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Posts Tagged ‘Seth Godin

Why the Office Isn’t Going Anywhere Soon

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Philadelphia office building

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Imagine you weren’t tied to your desk or your office. That you could do your job—or significant parts of it—from anywhere you chose. When you close your eyes and envision that, do you find that you’re still in an office? Or are you perhaps on the deck of a boat, or closing deals on a golf course? What would the working world look like if more of us could turn those dreams into reality?

Seth Godin wrote recently that “If we were starting this whole office thing today, it’s inconceivable we’d pay the rent/time/commuting cost to get what we get.” Offering a full rationale for the statement over the course of a blog post (exec summary: you probably don’t interact with the majority of your colleagues daily anyway. If you’ve got a laptop, you’ve got everything you need), he concluded by stating that the only thing holding us to the traditional office construct is “someplace to go. Once someone figures that part out, the office is dead.”

There’s already evidence to suggest that some people are figuring that part out. A recent Businessweek piece reports on a group of people who have managed to move at least part of their working lives to the beach.  But as the piece itself points out, such people “are still rare enough that no agency tracks the phenomenon.”

Despite that, the Businessweek article does suggest that Godin is correct in one respect: that there is a certain type of worker who is capable of getting the work done regardless of their location. With that being the case, why not let them work wherever they feel they can get it done best?

The answer to that question—and to the importance of the office as a whole—lies in the sense of community. Sure, it might be possible to communicate with whomever you need to within your company by phone and email, but doing so exclusively takes a toll on everyone involved. Consider how much worse the average call center employee is treated compared to someone in a direct customer-facing position. The reason: it’s much easier to dehumanize someone if you don’t have to deal with them face to face.

Therein lies the true importance of the office—and the real reason that it’s not going anywhere soon, no matter the advances in collaboration software and technology.
Sure, that commute might be the bane of your existence, but consider the good that can come out of bumping into a colleague in the hallway, or stopping by someone’s desk for a quick chat. Many’s the business issue that has been solved from an otherwise casual starting point. Take that away, and you lose a large part of whatever collaborative spirit exists within your workforce at present.

Throughout history, people have naturally gravitated towards the concept of community, and have tended to create living spaces at both the individual and community level that allow for congregation. The office is merely an extension of this tendency. And, with companies being nothing more than hand-picked communities, it behooves leaders to do all they can to ensure that those people feel as connected to one another as possible.

The problem with questions such as the one at the top of this blog, and opinions like Godin’s, is that they encourage people to think of themselves as autonomous units. You might be able to do the same type and quality work anywhere. You might not need your colleagues around, or be quite happy communicating by email. But they might not, and may even think that having their colleagues around them is something of a perk.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that companies shouldn’t be flexible in figuring out working arrangements—the benefits it has for employee happiness and wellbeing are well documented. But so, too, is the importance of strong communities and people feeling invested in the people they work with. (Plus: how would most of us ever meet prospective partners?) For that reason, the office isn’t going anywhere, no matter how much fantasizing we do.

World Innovation Forum: Seth Godin

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Early in his presentation on day two of the World Innovation, Seth Godin made a point that may be comforting to those stuck in companies that don’t seem like they’re going anywhere, and that definitely presents opportunity for those interested in making a career out of effecting change and grasping new opportunities.

The premise: that we’re in the midst of a revolution in which the traditional methods of marketing—mass appeal, repeated messaging and so on—are no longer effective.

The message: That “revolutions create losers before they creates winners.” Broken down further, the core of his suggestion is that every company out there is struggling with the same issues when it comes to competing in a rapidly shifting marketplace. And that some companies will provide lessons for others by failing. The reason that may be of comfort to those at organizations that seem to be treading water: your company still has the potential to end up a winner. The better news: that it may come down to you.

The opportunity for individuals that Godin’s message represents should be obvious: that there is significant potential for individuals to shape the future of their companies through innovation.

On that note, Godin spent a long time talking about the automation of workflow, and delivered a message that should frighten many people: If you (or someone else) can write down what your job is, someone else will be able to do it cheaper. That’s the reality that manual workers faced in the era of industrialization, but according to Godin it’s one that is making its into white collar fields as well.

Value to organizations, he says, comes from employees who don’t spend their time repeating the same actions day after day. Accordingly, those who can innovate, create and provide new value by doing new things are the most important  in any company, and tend to be remunerated accordingly. Or, as Godin puts it: “The more time you spend following instructions, the less you get paid.”

The problem that many employees will have with Godin’s message is that carrying it out often relies on doing things without permission, and risking failing in public. Add in the rigidity of life at many major corporations–something that Godin acknowledges but dismisses as a barrier to those truly determined to lead change–and it’s easy to see where some companies could get left behind in a rapidly changing world.

Above all else, Godin is immensely quotable on his chosen subject areas. Some further examples from his presentation:

“Your job is a platform. It is not as platform for you to do what you are told. It is a platform for art.”

“Genius is a human who brings his real self to bring change.”

“This idea of obedience is bogus. There is no company today that would do better if employees were obedient.”

“You don’t lead because you have charisma. You get charisma because you lead.”

On Twitter: Don’t be fooled by numbers and metrics. The only one that matters is: “How many people would miss you if you stopped showing up or talking?”

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