and enterprises they are thinking about when rendering their respective opinions.

    The folks who call you from Mumbai about your cable bill will continue to work in offices for the forseeable future, because their management will not be all that interested in work-life balance. Indeed, any organization who isn’t automatically making money hand over fist, or subsidized by a (for the moment) bottomless money-well, will remain interested in having some direct monitoring of staff.

    My own agency is moving to a new building later this year, and the workspace is a fraction of the current size, with negligible space for paper or books of any kind (apparently my workspace will be roughly about 4′ x 6′). The “vision” is that we will be working on tablets or from home. I have it on good authority, though, that the new approach to workspace handed down to us, is driven primarily by the perceved need to reduce the federal real estate costs – the least building for the most people. It has precious little to do with optimal work environments. Indeed, no one ever asked us about what we need to do our jobs. They just keep telling us, and when we go “Okay, fine, if that’s how it has to be…”, it gets interpreted as our yearning for what was imposed.

    My sense is that Richard Branson is also thinking about bricks and mortar as a business cost, not a place for people to do the best job at their job. There certainly will be jobs and people who don’t require a formal office, and who can telework, or be another one of those homeless laptop-people I see in Starbucks and Second Cup, tappity-tapping away. But there are a lot of jobs, enterprises, and people, for whom that is not optimal, and maybe even counter-productive. Being able to work from home when it’s a snow or PD day, or when the kids are sick, is a terrific thing, but a significantly large segment of work will still require the presence of multiple people cooperating with each other in the same place. There will be paper, and objects, and face-to-face meetings, because that is how most of the world works.

    And while I am happy for Mr. Branson that he leads an event-filled, exciting, free-form life, one should remember that there are a great many regular people who continue to work past pensionable age, because it is nice to have a structured day where you have somewhere to go, and familiar faces to schmooze with. Telework cuts them off from what they crave.

    You know, we have so much isolation in our lives, we shouldn’t squander what little contact we have left with each other.

  • #177079

    David B. Grinberg

    Thanks for your always insightful comments, Mark — which are very much appreciated.

    Check out this new Infographic from the U.S. Census Bureau regarding the increase in mobile and remote work…THOUGHTS?

  • #177077

    Mark Hammer

    Thanks David, for both the complement and the interesting info. I guess the missing part is whether the slope of the increase reflects ALL jobs or merely reflects the rate of uptake for that subset of jobs that can be done remotely.

    I find these sorts of issues/figures/debates are a little like how epidemiologists think. If something shows a large and reliable proportional jump, it can be considered an epidemic, even if it only affects 1 in a million persons. If one’s lens is narrow, telework may appear to be gathering big-time steam, and moments away from full uptake, but still only pertain to a small-ish subset of workers in the final analysis.

    Looking at the median salary for home workers, it sure doesn’t look that appealing to be one. Although the higher mean age and educational level suggests that the figures also include people who are semi-retired and doing something that might not compensate very well, but in tandem with pension and a paid-off home they’re not complaining. They might also be folks who have been bounced from a job, and by virtue of their age have had trouble finding something that compensated as well. Again, if some employers construe telework as a way of reducing business costs that just happen to have some possible work-life balance benefits to them, then we might expect to see employers loking to maximize profitability hiring many of those teleworkers.

    Finally, I’ll just note that, after a number of incidents in the news lately where datafiles with personal information of hundreds of thousands of people were taken off-site by federal (and provincial too, I think) workers, and lost, I’m not all that sure that federal managers are champing at the bit to fight for telework, if only from a data security viewpoint.

    Then there is that whole ugly business of, um, “prohibitted” and downright illegal content. Work machines have filters on them that block lots of things (e.g., I can’t see my Photobucket or personal e-mail accounts at work), and certainly in an open-concept office, there are common sense limits to what one would want staring out from a 24″ monitor (which could be as benign as funny cat Youtubes). If you’re working from home, and the authorities come in and find child exploitation on your machine, is that YOUR machine or your employer’s machine?

    I guess my point is that simply being technically able to do certain kinds of work on the other end of a network connection in your own domicile does not solve all possible legal or security concerns management may have.

  • #177075

    David B. Grinberg

    Excellent points once again, Mark. Here’s another interesting item from a labor and employment law blog regarding telework and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):

    Yahoo! has a new no-telecommuting rule. Here’s why it may be unlawful

    Under the ADA, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to disabled employees where doing so will allow them to perform the essential functions of their job. As I’ve written here before, telecommuting may be a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability. How can a business determine whether telecommuting is a reasonable accommodation? Well, it all begins with an individualized assessment of the employee and an interactive dialogue to discuss whether telecommuting is reasonable under the particular facts and circumstances affecting the employee. Conversely, generalizations and other other inflexible attendance rules, have gotten other employers into trouble. Maybe Yahoo! has a reasonable-accommodation policy that will trump its new edict. Otherwise, its new rule may be a recipe for disaster.”

    (bold added for emphasis). THOUGHTS?

  • #177073

    Terrence Hill

    Of course Sir Richard is correct! We are already transforming our offices to save taxpayer dollars. We share offices, use wireless, and even use our own devices. The old model of personal computers, offices, and parking spots is outdated and unsustainable.

  • #177071

    Mark Hammer

    Hmm, never thought about the disability angle, but it’s cogent. Glad you raised it.

    It’s cynical of me, admittedly, but could telework be considered as a potentially cheaper way of accommodating, and be pursued just because of that? Part of me has this image of workplaces being segregated into the disabled, who work from home, and the non-disabled who work in the office. Excuse me while I cringe and shudder.

    From a more trusting and positive angle:

    a) Not all employers are fully accepting of hiring persons with disabilities. Accommodations that are a good safe fiscal distance from the point of undue hardship can be a boon to persons with disabilities if it encourages employers to think “Well this ain’t so bad at all. And she’s a damn good worker to boot.”.

    b) I imagine most cities are strapped for providing assisted/special public transportation for folks with mobility issues. What they can afford to provide is generally not always that convenient or available. Every day, I see folks with mobility issues in my building waiting for their ride, and sometimes they have to wait a looooong time. Indeed, when a bicycle lane was added to our street, there was a kerfuffle because the special public transit vehicles were now obliged to let persons off much farther away from the sidewalk, and when you have to get the wheelchair or walker through all that snow, nobody appreciates it. I’m sure it would be sweet to sidestep all of that by simply working from home.

    But all of this, in turn, brings to mind other issues. One of the endgoals of diversity in the workplace is certainly to provide equal chances at employment for persons of equal skill and training. But another goal is also to have the workplace mirror the fabric of society at large. Citizens trust public institutions partly because, when they walk into them, they see people just like themselves, and feel that perhaps their interests are taken into account by that institution. So if everyone works from home and you don’t see them anymore, what happens to diversity? Would it matter as much?

  • #177069

    Peter Sperry

    One minor point. Just about any work which can be done by a $30k to $100k government employee from home, can probably be done just as well by a $5k to $25k contractor from India. Richard Branson prides himself on being a citizen of the globe and is more than happy to provide telecommuting opportunities to workers regardless of location, particularly if it reduces his labor costs. Given the current budget pressures on just about every government jurisdiction on the planet and the comparatively high salaries of public employees in western democracies when contrasted with fairly well educated, readily available professionals in the east, I am not sure I would be overly eager to demonstrate the ease with which my job could be performed remotely. I kind of like having my boss feel he needs my services close by.

    Yes, most citizens would resist having government jobs shipped overseas. They would protest vigorously for at least several minutes until they heard about the budget savings. Some of them might even sign an online petition opposing the idea right before they attended a townhall meeting to threaten their elected officials with immolation if they even considered raising taxes.

    Anyone anxious to convince their employer they do not need to be in the office is welcome to do so. I’ll focus my efforts on demonstrating why my boss needs me close by as much as possible, even if s/he has to create a higher graded position to keep me there.

  • #177067

    Dave Hebert

    I think Branson is correct for certain kinds of jobs or certain tasks. Work that lends itself to isolation (editing, writing, content management, paperwork processing, etc.) can largely be done from anywhere, provided you can bring the necessary tech along with you.

    However (and this is where the Yahoo/Facebook/Google philosophy lands), work that requires problem solving, innovation, or any other process of iterative creation where debate is necessary and the more minds, the better (to an extent) simply can’t be done as well with the telecom tech. available to most of us as it can in person. And yes, I’ve tried.

  • #177065

    David B. Grinberg

    Interesting points, Peter — albeit a bit controversial about contracting out rank-and-file civilian gov jobs overseas. I think that some folks may perceive such a move as being a bit un-patriotic or un-American, at least on a superficial level (not that you are, of course, Peter, just the concepts. I know you’re a great and patriotic American who honorably serves the U.S. gov).

    But back to your other point about being in the office because one can show “why my boss needs me close by as much as possible…” I suppose it depends how one defines the term “close by” with today’s digital/mobile technology becoming ever more advanced so quickly.

    I can understand that it may appear to a supervisor that a worker is far away with only telephone or email access. However, with Skyping, Google+ Hangouts, and video conferencing, for example, aren’t employees close enough in the 21st century? It’s not like teleworkers are communicating via homing pigeons or by Morse Code.

    Don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that the traditional office structure should be entirely replaced by remote work. However, I am advocating for mandatory minimum telework requirements for all eligible employees — a determination made by one’s manager/supervisor and HR. Of course, some jobs will never be conducive to remote work (although those folks may be replaced by robots in the future).

    So what’s wrong with an in-office employee working remotely at least one day per pay period? This would help ease the transition to the virtual workplace that is coming our way whether we like it or not?

    Have you seen that TV commercial with a robot in a school room in place of a sick or disabled kid, with the kid communicating virtually via real-time video tech with the teacher and class? Could the same concept be carried over to the workplace at some future time?

    Your points are certainly valid in many respects, Peter. Yet, as I’ve said, we can run but we can’t hide from 21st century technology and the coming virtual work world. We all need to learn how to ride this massive wave rather than being crushed under it. Thanks for considering these counter points.


  • #177063

    David B. Grinberg

    Well put, as usual, Terry!

  • #177061

    David B. Grinberg

    Thanks for your thoughtful and valuable feedback, Dave.

    I would say that there’s definitely a huge learning curve in adapting to the virtual work world. It certainly will not occur overnight. Yet it will happen at some point, just as newspapers and other forms of traditional communications are becoming antiquated and replaced by digital/mobile tech. Moreover, just as the 20th century work world changed with the times per the Industrial Revolution and greater innovations.

    Thus the sooner all employees become familiar with this brave new virtual work world, the better off everyone will be to ease the coming transition. To reiterate my response to Peter (above):

    I am not saying that the traditional office structure should be entirely replaced by remote work. However, I am advocating for mandatory minimum telework requirements for all eligible employees — a determination made by one’s manager/supervisor and HR. Of course, some jobs will never be conducive to remote work (although those folks may be replaced by robots in the future).

    Just like learning to ride a bike or drive a car takes time — and feels awkward and uncomfortable at first — so will the transition to the virtual workplace. I know of a few employers who have already eliminated the traditional office structure altogether. They work and communicate virtually most of the time and meet up in person at a specified location once a week or as needed.

    Just recall all the benefits of remote work: major cost savings, no commute, less pollution, more family and leisure time, etc.

    It appears — to me at least — that the many benefits of remote/mobile work outweigh the potential downsides. Future generations born into the virtual work world will look back at us like dinosaurs in pre-historic times…and today’s workers certainly don’t want to go the way of the dinosaurs.

  • #177059

    Dick Davies

    It’s not how hard you work, it’s what you get done.

  • #177057

    David B. Grinberg

    Amen to that, Dick. Likewise, it’s NOT about where you work, but the level of productivity. Results-only should be the rule, not the exception.

  • #177055

    David B. Grinberg

    Mark and others:

    The academic author of this New York Times op-ed makes several excellent and convincing points. It’s most certainly worth a read. You’ve got to love the professor’s term: “Dilbertization of Yahoo!”

    In Defense of Telecommuting (excerpts)

    * “The notion that impromptu conversations with colleagues in the cafeteria are the core of innovation seems a bit simplistic; in my experience, they are just as likely to produce talk of better jobs at competing firms or last night’s “American Idol” winner. Besides, much of this “research” simply shows that workers who collaborate with others in loose networks generate better ideas. It doesn’t suggest that the best way to create new products and services is by isolating your employees in the silo of a single location.”

    * “Yet a work force culture based on long hours at the office with little regard for family or community does not inevitably lead to strong productivity or innovation. Two outdated ideas seem to underlie the Yahoo decision: first, that tech companies can still operate like the small groups of 20-something engineers that founded them; and second, the most old-fashioned of all, that companies get the most out of their employees by limiting their autonomy.”

    * “If the Dilbertization of Yahoo actually improves innovation, I’ll change my tune. But companies like Yahoo will not get more out of their employees by watching them like hawks and monitoring their every move. Nor can they recreate the dynamism of their founding moment by trying to return to a perpetual organizational adolescence. The 37-year-old Ms. Mayer, new mother, may have yet to learn that.”


  • #177053

    Terrence Hill

    Thanks! One more thing that Sir Richard is trying to ban – neckties! I’m all for that too.

    Here’s another infographic on the topic of telework from our friends at Cisco, who also helped to sponsor Telework Week:

  • #177051

    Mark Hammer

    One of the most important things I get done in the office, apart from the tasks I’m assigned, is knowledge transfer. I talk to the younger people, and provide them with organizational history. Not gossip, but the sort of stuff that cannot be found in any paper or electronic document; the “interstitial spaces” of corporate memory. I introduce them to ideas, and ways of looking at things that are foreign to their particular training. Most often, it happens during moments of surprise, when something I thought the co-worker knew is a blank in their cortex. Happens with management too. And some of it is silo-busting, filling people in on stuff happening in other corners of the organization.

    Now, I’ll be honest and freely admit that yes, we DO talk about non-work things; the recent “My Name is Earl” reunion on “Raising Hope”, for example, and the dirty hit on an Ottawa hockey player the other night that resulted in a concussion. But I digress. We hear plenty, and certainly read about it in the journals, about the importance of trust relationships within organizations, between organizations, and between organizations and their various stakeholders, like citizens (or if you’re one of those – customers). Just how do folks think trust gets established, if not through casual schmoozing? Obviously, people have to actually DO something useful and/or productive at work (and they are not always the same thing), but the same way that families have a hard time being families if they never eat together at the same table, organizations have a hard time being organizations, and work teams being teams, if they are not regularly in each other’s company.

    BTW, I gather Branson’s little outburst has spread far and wide, because a (non-syndicated) piece in our local paper this morning commented on it as well. Much to my surprise, the writer expressed views similar to what I expressed the other day: that there will be a subset of jobs where this sort of move makes sense and does not interfere with anything, but the vast majority of jobs, workplaces, and enterprises will carry on the same way they always have, because they need to.

    Reminds me of what I used to read about 30 years ago in the neuroscience literature. There were all manner of papers and clinical reports on tissue transplant as potential “cures” or at least treatments, for Parkinsonism. The animal literature looked very promising, and there were a few clinical trials. Muhammed Ali was reputed to have undergone some tissue transplant in Mexico (transplanted neural tissue to supplement dysfunctional substantia nigra in the brainstem, so that normal dopamine production could re-occur, I think). We seemed well on our way to conquering it. So what happened? Well, number one, surgery is expensive, and very risky unless one is in robust shape. Right away, that rules out vast segments of the population for financial reasons, and similarly large chunks of the target population of seniors with the shakes who had a whole bunch of concurrent health issues that made them bad risks for particularly invasive surgery. Second, there is not an unlimited supply of surgical suites, surgeons, anaesthesiologists, and nurses to spend large amounts of time doing what is clearly a very complex and lengthy procedure. And last but certainly not least, there was the little ethical issue of where to get the tissue from. Put that altogether, and here we are, 30 years later, with the breakthrough stopped dead in its tracks. Sometimes, ground-breaking ideas only pertain to a very narrow swathe of situations, and both operational and unexpected and practical factors stop it from being relevant beyond that little swathe.

    As always, people are cordially invited to get back to me in 5 years and tell me I’m an idiot. No, no, no, I said five years from now, not now! Thank you for your patience in the matter. 🙂

    Have a great weekend!

  • #177049

    Henry Brown

    It is MY opinion that Mr. Branson and other Telework/ROWE evangelists are not using the “correct” arguments to advance their case.

    Should employers ignore the bottom line (be it profits or budgetary limitations) to ensure that the employees have a better work/life balance?

    Most employees are required to be paid for their work effort so should the employer not be paying the employees for effort put forth in the “new” work environment?

    At what point does “old school thinking” not have any validity?
    “old school thinking”
    organizations have budgetary limitations, wherever the funds come from
    employee productivity measurement is important
    hierarchy plays an important role in most organizations

    IMO to implement ROWE or Telework, or ???? the evangelists need to emphasis what is in it for the managers. And if it is going to require additional effort (over what should already being done) compensate them accordingly. And if that doesn’t work, and remote working is still important, use more of the stick instead of the carrot (classic example would be @Mark‘s situation where the physical work space is being reduced and managers/supervisors basically told “deal with it

  • #177047

    Henry Brown

    Interesting (IMO) that two companies struggling with the bottom line Yahoo and Best Buy have pulled the plug on Work from Home (WFH)/Teleworking/ROWE . Whether that is going to truly address the bottom line suspect only time will tell.

  • #177045

    David B. Grinberg

    Thanks, as always, for your keen insights and valuable feedback, Henry.

    The Cisco/Citrix research infographic, posted earlier by Terry, speaks volumes about how remote work and workplace flexibility programs unequivocally benefit managers and employers. Perhaps you’re correct that advocates need to re-emphasize these facts in a more cogent, consistent and persistent manner.

    The bottom line, as the infographic points out, is that work is not a place where you go, it’s what you do and produce.

    To wit, according to the infographic:

    • 80% of employers with “mobile workstyles” have already reported cost-related savings.
    • Workplace flexibility programs reduce unscheduled employee absences by a whopping 63%.
    • The average annual cost to employers of such absences is $1,800 per worker (thus do the math).
    • The stress level for in-office workers is double the amount of co-workers with flexible work schedules.
    • Employees with workplace flexibility are 50% more likely to “go the extra mile” for the employer.
    • Employees with flexible/mobile work options are astoundingly 90% happier than those without them.
    • Employee turnover is double the rate for employees without flexible work schedules.
    • 60% of employees with flexible work would “likely leave their jobs” if such flexibility was eliminated.
    • 72% of job candidates would choose an employer with flexible work options compared to those without.
    • Employees with workplace flexibility save about $4,500 annually on commuting costs.
    • Employees with flexible work options average about 2.5 weeks in free time (non-work time).

    Thus the proof is in the pudding, as they say. Workplace flexibility results in:

    • Significantly greater employee productivity.
    • Noticeable higher rates of attaining and retaining talented workers.
    • Substantial cost savings due to fewer employee absences.
    • Less pollution and more employee savings in commuting costs.
    • A better work-life balance which boosts morale and productivity.
    • Employers being more attractive to prospective employees.

    These facts are overwhelming proof of the myriad benefits for employers, managers and workers directly related to remote work and other workplace flexibilities.

    That’s a very strong case to make for more workplace flexibility, not less — at least in my humble opinion.

    Thanks again, Henry for weighing in on this important topic.

  • #177043

    David B. Grinberg

    Henry: In my opinion, Yahoo! and Best Buy are making very poor business decisions in order to exert what they perceive to be a lack of control over employees who work remotely — regardless of all the proven benefits that accrue to employers and their workforces from implementing workplace flexibility programs.

    In short, this is nothing more than a power play and PR ploy by those companies to appease stockholders and show the world that they are in charge — an authoritarian move for the worst. Employees who value remote work and the work-life balance will likely leave for new jobs with industry competitors in an incrementally improving economy (lowest unemployment rate in four years, increase in new housing, decrease in foreclosures, etc.).

    Trampling on workplace flexibility will only further hurt companies like Yahoo! and Besy Buy that foolishly revoke flexible work options. Such strong-arm tactics may cause CEOs and corporate boards to appear tough on paper, even though bottom line productivity and employee recruitment and retention will suffer as a result.

    IMO: stupid business decisions that will come back to haunt those companies. Short-term PR/perception gain in exchange for long-term productivity PAIN.

    Go figure?

  • #177041

    David B. Grinberg

    Interesting article:

    How to convince your boss to work from home

    “…make an airtight teleworking plan before approaching the boss. This should include an outline of why teleworking will benefit the company, a breakdown of tasks you can complete at home, ways your boss can monitor your productivity and a description of your future remote-working environment that details why you can be just as professional at your home office as at your current office.”

  • #177039

    Dave Hebert

    I would concede that the place employees gather face-to-face, whether it be once a week or once a month, doesn’t need to be the “office” in a traditional sense — as long as folks can occasionally get together and be mutually accountable and productive, who cares where it happens/what it’s called.

    It just needs to happen sometimes.

    And I can’t articulate why, but I have this feeling that there will be unforeseen negative consequences of not being together in the workplace more often. I have nothing concrete, of course, and the cost/time benefits of regular telework are very compelling.

  • #177037

    David B. Grinberg

    Good point about meetings, Dave. Interesting article in last week’s Washington Post:

    Telework still a federal priority

    “More than 110,000 federal workers pledged to telework at least one day this week as part of Telework Week, which ends Friday…The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 is the underpinning of an effort to increase teleworking among federal employees. Advocates say telework improves work-life balance, reduces environmental degradation, saves money for employees and the companies or agencies that employ them, and increases productivity…”

    “Danette Campbell has been at the forefront of telework in the federal government since 1997. The senior adviser for telework at the Patent and Trademark Office said government telework will continue to expand. Of the PTO’s 11,600 employees, 7,400 telework from home one to five days a week, Campbell said. About 4,000 are full-time teleworkers. This has allowed the PTO to avoid the need for an additional $22 million worth of office space, Campbell said…”

    “The Office of Personnel Management reported last year that in a partial survey of agencies, 168,558 of the 684,589 workers eligible to telework had done so in the month of September 2011. There are more than 2 million federal employees. The GSA’s cloud-based system allows any employee to work from anywhere, at any time, said Casey Coleman, the GSA’s chief information officer.”

  • #177035

    Henry Brown

    IMO interesting commentary from Cali Ressler/Jody Thompson Blog on ROWE:

    a quote:

    The big, burning question on everyone’s mind seems to be: should employees be allowed to work from home?

    Our take? The answer is NO!

    Employees should be able to decide how, when, and where the work gets done. Period.

    Turning the conversation into a simple “work from the office vs. work from home” argument is totally missing the point. Telecommuting gives employees a small taste of freedom (while making bosses nervous) but it is still a system in which you’re managing people, not work.

  • #177033

    Henry Brown

    Cali & Jody commentary from their blog: on the reason(s) for Best Buy abandoning ROWE:
    Best Buy Co, Inc. has gone backwards in time, following the footsteps of Yahoo! and demanding all hands on deck. We’re certain that other organizations are going to stumble backwards as well over the next few weeks. When we heard the news, we weren’t surprised; as new management came on board over the past few years – management that obviously favors managing schedules over managing performance – the stronghold of outdated thinking became the weed that choked the evolution of the most enviable, productive, attractive and globally-forward workforce of the future.

    So we think it’s unfortunate, if not downright silly, that Best Buy has made the decision to discontinue operating as a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) for corporate employees. They are sending a clear message that they are more concerned with having leadership excel at monitoring the hallways, rather than building a leadership team that excels at defining clear, measurable results, and holding people accountable for achieving those results. While we agree that Best Buy must take drastic measures to turn their business around, moving back to a 20th century, paternalistic ‘command and control’ environment is most certainly not the answer. It’s our hope that the Best Buy leadership team quickly recognizes that the managed-flexibility game is old news, and that organizations who will win in the 21st century will learn how to effectively manage the work, not the people. In fact, any so-called leadership team can effectively get ‘all hands on deck’, dictate hours and delegate tasks, while their people brag about how many hours they put in ‘at the office’. That’s easy. But only true leadership has the ability to get ‘everyone on point’ with a workforce vs. a workplace that’s fluid, nimble and focused on what matters: measurable results.

  • #177031

    Scott Kearby

    As Mark Twain once said “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

    I don’t think Branson is correct. To build a team with shared values and shared goals and shared committment … people need to share some human contact and interaction. That sharing is best done by being in the same place at the same time. While virtual reality may approach actual reality it cannot replace actual reality, there will always be something missing.

  • #177029

    David B. Grinberg

    Thanks for those insightful comments, Dave.

    However, even if your supposition is correct that some work “can’t be done as well with the telecom tech” at this time, that is bound to change in the near future as further high-tech advancements and innovations become embedded in society and more commonplace in the virtual workplace.

    As I’ve noted, while some jobs like manual labor, for example, may never be conducive for telework, it’s possible that robotics or other advanced tech will take its place. We can try to ignore or run from the High-Tech Information Revolution, but we can’t hide. Eventually it will engulf us all like a tsunami.

    In 50 years from now, or less, physically commuting to a brick-and-mortar shared workplace may be the exception to the rule. Tech is taking over whether we like it or not. It’s just a matter of time until a total IT work transformation takes hold of the workforce, which will eventually be virtual as the norm.

    Just as the Industrial Revolution did not occur over night, neither will the High-Tech Information Revolution. Nevertheless, the transition has begun and will only pick up steam going forward. Love it or loathe it, there’s no turning back now.

  • #177027

    Dave Hebert

    I wouldn’t argue that it’s inevitable. I am arguing that the outcomes may not be completely positive (though they may be predominantly so).

  • #177025

    Mark Hammer

    All of this is predicated on someone’s notion of what “efficiency” consists of, and my experience is that generally those defining “efficiency” have precious little idea of how the folks getting the work done actually DO their jobs, or even what their jobs consist of. They just have an abstract notion of where efficiencies might be found. Just as history is written by the victors, efficiency is defined by those in power with money, not by those on the receiving end.

    Millionaire bozos like Branson can spout all they want about the disappearance of offices because that’s what they’d like to have happen. But that doesn’t mean that’s the nature of the work or how it gets done. It’s probably true of some jobs and work, but far from all, for a long time to come. If it was the case that the work to be done changed drastically then I could see the technology accompanying that shift, and interacting with the shift in reciprocal fashion. After all, mass transit really only came into existence when lots of folks had to be in the middle of the city (rather than the middle of the field) to do what was considered “the work to be done”. And once there were buses and subways to downtown, it made sense to locate work there in higher density fashion. If we were all doing the sorts of things that permitted us to work in social isolation with only virtual contact, then I suppose an office might be moot.

    But the mere presence of the technological possibility does not alone compel. Personally, I have yet to find any earthly use for a cellphone, and with any luck I’ll go to my grave without ever having had one. The only compelling reason I will ever have for owning one will be the complete disappearance of payphones and landlines. That will happen not because the nature of human communication required it to. It will happen because those who make money from it will deem landlines and payphones insufficiently profitable and impose it on me. Similarly, the nature of the work does not demand that the office be abandoned. Yes, I can look at my work e-mail from home, and I suppose one day I will be able to get files from the shared drive to work on from home, but the work does not require that, nor is it improved by it. The abandonment of the office will be imposed upon us by those who simply don’t understand the nature of the work us mortals do, and assume that because it can hypothetically be done via technology, that it should be done via technology. They will dangle it like junk food before us, and make it seem attractive because they want us to like it, not because it is in any way necessary.

    Doofuses like Branson probably haven’t thought about what an officeless society would do to the design of cities, real estate values, transit planning, and such. Imagine what Washington would be like if nobody had an office. I’m not saying I relish 40-storey business towers, but what would we do with the ones we already have? Heck, what would happen to the construction industry and the profession of architecture if we didn’t need office towers? More than likely what would cut costs for Branson and Co. would be devastating for national and regional economies.

    Maybe “tsunami” IS the right metaphor. Water is good. Forty foot waves not so much.

    And where the heck are Alvin Toffler and Marshall McLuhan when we really need them?

  • #177023

    David B. Grinberg

    Interesting and compelling points, as always, Mark. Thanks for sharing more of your keen insights.

    I would just give CEO Branson a bit more credit for knowing what he’s talking about. The man has built several highly successful companies from the ground up — and in contrast to numerous business “experts” who said it could not be done in those industries.

    Thus, regardless of one’s views on this topic, I suggest Mr. Branson should neither be totally dismissed nor ridiculed. At least give the guy some credit for knowing what he’s talking about. He deserves a bit more respect, even from his detractors (IMO).

    Thanks for considering this, Mark.

  • #177021

    Mark Hammer

    Fair enough. I’ll just note that my trust in the wisdom of billionaires was undermined the day I realized that Enron and Worldcom were also in the Forbes 100 at one point, and treated as vital sources of “best practices” because of that ranking…just before we found out WHY they were in the top 100, and fell out of it. I don’t place much faith in business success as a marker of profound insight into the public and national interest. Occasionally, you get a Bloomberg or a Gates, but mostly you get Trumps.

    Thanks for being patient with me.

  • #177019

    Julie Chase

    and let’s not forget the semi industrial gov workforce, who “have” to be there to maintain the fleet of ships, planes, vehicles and MHE’s. And yes, the “office staff” needs to “be there” as well to process the production work.

  • #177017

    Henry Brown

    IMO very interesting Response from the founders of ROWE

    It’s disheartening to us that Best Buy’s CEO, Hubert Joly, complains of his ideas being “misconstrued” and then in the same breath completely misconstrues another important idea. That idea is Results-Only Work Environment, which up until a few weeks ago was the innovative work culture of Best Buy’s corporate offices.

    Since his announcement, Joly has repeated several inaccuracies about ROWE that make it very obvious us, the creators of ROWE, that he does not understand the principles behind it, nor do the people advising him.

    Myth #1 – ROWE is delegation

    “This program was based on the premise that the right leadership style is always delegation. It operated on the assumption that if an employee’s objectives were agreed to, the manager should always delegate to the employee how those objectives were met.”

    In fact, ROWE is the very opposite of delegation. What Joly is describing is a “command and control” workstyle, which ROWE advocates against. The process of manager and employee setting measurable results and clear expectations is the first step. Joly derails in the next step however, when he says “the manager should always delegate…how those objectives were met.” Absolutely not! Employees have the freedom to decide for themselves – using common sense – how, when, and where the work gets done. It is the opposite of delegation, in that employee and manager have ongoing, objective performance conversations about how to get the best results, and the employee has the autonomy to get the work done in the way that he or she works best.

    The beauty of a ROWE is that it’s equal parts accountability and autonomy. No results? No job. Not ‘no results? All hands on deck!’

    Myth #2 – If you can see people at the office, you know they’re working!

    “It makes sense to consider not just what the results are but how the work gets done. Bottom line, it’s ‘all hands on deck’ at Best Buy and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business”

    The idea is that by gathering everyone together for a big feel-good huddle in the office and getting “all hands on deck” you will turn the ship around. We have no problem with people working at the office and collaborating face-to-face. But making it mandatory and not allowing employees to make common sense decisions about where and when they get the work done? We do have a problem with that. It shows that Joly has an old-fashioned sense of collaboration, a persistent myth that communication and collaboration can’t really be done without a sit-down meeting. In fact, when leadership commands ‘all hands on deck’ they’re really saying ‘we don’t know how to get everyone on point’.

    In fact a recent Harvard study debunked the benefit of office face time myth.

    ROWE says that employees can meet in person when it’s necessary to achieve agreed-upon results. Let people decide that for themselves.

    Myth #3 – ROWE is a one-size-fits-all program

    “A leader has to pick the right style of leadership for each employee, and it is not one-size-fits-all, as the ROWE program would have suggested.”

    Joly is now asking everyone to work in the same way: in the same office, in the same old cubicle, the same 9-5 hours, the same wasteful commute … and he says that ROWE is a one-size-fits-all program! How perplexing! We’ll say it one more time: ROWE is a shift away from office politics and rules, and a focus on what really matters: the work.

    What is one-size-fits-all is the expectation that everyone is accountable to results. Period. In other words, a ROWE.

  • #177015

    David B. Grinberg

    Thanks for sharing this, Henry. You may want to consider a separate post on ROWE.

    IMO: ROWE needs further experimentation in government at all levels, as appropriate for specific jobs. I believe OPM previously piloted ROWE, albeit narrowly with a only a small group of workers in one office.

    ROWE is an important part of the future virtual workplace — and the future is now!

    More follow up and piloting is needed government-wide to further examine the feasibility of widespread implementation.

    Thanks again.


  • #177013

    Mark Hammer

    Here’s a rather different slant on it.

    Telework does not assume that there is no office at all, but rather that one has relocated “the office” from a building somewhere else, where everybody’s office might be, to one’s home or some other space (e.g., one of those perpetual cup-o-coffee-by-the-window folks at the coffee establishment of your choosing).

    Many tax codes permit people who “work from home” to claim expenses related to work. But are all such expenses legitimate, and do governments take an unacceptable hit on tax revenues when more people believe themselves to be eligible for such claims? Here’s a news article that observes at least one government revenue agency viewing expense claims related to “working from home” with a certain scepticism and increasing scrutiny:

    Private sector entrepreneurs like Branson and others may be less mindful of the potential impact of folks claiming expenses for home offices, since it does not impact on them quite so much. I suspect that public sector employers may well be less tolerant, since it is those tax revenues that partly pay for the salaries of those folks “working from home”.

    Just something to think about.

  • #177011

    David B. Grinberg

    Thanks for that interesting perspective, Mark.

    Here’s another good read from The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) on Yahoo’s communications gaffe with its workforce and the public at large:

    Was the Message Mismanaged in Annoucing Yahoo’s Telework Ban?

    “Good communication is key in a situation like the one Yahoo faced recently when company CEO Marissa Mayer decided to ban telecommuting. And although it could be a good thing in the long run for Yahoo to pull its teleworking employees back in and allow them to reconnect and collaborate with colleagues, this wasn’t the message that was conveyed when news of the policy change broke.”

    “The news about Yahoo’s policy change broke via a leaked company e-mail, which quickly spread virally through news and social media websites. Though the leaked e-mail and swift reactions to the policy change didn’t seem to faze Mayer and other company executives, one source close to Yahoo, who asked to remain anonymous, said many in the company were caught off-guard by the rapid and overwhelmingly negative response. Company officials wouldn’t comment, saying the decision to change the telecommuting policy was an internal matter and not for public consumption.”

    “An anonymous source close to Yahoo said that Mayer’s telecommuting ban wasn’t absolute and that by the very nature of the company, a complete ban on telework wasn’t feasible. The actual targets of the telecommuting ban, according to the source, were product-development staff and software engineers, who tend to work and produce better in a collaborative atmosphere.”

  • #177009

    Mark Hammer

    Interesting. Yeah, one got the sense that what was being batted around in the public arena may have been a bit different than what was being discussed within the organization, or perhaps what should have been discussed within the organization.

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