Building the ‘You Normal’ in the future of work

  • Dan Bladen
  • Author Dan Bladen, CEO & Co-Founder

There is no new normal – that’s just the same old thinking. The opportunity you’ve been gifted is to invent the ‘You Normal’. The fact that you’re here, reading this, means that you’ve spent at least a year successfully figuring out new ways to get work done.

What you’ve done – and what we’ve done – what every smart, flexible business has done – is rapidly prototype a dozen new ways for work to be.

Now’s the moment to pick out the best ones, and run with them

It’s about trust

And if you think about it, it’s not like you really have a choice. You could mandate that everyone gets back in the office five days a week, but you know that your best talent would likely walk. Almost certainly to a business that offers them the flexibility they’ve become used to.

Used to? How about ‘trusted with’. Those people that you trusted to hit their goals, be inventive, make things happen, regardless. The people that reclaimed two hours of commute time daily, and thoughtfully split that dividend with you.

The blueprint

But there are very real and positive choices you can make, right now. You have creative options to ease your people back into safe, in-person work encounters. Your office can be at the heart of that. As an oasis for creativity, culture, community and team cohesion. A place for the softer, human virtues and values to take root and flourish.

Find the right tone and tempo there, and you’ll start to see a new equilibrium emerge. That’s your cue to engineer the template for the future of work in your business: the ‘You Normal’.

Whatever that looks like, it’s going to offer a lot of flexibility, underpinned by trust and individual responsibility. Maybe your normal takes a remote-first, workplace-second posture. Maybe it’s more nuanced than that – letting teams find their own blend. Whatever, here are three things we can be confident of:

  1. Homeworking is the best option and first choice for most people, most of the time, to get focused, heads-down work done.
  2. The digital collaboration experience is here to stay. Let’s just reflect that there’s nothing ‘virtual’ about online meetings, conferences and whatnot. Digital is as real as real. It’s strong. It’s going to get a lot more innovative and immersive. And it’s starting to wrap itself around wellbeing, not just productivity.
  3. There are many moments during the cycles of work – convergences in the joined up rhythms of getting stuff done – when we are so much better served by being with flesh and blood people. Creative moments. High moments and low moments. The moments when we learn not just what to do but how to be. Moments of truth, if you like.

Your template will be a blend of the remote, the digital, and in-person encounters. And it’s not that difficult to get started. Here’s how.

1. Make the workplace desirable again

Opening the office is about much more than just making it available. It’s about making it desirable again. The desire for meeting and mixing is different in each of us, because our perception of risk and reward is highly contextual and intensely personal.

So while ground rules are essential, when it comes to encouraging people into the office, the pivot you need to make is give people the opportunity to create their own purposeful encounters, and put them in control of the experience. That means the why, when and where of meet-ups.

For example, a desk and space booking app lets them find a desk or meeting space at your office, either for themselves or more likely, themselves plus a group of collaborators. Following that logic, you can think about how the experience can be extended beyond booking, to arrival at the office. What would make the occasion more valuable and potentially safer? Well, your confirmed arrival could be the cue to advertize your presence to frequent collaborators. And also to check that social distances were being maintained – not just in theory but in real time.

2. Understand Cadence

Those days at the office – they’ll feel special. Inspiration, education, nurturing, new ideas, all in the company of the people you most want to spend time with. The office as a destination, a venue, maybe a sanctuary.

People’s ideal office days will vary a lot. Maybe you’ve already tried the idea of bringing people together on rotations, as office neighbourhoods or cohorts. How’s that going for you? And does it really allow for those right place, right time encounters – the watercooler moments – that add such spice to the office experience?

Now imagine a hive-minded, self-organizing alternative to the inevitably clumsy top-down approach. You’re going to leverage two powerful phenomena, free of charge. The first is self interest: given a chance we’ll make it our business to maximize our experiences. The second is the naturally occurring rhythms in every team, project or workflow, which we call ‘cadence’.

Remember the circadian rhythm that tells each of us when to sleep and when to wake, when to be active and when to rest? Cadence is like the circadian rhythm of getting work done. It exists within teams and between them. Surface and signpost those cadences, let people tune to them, and what follows is synchronization between all interested parties. At the cosmic scale, it’s the orchestration of a new way for work to happen. On the smallest scale, an infinite series of organized coincidences.

Cadence has been hiding in plain sight, all this while. Imagine reversing the colours on a shared calendar. The booked portions become highlighted white, indicating an opportunity to sync to, and hook up with, an already scheduled ‘something’. The free portions fade to grey, representing what they really are – an absence of information, a lack of convergence. It’s that small shift in perspective that powers a huge bonanza in efficient synchronous working, especially of the in-person kind.

3. Make progress a habit

Feels like we’ve all spent too long on the work-eat-sleep-repeat cycle. But you have to become aware of an unhelpful pattern before you can change it. Or for that matter, a helpful one if you intend to promote it. By giving them control, and tapping into the potential of cadence, individuals and teams are going to get very creative around in-person encounters as part of a flexible workflow. That’s a habit that it’s in your interest to feed.

By understanding the emerging dynamics between synchronous and asynchronous working, between digital presence and in-person encounters, and between your people and their environment, you’re going to be able to steer from a position of insight. With the right systems in place – sports analogy coming up – you can be the on-field official, video referee and writer of the rulebook. Optimizing for the here and now as well as the future.