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No, I Don't Need to Come Into the Office to 'Collaborate'

by Tony White about a year ago in workflow
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You've had two years to innovate at-distance culture and collaboration. Why haven't you?

No, I Don't Need to Come Into the Office to 'Collaborate'
Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Remembering how the world looked to us all at the end of 2019 looks almost... quaint now. Upheaval at once-in-a-generational scale has gripped the globe in its fist for so long now that everyone's sort of decided -- rightly or wrongly, but, you know, mostly wrongly -- that we all have to start getting in each other's faces again because the alternative is... safe but also slightly boring or something? I dunno.

Either way, white-collar workplaces are increasingly embracing the concept of a hybrid workforce, where people come into the physical office sometimes and work remotely the rest of the time. Everyone quietly ignores the pandemic throughout, and the travelling through it required to clock in needless facetime in a fluorescent noisebox amid people you hate every so often.

This incentive supposedly makes everyone feel a lot better about high office space rental prices, and presumably a bunch of other vagaries nobody can ever meaningfully tabulate.

For introverts like your humble writer here, the normalisation of remote working -- which has been possible for well over a decade before becoming the go-to pandemic solution -- was a wonderful gift. Efficiency, wellbeing, satisfaction, creativity -- everything got a positive boost.

By Emiliano Cicero on Unsplash

Of course, all this efficiency soon got under everyone's skin to a confusing degree, so we all decided we need to go on camera every day and talk about very little of consequence for some reason. Nonetheless, a replication of the pointless meetings remote working otherwise allowed me to avoid was a navigable challenge.

Hybrid working? Not so convincing.

In-person collaboration -- the great unquantifiable excuse

Of all the nebulous reasoning behind insisting people come into a physical office, 'collaboration' -- followed closely by 'culture' -- are the nonsensical orders of the day, served up on the same silver platters (and proffered by the same inexplicably extraverted office ruling-class) that I've come to learn to dread.

Said silver platters are easy to recognise, thanks to the glimmer of their insincere sheen, and their propensity to crumple under even a modicum of scrutiny.

Let's discuss.

By CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Forcing people into offices doesn't legitimise their being

By which I mean neither the sense of self of the individuals in question, nor the offices themselves.

If you lead a business, have witnessed the efficiency gains made possible by decentralised workforces, have enjoyed the talent pool widening just as the job market needs you to cast the widest possible net, and still believe you all need a morning huddle and a sodding ping-pong table, you've been sleepwalking your way through the greatest invitation to innovate that your organisation will see in a generation.

By Ben Sauer on Unsplash

Swathes of online tools have been developed to fast-track collaboration at scale in your enterprise, and I'm willing to bet my entire face that you're still using these -- online! cloud! decentralised! -- tools to 'collaborate' on documents, presentations, articles et al by beaming them halfway around the planet via cables and satellites from the computer you're working at to the computer of the 'collaborator' sitting a few feet next to you.

Thank goodness you're not having to do that from a few miles apart, eh?

You can't half-ass the New Normal™

Everyone reckons we're in the New Normal, although this moniker fails to recognise that nothing 'normal' has actually happened on this planet since about 2015 or so. It's all been a bit much, hasn't it?

Nevertheless, the New Normal it is, and hybrid working -- or at least a blanket insistence thereof -- is neither new nor worth normalising. It's a petulant buzzword you put in your job adverts at best, and a hopelessly confusing mishmash of half-baked ideas copy-pasted ad nauseum from one company to the next at worst.

By Ross Findon on Unsplash

Because considering what's best for every individual in a business takes things like empathy, compassion, common sense, the capacity to listen objectively to what other people say and other things that managers are famously bad at having, organisations still are keen to throw all the lessons of the last two years out of the window to lay down blanket rules that apply to every worker. Always works well, right?

Plus you get to call it 'flexible working' in your job ads, despite being utterly inflexible in your hybrid working policy in practice.

For unfathomable reasons, not everyone likes remote work. Too bad! You're doing it half the week. People who love remote work? Too bad! Meaningless facetime and more 'collaboration' than you can shake a social-distance-failing perpetual distraction at.

Employees and prospective new hires have needs that don't mesh within leadership's perfect hybrid model? Too bad! Luckily there are plenty of other candidates lining up to take their jo--ohhhh ahahahahaha wait.

By Quino Al on Unsplash

Remember when we forced everyone to work a certain way and then the planet got switched off?

It wasn't really that long ago. Maybe it feels it, but not really. We've actually dealt with the global health crisis with an astonishing agility hitherto unseen in the history of our species.

Throughout, we've shown innovation, empathy and the ability to rethink the very cogs that turn the wheels of our society. With haste and recklessness, we're all now scrambling to put those cogs back the exact same way they were, expecting things will improve by our doing so.

What was it they said the definition of insanity was again?

Some people want to be in the office. Some people want to be remote. Some people, for all my whinging, do actually want the supposed best of both that hybrid provides.

But insisting everyone at your company does... something they know they don't have to by working at another company? Tell me again about your talent retention worries.

And if you've spent the last couple of years just waiting for this all to blow over so you can have your precious control -- sorry, sorry, collaboration -- back, it means you've sleepwalked through the opportunity to innovate solutions that you could have deployed around the world. Maybe even be remembered for all time for having done so.

By Keenan Davidson on Unsplash

Hybrid working is as mediocre a solution as they come, just as one-size-fits-all-except-no-it-doesn't as the world we left behind. If you had more tangible, palpable, downright inspiring reasons behind it beyond collaboration and culture, some of us might be convinced it's the way forward.

Say 'collaboration' to me in a job interview as your company's reasoning for coming to an office we both know I'll hate? You might as well tell me you lack imagination, perpetually fail to innovate, coast through global crises with an unbecoming coyness, and would rather cram employees into boxes of your own egocentric design than nurture their individuality and expertise to flourish.

You know, like true leaders do.

Consequentially, you'll forgive me -- and legions of others like me -- if we focus our professional efforts elsewhere.

But enough about me. How's the hiring drive going?


About the author

Tony White

My name's Tony, and I've been a writer for over 10 years.

In that time, I've encountered plenty of nonsense, and created plenty of my own besides.

Gotta give as good as you get, and all that.

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