However, the price that must be paid for individual short-term productivity is quite high. As remote working continues, the company’s productivity on the system level drops while the organization’s ability to renew itself decreases. Remote work favors deterministic conception of the world, where the future can be sliced into parts that are easy to perceive – and then distribute to people in the form of task lists. This may lead into short-sightedness and decline, both of which are potentially destructive features in a business environment that becomes increasingly more complex.
Despite this, remote work is praised, sometimes completely without any critical examination. The grounds are evident: flexibility thanks to independence of location, opportunities to plan the working days by oneself, increased productivity and advanced ways and equipment to carry out remote work. Several organizations have already declared moving toward a purely remote working model, where a person can freely provide his or her individual contribution anywhere, without any need to become a part of the bigger society. Some justify this decision strongly from the viewpoint of employee well-being.
Does that sound good? Perhaps it does. However, several experts, such as Chris Westfall of Forbes, are surprisingly unanimous of the fact that remote workers do not feel better than before – but quite the contrary. Remote work has separated people from their working environments and cast shadows over their work stamina. Constant remote work is not a well-functioning solution from an IT worker’s well-being point of view.
I believe in another kind of future than constant remote work. The kind that is built through both individual and collective well-being. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned researcher and psychologist, says that a person’s satisfaction is generated when two simultaneous processes are fulfilled.
The first process is differentiation. We need an understanding of all of us as unique individuals, each responsible for our own well-being and development. We have to have both the desire and ability to accept ourselves as independent creatures that can have an effect on one’s own well-being.
Another pillar is integration into a part of something greater than ourselves. In addition to us being unique, we are tightly attached to social relationships, cultural and economic systems and the nature that surrounds us.
A person that can be differentiated and integrated at the same time can lead a happy, vigorous and meaningful life. That kind of person believes in a better tomorrow.
Collective offices play a critical role in this equation. Their task is to draw people together and enable fruitful exchange of ideas and opinions. To make that happen requires a lot more than just office spaces that have been designed appealingly. The work itself must be redefined.
The talk has been largely about office work and remote work, but from now on, the definition of work will have three different starting points. Expert work can be divided into these three categories:
- Ideation, where creating something new and problem-solving are tasks carried out in cross-expert and cross-scientific teams that meet for the most part, face-to-face. Virtual meetings and equipment are utilized between team members that know each other and enjoy strong mutual trust.
- Flow and routine work is done wherever it happens most efficiently for every individual. For some, this means at their own desk in the silent part of the office. For others, it is the living room couch, no matter how bad that sounds ergonomically. This kind of work is genuinely independent of location, and there is no point at all to discuss where the work might take place.
- Work that promotes a sense of community becomes a concrete part of work for more employees than before. Traditional job descriptions will be supplemented by saying that the most important task for every employee is to help colleagues succeed in what they do. A “Friday without meetings” that invites everyone to the office could be one mark of our efforts to create a sense of community.
As work in general is being redefined, the norms and practices of leadership require thorough airing. In organizations that have declared themselves self-guiding, collective guidance – understanding that your colleague’s opinion is as worthwhile as yours – is already being brought up.
Even in the most traditional organizations, the pressure towards decentralized leadership is beginning to boil over. As the working environment changes rapidly, employees must be supported adequately. The amount of effort this requires is increasing as we speak.
As leadership spreads out, so must the power structures. As this happens, the most significant difference between power and leadership becomes evident. Power means the ability to make someone do something he or she would not otherwise want to do. Leadership means helping someone to succeed in something he or she is doing. This breaks down the conventional, centralized power structures and creates balance between power and responsibility at every level of the organization.
In this thinking model, everyone can be a leader. Leadership is not about titles or commanding power. It is about everyone being responsible for helping the members of the community – and thus the entire community. The differentiation and the integration of an individual go hand in hand, in a sustainable way.
That is the future of work.
- Entrepreneur and angel investor
Mikko Kuitunen is a digital age entrepreneur and an angel investor changing the way companies are led.
He is the founder of Vincit Plc, a successful Finnish IT company that is well-known by exceptional leading methods. Vincit was found in 2007 and since then it has grown to more than 600 people, having turnover of more than 60 M€. Vincit has been awarded as the best place to work in Europe.