What Does the 21st-Century Workplace Look Like?

42 Comments

I worked outside of the home for many years. I hated that I saw more of my co-workers than I did my family. For one two-year period, my work day and commute combined made for an 11-hour day. There were days when I sent my kid to school with a fever.

It always seemed like I was knocking myself out to pay for a home and a home life that I didn’t have the time or energy to enjoy and, in fact, was often forced to neglect. Unacceptable. So I did what I had to do to make my career portable.

If you read this blog, you’re probably already redefining the work paradigm. I’d like to hear from you about what the 21st-century workplace should look like.

I may soon be in a position to make decisions about teleworking for a staff. I feel very strongly that workers should have the option to work in or out of the office (or a bit of both).

I’m also very concerned about the burden the traditional work model places on the environment (commuting, powering facilities, maintaining equipment, etc.). The prospect of being able to design a life-friendly and earth-friendly company from scratch is very exciting.

I’m specifically interested in your views on how much time should be spent in and out of an office. I hope you won’t mind if I consult you in the future about other topics, such as what you miss most about working in an office and how you prefer to communicate with remote co-workers.

So what would be ideal for you? Would one day a week at the office be enough? Or none at all? Would you really like to be home just on Wednesdays because your kids get out of school early that day? Would getting away from office distractions every other week make you more productive?

I’m looking forward to your input! You’re the experts, after all.

42 Comments

Shane Mingins

FWIW, came across this a while back http://www.indyhall.org/ but from what I gather, it is not commonplace yet. And we have nothing even close to it in NZ. I have seen some mention of coworking places in Australia though.

jopincar

I’ve been working from home for the last 10 months now as a software developer. I’m in Houston and my client is in Virginia. I’ve met my boss one time and that was after working for 6 months. The only thing I miss is lunch out with co-workers. That’s about it. I don’t know if I’ll ever again be able to take a job that requires a long (> 20 minute) commute now that I’ve worked from home.

Pamela Poole

Shawn, I guess anywhere doesn’t always mean anywhere… That’s too bad. But it sounds like you’re already armed with the arguments you need to convince the powers that be to rethink “anywhere!”

Pamela Poole

Adam, your setup at BatchBlue sounds ideal. The fact that most of you are close by is a nice bonus. I don’t always stick to business hours either. I’ll take a few hours out in the middle of the day to go shopping with my step-daughter (half a day of school on Wednesday in France) and end up answering e-mails and other stuff after dinner (also a time zone issue, since California wakes up at about 4:00 in the afternoon my time!).

Don Nalezyty

I’ve been a teleworker for nearly 10 years. The first few years I maintained a cube/office in the local corporate offices, but spent progressively more time working from home. For the last 7 years I have had no office location other than home. I was one of the first at our company to telework, but now 95% of our organization telework.

In our experience not everyone is a great teleworker, but most can be good with some focus, self-discipline and the right tools. There’s still a need to meet in person as even the best teleworkers need face time with peers and management.

Most of the time I love it. It’s nice to be able have meals with my kids and block out 2 hours every evening to hang out and be a dad even if I often work after 7 pm.

So to the question of what the 21st century work place looks like:

1. I think it needs to includes telework as a key component, but includes a common office where a corporate identity resides.

2. Workers would telework the majority of the time, but meet regularly, once a month, once a week or what ever frequency is needed to maintain synergy and team work.

3. The home office needs to be a dedicated space with a door that can be closed to minimize interruptions at home. Home can be just as distracting as an office, even more so at times.

4. Use of appropriate communication tools is critical as well. IM, wikis, blogs, mail, phone, web conferencing are all tools that we use.

There’s a related thread on lifehacker.com that has some great comments on this issue, which are worth reviewing.

Michael

I have been a proponent for telecommuting for as long as I’ve been in the workforce – 16 years. I’ve been lucky to be in a career where computers and Internet connectivity are how I get my job done, but in my career I’ve never been at a company where telecommuting is so widely accepted with its staff until now.

However, despite being an ardent telecommuter, I fully realize that there are some things that are much better done in person with a team at an office. Tasks such as brainstorming, problem solving, project collaboration and other team-based activities are much better when done in person in the same room. The problem is that most offices are not setup to allow for that kind of team collaboration. They’re setup with cubes, or offices, and meeting rooms are few. Until this gets fixed and great “teaming” office spaces are created, the wider adopotion of telecommuting won’t happen.

Shawn Honnick

I worked exclusively from home on a startup for four years and now work for a large company where I am classified as a “Work Anywhere” employee. Management in my department requires “anywhere” to be the office three days each week.

Of course, I’d prefer to have no restriction or regulation. In my opinion and long experience, office locations are most productive for face to face meetings. I love working with people, but when I am trying to get work done and one of them “stops by” or just decides to have a loud conversation within 10 feet of my cube, the distraction often borders on unbearable and always slows me down.

I really like the no office at all idea and actually thought that was what I was getting into where I’m working now. I had this for four years and found myself to not only be much more productive in my work, but also much more happy with quality of life. “Rush hour” traffic in any city is enough to change anyone’s day for the worse. If nothing else, “no commute” should be at the top of the list!

Adam Darowski

Pamela — great post with some great comments.

I’ve been with BatchBlue for almost a year now, and we’re a virtual company (no office at all). There’s eight of us, but six are all local, as in within ten minutes of each other. So, when do we go “to the office” (meaning, our president’s dining room)? When we need to. That, in my opinion, is the best way to decide when to go to the office.

We all (with 2 by video conference) meet once a week for our staff meeting. There’s an interesting dynamic to those sometimes. When we’re 20 minutes in and I realize we haven’t really started yet, it hits me… THAT’s our water cooler banter for the week. 20 minutes is much better than the hours it seems others waste doing the same.

The best part for me is the flexible schedule. I have two kiddos under 4, so I actually do the bulk of my work once they are asleep. I do the time-sensitive, feedback required stuff for a few hours during the day, and at night it’s just for cranking stuff out.

I work more now than I used to, but see my kids at least twice as much.

Pamela Poole

Croila, if working at home is something you really want to do, don’t give up on yourself! I used to think I wasn’t disciplined enough either. I’d get up and do the dishes or start a load of laundry or go to the store… And I still do that! In fact, I think it’s natural and healthy to step away occasionally when you’re concentrating on a task. After I stopped fighting my tendency to do things like that, I was more relaxed and productive. So if you can do a day’s work in three hours, why not spend the rest of your time doing other things you need or want to do?

Pamela Poole

Michael, your site looks like a great resource for independent workers and companies that need to outsource! Thanks for sharing the info.

Pamela Poole

Cali and Jody, I’m inclined to do just what you suggest, of course, but I don’t know if I could go completely office-less. I think employers need to make a workplace available for people who want to come to work. For all you know, their home environments might not be conducive to work for whatever reason. I’m sure you address that in your book, which I look forward to reading!

Pamela Poole

Andre, I love “the workplace looks like a laptop”! I’m sure lots of people have had the same experience working with others who don’t perform at the same rate as they do. There’s also the issue Chris brought up about our natural productivity periods. It’s hard to get in sync when we all work so differently. Definitely better to let people work at their own pace during their own most productive hours.

Pamela Poole

Kelly, I like going from project to project too. You get closure when you work like that and it keeps things interesting!

Pamela Poole

On setting up co-working: I just checked to see if there was a co-working section on Craigslist and there isn’t. There certainly ought to be! You could also check out meetups.com to put something together.

Pamela Poole

Chris (involuntary tech support), your points are great. I relate particularly to your schedule comment because I’m an early bird too, and by the time you get to the office at 9:00 you’ve wasted a few productive hours. I’ve also worked with lots of night owls. It’s clearly counterproductive to impose rigid schedules on people. Like you, I do enjoy working with other people sometimes, especially if we’re collaborating on a project. Your co-working idea is great, particularly if you’re working with others in your field.

Pamela Poole

Shane, I had the same experience with wanting solitude after a week of work. Everybody would be so much better off if our work models were more skewed towards respecting home, family, and health. We’re getting there. But no wonder you don’t mind popping into the office; Santa Barbara–yum! (I’m from SoCal.)

Pamela Poole

Chris (of the ironed shirts), I absolutely agree with you that the traditional office is no longer relevant. I have sat in so many offices thinking “I could be doing this at home” –and some of those were even pre-Internet! I imagine that as old-school managers (a comment on outlook, not age) are gradually replaced by those who’ve embraced or grown up with the web, the workplace will adapt.

croila

I’ve worked full-time in offices for the last twenty years, but now I’m getting experience of working the odd day at home too.

What I notice is that IF I can manage to knuckle down and do the work, I’m a hundred times more productive. I can get a whole day’s work done in three hours if I have to.

However, it’s desperately hard to actually force myself to start. Sometimes even cleaning the toilet seems preferrable to starting work!

I guess it depends on how focussed and single-minded you are about it. For some it could work, but I suspect that it wouldn’t really be in my best interests as I’m not disciplined enough.

Michael Wolff

i have been working from home for 17 years, based in the Highlands. my goal has also been to set up a virtual outsourcing business, connecting other homeworkers from around the world.

when i couldn’t find a way of doing it sustainably as a standalone entity, i got together with a number of other homeworking friends and created a web platform for outsourcing online work.

i thought if i couldn’t do it for myself, at least i could help others to attain a similar goal. it hasn’t been easy to get the funding to get such an operation off the ground. we are currently in alpha development, but about to launch in the next few weeks. if you have similar goals in your life, why not check us out?

http://www.ki-work.com

Chris Luckhardt

I left “the office” last year and vow to never go back. My reasons are really not that different from what has already been listed above.

Cali and Jody

Our advice would be to give your staff complete autonomy – let them decide how to spend their time, along where to spend it, as long as they get the work done. We agree with Chris – the office is archaic. Why put any guidelines around how many days people should be there?

The biggest challenges in giving complete freedom to employees are 1) trusting them enough to make the right decisions and actually get the work done and 2) setting crystal goals and expectations.

Personally, we don’t have an office and our employees don’t either. Our staff is exceeding expectations and they wouldn’t dream of working anywhere else.

We applaud you for asking for advice on this important topic – the 21st century workplace isn’t a ‘place’ at all. And that’s cool.

Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson
Creators of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE)
Authors of the forthcoming book “WHY WORK SUCKS AND HOW TO FIX IT”

Kelly

I passed one year as a fulltime, home-based worker in February. It’s been an interesting time, one that I wouldn’t trade it for any office life.

I do however miss being around people besides my own child. Coffee shops go a little way toward fixing that need, but don’t quite fill the void. I am also considering coworking, but haven’t found anything close enough. Which has lead me to also consider starting my own.

While I never actually did time in an office environment, I have spent time on projects onsite with clients. It’s a huge difference for me in work accomplished. Being able to jump from project to project really fits me better and would likely be frowned upon in a larger company.

Andre Kibbe

The 21st Century workplace looks like a laptop.

If my former co-workers had been high performers, I’d probably miss a physical workplace more. Not having to deal with manufactured emergencies from people trying to make themselves feel important allows me to focus on priority tasks without interruption. Now I get to measure my work strictly be output, and it’s been nothing but liberating. If I start to get cabin fever, I just walk to a nearby coffeehouse but more often than not I enjoy the silence and concentration of working at home.

Chris

I’ve been working from home for the past 3+ years. I have to say it took some adjusting, but once I found my rhythm it was easy to get up and get going each day.

I would have a hard time going back to a traditional office for several reasons:

(1) Productivity. I’m able to get much more done at home with minimal distractions. Every time I go to one of our work sites, I have to play tech support for everyone and cannot get anything done.

(2)Flexibility. I am fortunate to also have a flexible schedule. I get up and start working between 5:30-6 am. This is well before any of my co-workers get cranking. I also break up my day with exercise so I can try and stay in shape. I definitely put in the hours, but they are spread out through the day.

(3)Commuting. I hate commuting and save a ton of $ on gas, vehicle maintenance and time. I also save a lot of money by making lunch at the house. I create less of an impact on the environment.

I do miss being with others at times so I’m now exploring the option of co-working with others in my field. It will be a breath of creative fresh air I think.

Shane Mingins

I have just completed the first year of working from home. And I have loved it!

Here are some of the highlighted positives:

1. I actually feel like seeing people at the end of the week. I think after seeing people at work during the week I tended to like more solitude over the weekend.

2. I see my kids MORE. Yesterday I walked up to their school and kindergarten … and then had a milkshake with my eldest.

3. I get sick less … if at all! This is probably due to less time in trains and other confined spaces with (sick) people over the winter months, but I also think just being at home ‘helps’ you feel better :-)

4. My wife feels like there is more ‘calmness’ in the home. The kids know that DAD is just downstairs … and will come up if needed.

So for me zero-days in an office works very well. I don’t mind visiting the office occassionally … but then that is a trip to the US and sunny Santa Barbara … so more like a vacation for me … not so more my wife ;-)

Chris

I currently work one day at the office (required by management), and even that is one day too many. Frankly, I face far more distractions at the office than I gain in collaborative value.

The more I work at home, the more useless the office seems to be. The time wasted. The fuel. The loud and annoying cacophony of chatter. The endless ironing of shirts. :)

For many types of work, going to the office is an archaic idea whose time has passed. Fortunately for me, the work I do is one of them.

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