The Drift

The Drift

Back.

Are we? Back? Back to the office, to the routine, to normal? Are we back to the conference circuit, to riding trains and driving cars to get to the places we work? Are we going back to the office and – perhaps – casually defaulting to the assumptions that have driven its meaning for 200 years?

The answer to whether we’re back or not depends a lot on who you ask and when you ask them. The CEO might say we’re back three days a week or the team is back on alternating days. The worker who lives in a non-office market would say she was never there in the first place, so being back is not a thing. Those new to the workforce can’t go back to a place they’ve never been. And for most others, back or not is a confusing and ambiguous sliding-scale. What will I be forced to do by the company? How rapidly and consistently will it evolve? Can I create exceptions and work arounds for myself and my team?

For the past 25 years I’ve lived and worked far off the beaten path near Burlington, Vermont. I haven’t been a commuter in the traditional sense, and I’m at the latter stages of my career: so, one could argue that I don’t have a dog in this particular fight. But I’ve also spent thousands of hours in the offices of hundreds of companies in dozens of cities around the world.

And I think we’re asking the wrong questions.

Let’s start with the whole idea of back. It takes 21 days to establish a habit. We’ve now had 24 months of universal change. Never in human history have so many encountered so much simultaneous change and disruption all at the same time. The world of work we shut down in March 2020 is gone. Thinking we can just go back to it by getting on the train and turning on the lights is unrealistic to the point of delusion.

And was the office we left really a benevolent place of collaboration and growth? Or has the image of its virtue been magnified because we haven’t been there in a while? Research and the pattern of resignation tell us that the overwhelming share of workers want a different model. Among employees of color, the office environment never felt as welcoming; just 3% say they value 5 days in the office.

So what are the right questions? I can suggest a few.

Why do we have offices? Answer this with care and honesty. If the real answers are about control and submission – they’re here so I can see them working – you’re playing a losing hand.

What is our positive vision for co-working in the future? Don’t fall back on lazy and unspecific tropes about collaboration and mentoring. Instead, back them up with detailed plans about how we’ll structure and optimize the time we do spend together – in the office, neutral locations, sharing screens. People only buy into a vision when it’s about a shared future, not a return to the past.

How might we structure work to better support the lives, families and passions of our team members? Attracting, hiring and retaining valuable employees has never been trickier. What you could solve in 2012 with more money and a bigger title requires much more thoughtful answers today. Your competitive future depends on them.

Back? No. Forward. But toward what?


More Posts

Better Choices.

Pssst... Hey... Cookies are going away. Pass it on... OK, so maybe this has been the longest goodbye since BREXIT. But now, given the announcement by Google that Cookies will be made obsolete on the Chrome…


Words Never Uttered!

Because we can all use a laugh, I'm re-sharing one of the most popular Drifts I've ever posted. Feel free to add your own examples of "Things No Customer Has Ever Said." And have a great day. "I just wish…


Working Forward.

I decided to give myself a New Year's gift: the control of my days and bigger measures of satisfaction, productivity and closure. And in this first Drift of 2020, I'm sharing it with you. I'm calling the…


Ask the Question.

Ever wonder what mediocrity sounds like? It has the sound of the self-imposed limitation. It's the stillness of the question that goes unasked, the hypothesis never tested. They'll never pay that price.…


The New Code.

Code. It's the Swiss army knife of words. It can be the hidden formula behind computing, the combination to unlock a secure setting, a body of law, the rules by which something is built, or a highly personal…


Giving.

As noted by the title of this post, today is Giving Tuesday -- the nobler offspring of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Among the many worthy options that will reach your inbox today, I hope you'll consider…


Gratitude.

This is traditionally the time one would write a post that details all the things he's grateful for. This is not that post. The concept of gratitude deserves more than that. In recent months I've gotten…


The Watering Hole.

Occasionally someone asks about the origin of our company name - Upstream. I could go on about its deeper meanings, spiritual implications and more. But for purposes of today's post, there's a simpler…


Adaptation.

The world has already changed. The scientists have invented, the consumers have decided, the marketers are voting with their checkbooks. It's only us - those who sell and buy advertising - who cling to…


Expect? Or Engage?

The good news: if you're selling digital advertising and marketing services today, you are in a position to make both a huge difference and a very good living. The bad news: it's a hell of a lot of work. In…


The First Week of the Next 25 Years.

As we began the second quarter-century of digital marketing on Monday, I'm choosing to republish an essay I was invited to write for the University of Florida's "Captivate" program 5 years ago. Only the…


What We Believe.

Today's Seller Forum in New York coincides with the 25th anniversary of web advertising. During the event, I'll be interviewing Blackbird CEO Ross Martin who consults with major brands and media companies…