Discover more from Creative Destruction
Remote Work: A Civilization-Level Change
Offices empower managers, remote work empowers makers
You might have noticed that I usually flip flop from a longer deep dive issue to my shorter Rabbit Holes format in which I showcase 5 interesting content pieces. But I recently came across some remote work related ideas that I needed (!!) to share with you. So one more deep dive this week and then back to the Rabbit Holes. 😉
Here we go!
“If [remote work] sticks, then it represents the first decoupling of economic opportunity from the geographic locality in thousands of years...
It's potentially a civilization-level change.”
Those are the words of Marc Andreessen, the well-known silicon valley investor who I already highlighted in last week’s issue. And while I disagree with a lot of things that Marc says, my research into remote work makes me wanna fully agree with his statement. Remote work is a shift that has plenty of second and third order consequences which are still very much underestimated. And yes, I also think this is the biggest shift we’ve seen in a very long time.
“To understand the nature of the physical office, we have to go back to the medieval ages. Back then, office homes were the norm. Individuals whose jobs consisted of paperwork, bookkeeping and other office-like activities tended to work from home."
Famous paintings like Botticelli’s Saint Augustine in His Cell and Saint Matthew set in a medieval scriptorium offer us a glimpse into what medieval offices looked like. They represented quiet and private work stations for monks to write, copy and study manuscripts”
“In England before the industrial revolution, almost everyone inhabited workhomes.
Medieval merchants’ and craft-workers’ workhomes had a shop or workshop onto the street where goods were made and sold. Trading and family life, public and private, were combined in a few multi-purpose spaces.
The workhomes of seventeenth and eighteenth century silk-weavers, watchmakers and stocking-knitters had workshop spaces with large windows to provide the high levels of natural light necessary for their trades. ]..In Coventry this type of workhome, generally inhabited by silk-weavers or watchmakers, was called a ‘top-shop’ because the highly glazed workshops were positioned under the roof to make the most of the natural light
People often think that in the industrial revolution the working classes went out to work in mills and factories while the middle classes commuted from the suburbs to work in the City. While this is true, what is less known is that a large proportion of the working population continued in home-based work.
“The idea of an office started to gain momentum in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Lawyers, doctors and other noble professionals began to open their own offices. Furthermore, the industrial revolution paved the way for new jobs to appear and colonial superpowers like the British Empire needed office buildings to handle the empire’s army, trade and different affairs.”
“Through the twentieth century new housing was built in residential estates that were segregated from both commercial and industrial zones. Tenancy agreements that prohibited home-based work were universally adopted in social housing.
By the mid 1950s the practice of home-based work was in decline, with the majority of households supported by a single male breadwinner who went ‘out to work’.
What’s also helped establish the office-focused world is of course the growth of white-collar work due to technological improvements as well as the establishment of “the manager” via business management theory, especially the classical management theory by Frederick Taylor (productivity through surveillance).
That’s why Dror Proleg, in a recent piece of his excellent daily newsletter Hype Free on LinkedIn, made the point that:
“An office is a management tool.”
“[…] The office as we know it is the physical embodiment of the manager’s schedule. It is a place for observing, instructing, receiving updates, and providing feedback.
[…] And offices work as intended. They empower managers.
However, the problem is that we aren’t living in Frederick Taylor’s world of management any longer. As Dror also points out: we don’t need more managers or average employees, we need more creatives and makers.
“In post-industrial work, the main unit of input is concentration. Creative work takes time, but more time does not necessarily equal a more valuable output. The best ideas come up when smart people are allowed to focus — on their own or with a small group.
[…] But [offices] handicap makers. They force makers to spend 1-2 hours a day commuting. And once they arrive, they distract them with small talk, meetings, and other surprises. Even away from the office, tools like Slack that attempt to recreate the office experience online are a source of distractions and stress.”
This comment on one of Dror’s writings by Lisa Picard makes also a great point:
“Today's worker now called talent largely produces work that is creative; not measured by efficiency BUT by what is effective (i.e. generates value for the organization).
We still have legacy organizations, leaders, and managers that motivate work through surveillance. When you motivate talent with purpose, vision, growth, and development... (i.e. through SUPPORT over SURVEILLANCE), then hybrid work really means choice WITH accountability.
Some orgs will provide a captivating HQ or experiences to draw in talent; other orgs will offer kickass digital platforms that remove bullshit jobs (i.e. surveillance managers) to provide the freedom to create from wherever, whenever one wants.”
So What’s Next?
Here are some, potentially less obvious, implications of a bigger, long-term shift toward remote work:
“Letting your people choose where to work is only the first step. The logical next step is empowering them to decide when and how to work.
This approach puts makers at the center and lets them focus unless there’s an explicit reason not to. It is the opposite of the current approach of designing workplaces and workflows around managers’ needs and letting employees focus only when they explicitly ask for it.
As remote work becomes more prevalent, expect asynchronous work to grow in synch.”
Community & Intergenerational Living
“[…] the ability to work remotely will not just affect what is being done at home, it will also redefine the meaning of a home and the type of people who live there.
The "idea of the nuclear family being detached from the extended family" is also a very modern phenomenon, partly due to the fact that young people had to move for economic opportunity.
"Should the home really be two parents and a couple of kids?" or "Should it be three or four generations of people and a lot of cousins and aunts and uncles, and then a lot of kids running around?" Here, too, we tend to assume that there are natural reasons for the world we see around us, but once the constraints of current employment are removed, the new normal might look completely different — or there might not be a normal at all, just a broader diversity of lifestyles.”
More Opportunities….But Also More Competition & Winner Takes All Outcomes
“A world of remote work is one in which people from all over the world compete with each other directly. But it is also a market that behaves very differently from the local labor markets we're all familiar with. A truly global market for talent will not just reshuffle the distribution of income in favor of those in cheaper locations, it will also reshape it.
The result will be fewer (but bigger) winners at the top, a shrinking middle, and a long tail of participants that earn more than they ever did — but much be less than middle-class employees used to earn.”
Better Talent Finding & Matching
“Hiring or investing in the one brilliant person who ends up inventing Gmail or some other multi-billion ideas is the key to success. And increasing the odds of finding that person is the name of the game.
Hiring from a bigger pool and accommodating a diversity of workstyle dramatically increases your odds of ‘matching’ with the right employee.”
Portfolio Companies & Fluid Employment
I talked about this already in my first deep dive issue “From Corporation to Self-Actualization”. Dror also writes about this potential shift:
“[…] ‘remote’ work will ultimately change how corporations are structured and how humans join forces to work on specific projects. As I have written before, the company of the future will look a lot like a venture fund. It will be a series of related bets with a portfolio of loosely connected people and ventures.”
The Office Of The Future
And lastly, Dror points out how Airbnb’s recent redesign of focusing less on location and more on category or type of experience (e.g. “amazing views”, “beach”, “grand pianos”…) is a great proxy for what the office (we might not even call it office anymore) of the future will potentially look or be like:
Alright! That’s it!
Hope you enjoyed these ideas on the remote work. I again encourage you to follow Dror Poleg’s work to dive even deeper into these topics!
As always, thanks for reading, make sure to share this post if you enjoyed it, and see you all next week!