Let them eat cheese… working from home is here to stay |  julia hobsbawm

Let them eat cheese… working from home is here to stay | julia hobsbawm

EITHEROne of the best selling business books of all time is called who moved my cheese? by Spencer Johnson and has sold 30 million copies worldwide since 1998. It is a book about change and features two sets of creatures, mice and humans, trying to replicate ancient patterns and find long-lost cheese or be adventurers and discover new supplies. of that

It is rather an apt parable for the emerging battle lines around post-pandemic work practices, specifically how much knowledge workers are using in the office and what productivity gains look like with new hybrid work patterns. Another Johnson is also using cheese to prove his point. The prime minister said on Friday: “My experience of working from home is that you spend a lot of time walking very slowly to the fridge, cutting a small piece of cheese and then walking very slowly back to your laptop.”

This message – that all you do is nibble unproductively and waste time when you work from home – has been echoed by a number of posters (and they are men of a certain generation) for RTO or “back to office” businesses and governments. from around the world, including David Solomon of Goldman Sachs, who called working from home an “aberration”; Lord Sugar, who criticized the “lazy” people at PWC who are working “summer hours” out of the office; and, of course, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who took to roaming the empty Whitehall offices and leaving passive-aggressive “Sorry you weren’t around” notes on desks.

From a management and leadership perspective, all I can say is that this strategy isn’t much better than calling workers “cheese-eating, quitting monkeys” (a term memorably coined by The Simpsons – the same year as Who moved my cheese? was published, to describe the French), and it’s interesting that some politicians and business leaders are deciding that attacking the workforce is their best line of defense against the seismic changes they face: the tightest job market in decades, rising inflation and a global rejection of a return to office life with all the economic and cultural disruption that this implies.

Water cooler
2022 will be remembered for the battle between the fridge and the water dispenser. Photograph: Corbis Premium RF/Alamy

The timing of Boris Johnson’s remarks coincided with the Rees-Mogg press conference that the civil service can be cut by as much as a fifth. He has deliberately conflated the issue of service cuts with criticism of the emerging hybrid model of three days a week in the office and two days remotely, which is fast becoming the norm in post-pandemic cities around the world.

Doing so is not just bad policy, it flies in the face of evidence that new work patterns that give workers agency, flexibility, and a mix of social time in the office with self-managed, less-monitored work are productive. Professor Nicholas Bloom of Stanford showed in a study of 16,000 workers that productivity can increase by up to 13% on this basis. Ipsos data consistently shows that flexibility to work differently is desirable across all demographics, with 65% saying they are more productive when they work flexibly.

So why the political and managerial resistance? Let’s go back to the cheese. Old habits die hard, and changing command and control models is an undeniable challenge. Implementing hybrids is difficult and will involve experimentation and iteration. The human characters indecisive and resistant to change in who moved my cheese? they are called “Hem and Haw”. It takes them much longer to realize that they have to go through the maze they find themselves in to find new sources of cheese than their more enterprising counterparts, “Sniff and Scurry”. Today, Hem and Haw are those leaders who would rather see mindless presenteeism than be curious enough to find out how their people like to work and how they can be more productive.

The post-pandemic office is completely different than it was before. Conference calls and technology have collided with cultural changes, and people want to better integrate their work with the rest of their lives.

When it comes to the politics of work and the post-pandemic workplace, 2022 will be remembered for the battle between the refrigerator and the water cooler. But to borrow from another phrase, those who create the policies and are tasked with making them work must keep it real. Change is in the air and someone just moved the cheese.

Julia Hobsbawm is the author of The nowhere office: Reinventing work and the workplace of the future and co-host of The Nowhere Office podcast

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