There’s endless statistics – and even more endless fretting – about ‘the future of work’. Truth is, there is no one-size-fits all recipe for how work should evolve. So mostly for fun, we thought we’d take a snapshot of where our team’s heads were at, right now. Guitars, gonads and Google all found a place. Best not ask. Just lean into this fully remote and asynchronously created, mercifully short, read.
My most successful digital working experience is the Content Writing Group, which I started with my friend and ex-business partner, Sonja. It launched at the beginning of lockdown, when everyone was feeling scared and adrift and working from home for the first time. It felt like a good idea to get people together to make space for focused writing, and to be among other people all working together. Because it was online people could join from everywhere, and one of our first members was Richard, a web accessibility expert who joined us from Canada. He still joins us every month, having his morning coffee in the break, while we’re drinking afternoon tea. What started as an experiment has grown into a joyful thing. People get so much writing done, and that feeling of achievement is hugely positive. It also cemented in me a way of writing collaboratively, which I’ve bought to Cohesive. Writing had always felt like a private thing, something to be done in isolation, but doing it openly, discussing it, and understanding more about the process has broken down a lot of barriers and made it easier and more fun.
I really prefer working collaboratively in a team environment. I’m an extrovert so I get energy from other people and feel calmer in company. But due to current life circumstances I do find myself working from home or in a coworking centre most of the time these days.
The Cohesive Zoom calls do actually bring me a lot of joy. The Monday company-wide call is cool as it’s great to see everyone and because we make time to discuss what everyone did at the weekend and make TV recommendations. The project calls are fun too, and valuable as I get more clarity when I say things out loud, rather than just ponder them silently. Also we have worked together for a while so we generally find something to laugh about. Last week we were laughing about men’s instinctive reluctance to give their dogs the snip, and the secret pride we feel gazing upon their still-intact gonads!
Alice and I just have to accept there is no going back to the Monday to Friday office life, but we all have to be creative and make the extra effort to maintain that human connection. And by the way, Sharon’s Creative Writing Group is very cool, you should give it a try.
It’s no secret in the Cohesive team that remote working is not my favourite thing. I really see the value in having quiet, focused time away from the office to get things done, but I miss the ‘ambient social life’ of a buzzing workplace and the often mundane and pedestrian conversations about pets and dinner and commutes.
One of my favourite ways to work now is joining friends and old colleagues in cafes and libraries to co-work. Instead of going to a specified space, I can curate my company, catch up and share working time with people doing different things to me. It’s the best of both worlds!
We need to change the narrative around the modern workplace. Let’s stop harking back to ‘lockdowns’, banish the use of terms like ‘remote working’ and stop bitching about back to back zoom meetings. Instead, let’s embrace the opportunity that we’ve been given and go grab that elusive work/life/work balance we’ve all been searching for. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an office-denyer. The format is still relevant, we just need to rethink its function. Let’s make it a destination, celebrate our interactions with colleagues, cherish the small talk and delight in the connected human state.
Presenteeism, although no longer compulsory (in my mind it never was), is however still necessary and an essential ingredient in building culture, driving creativity and inspiring ideas. You cannot schedule spontaneity. You need to create the conditions for it to happen. That’s the role I see for the evolved office of the future.
I’m not talking about uber-funky, Google-esque type spaces, with ball pits, slides and foosball. It’s not about the space, it’s about what happens within it! And I’m not saying it’s easy. Look at the retail sector, it’s been grappling with its own presenteeism challenge over the last decade as people abandoned the high street and headed for multi-functional entertainment venues (think out of town shopping centres).
So, let’s take joy in the challenge of redefining the workplace. Focus on the positives of change not the negatives. There’s an old adage that goes ‘work is what you do, not where you go’. True, but where you go really matters!
Watching our clients embrace the whole ‘digital working experience playground’ is a great pleasure, sspecially when they talk to large audiences for an online event. They’ve been parodying genres like space exploration and sci-fi. Getting creative with new meeting room technologies and collaborative platforms. Using animations, music and video skits to create an engaging visual experience and keep the audience’s attention. Though maybe holding virtual cocktail parties and seasonal pumpkin carving – fun at the time – have had their day.
We see clients playing with digital conversations, and not afraid to be daring: dressing up, having fun and having a laugh even when they’re the butt of the joke. Has the digital working experience allowed for this boost of playful confidence, liberated expression and creativity? I think so, and I do know that I like watching it flourish.
Work is a state of mind. The whole ‘remote work’ concept is not a new thing for me. In my PR history with fast-growing, ambitious starts-ups emerging from NYC or the Silicon Valley, there is no way of telling when your personal time ends and professional time begins because you are expected to answer the client, or your CMO or CEO no matter what. As Americans like to say ‘whatever means necessary’. Going to the office has become something of a fancy since the pandemic started, but easy to use tools like Slack (which reminds me of my #IRCchat days – but now I chat for work) makes the pain a lot easier because, no matter where you are in the world, you will always be connected. It doesn’t matter if we go to the office or not, what matters is knowing when and how to disconnect. But happy hours with like-minded colleagues don’t hurt either 🙂
If you can sing ‘Shallow’ in the style of Lady Gaga, then we should chat. Because I can definitely play it – in the style of Bradley Cooper. Which is to say, most of the notes, mostly in order, most of the time. I’m sitting here at my work desk, and there’s a guitar in arm’s reach. It peps up my Zoom background, and more. Right now I’m wondering what my next sentence is going to be… Nope. So I’m gonna pick up that guitar, mangle a tune, and see what happens.
This has been the pattern of the new style of work for me. Mashing things up. Free-shuffling through the shades of creative inside of me, to find an easier route to being better at the craft I actually get paid for. It’s the same story with the digital tools we’re hammering daily. It may say ‘Drive’ on the tin, but for me it’s also about ‘Play’. Co-writing with someone, often in silence, is one of the happiest, most fulfilling games I know how to play. Give it a try.
In the meantime, if you can sing like Gaga – maybe I’ll see you on Zoom. You’ll be bringing the talent – I’ll fetch the guitar.