When Frederick Taylor brought the world Scientific management A hundred years ago, it changed the meaning of running a factory. Stopwatches and assembly lines have dramatically outperformed traditional piecework methods.
Henry Ford wrote a four-page article for the Encyclopaedia Britannica on how companies could embrace the new model and his focus on reducing the cost of a car by 80% or more.
I’m sure car companies like Duesenberg and Pierce Arrow felt this new approach was beneath them. They probably made thoughtful arguments about esprit de corps and the magic of a handcrafted auto. But they are gone now.
Video conferencing, epidemiology and knowledge work, and the powerful changes that the Internet have brought about are significant changes, at least in jobs like stopwatches.
And yet the Washington Post sent a memo to its reporters saying they would be fired if they didn’t come to the office three days a week.
Because there an executive decided that “office” and “work” are the same thing. Although journalists usually report, and the reporting is usually done somewhere other than the office.
Was it special to chat over coffee, greet people in the lobby, and gossip at the water cooler every day? Of course. But these were side effects of good work at the office, not the cause.
If a manager says, “The only way I can create a sense of connection, loyalty, and purpose is to get people to walk into an office every day,” they’re being lazy. Surely we can come up with something better than just taking attendance.
If it’s important to have your brilliant designer personally review the work of junior architects, do it objectively. Determine it and make it worth the focus and effort. If you believe that bonding and communication increase when people have regular physical interaction without screens, then build it into the schedule of the work being done, don’t wait for it to happen by accident.
As knowledge work has shifted to a remote-first setting, organizations have generally done a surprisingly poor job of figuring out how to build a culture that they care about. Forcing people to show up so they can hide behind a curtain in the office is lazy.
Yes, the old culture happened organically over the decades. No, it’s unlikely you’ll end up with a new culture you like if you just pretend nothing has changed.