Sunday Jan 29, 2023

Welcome To The Nowhere Office, Whether You’re Ready For It Or Not – Forbes


Close up of a mid adult man working on a laptop from his cabin in the woods


In the introduction to The Nowhere Office: Reinventing Work and the Workplace of the Future (2022), author Julia Hobsbawm outlines 4 phases in the history of modern work:

  1. The Optimism Years (1945-1977), when people had faith in corporate institutions, when technology was first making an appearance where people worked, and when office buildings were rising “beyond the imaginations of those who constructed the early skyscrapers of the 1920s and 1930s”;
  2. The Mezzanine Years (1978-2006), when work started to go from “glamorous luxury” to “more like a grind”, when the internet and social media first arrived, and when we first started dealing with challenges like work-life balance, globalization, and the impact of “disastrous management”;
  3. The Co-Working Years (2007-2019), when the smartphone and laptop “heralded the beginning of the end of the office as we know it”, when co-working started to gain traction, when travel and conferencing and networking mushroomed, and when “mindfulness and the desire to switch off became mainstream”; and
  4. The Nowhere Office Years (2020-?), when inequality and sustainability came to the forefront, as did Generation Z, and when we began the shift from the internet era to “the metaverse”. Of course, this is also the age when everything we thought we knew about the office changed, almost overnight.

Incidentally, Hobsbawm’s book should be required reading for anyone who is thinking through what’s next for their workplace.

So here we find ourselves again, according to Hobsbawm, in a transitional period between the end of one work era and the start of a new one; except this time it’s a period of office exodus, and this time the transition is happening before our eyes (as opposed to being a phenomenon we notice only in retrospect).

Just look at all the headlines, the span of issues and opportunities, and the wealth of advice demanding your attention now, in real-time, as the transition to the Nowhere Office plays out. For example (to scratch the surface):

We’re experiencing an exodus from the way of life we all (professionally) grew up with, and in the biblical sense, an escape from the four walls of the office in pursuit of a ‘promised land’ of virtual work. But what happens while we’re in the proverbial desert in between?

Rapid Change, Significant Turmoil, And False Idols

We are already seeing conflict between those who are trying to fully embrace the future of work and those who aren’t ready for it yet. The Apple employees’ internal letter mentioned above is one example of that, but that same dynamic is playing out in many, many organizations. Leaders are divided on what’s right for their business: Some have already taken a firm stand that everyone has to come back to the office, others have said that no one has to, and still others (most others, it seems) are trying to create a model that offers the best of both worlds.

Employees are also divided: Some can’t work from home for a variety of reasons, some would prefer to be in an office only when they need to be, others are finished with the office altogether and will seek out new employment where they can have that. Talent is already, and will continue to be, an important battlefront during this …….


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