The Upside Down World of Flexibility
The coolest firms are being the most restrictive
Last year on Eat Sleep Work Repeat I was struck with the vision of one leading expert on WFH. Professor Raj Choudhury was certain that a regime of work from anywhere was almost inevitable for most firms. He expressed a view that demanded to be noticed:
“There are two kinds of companies: One is going to embrace work-from-anywhere, and the second is in denial — I feel those companies will lose their workforce. You have to make a choice, as a leader, what kind of company you want to lead”
It was a compelling perspective and Choudhury gave a clear justification: every time we’ve seen changes to the way we work they’ve been led by the demands of top talent. Whether it was abandoning suits and ties, using personal devices, using smart phones, it was always work adapting to the most coveted workers. Right now, the insight was unequivocal, top talent wanted maximum flexibility.
But that didn’t account for perspective of elite firms.
Right now there’s a clear trend in working: the more prestigious the employer, the more proscriptive the demands to be in the office.
This week Google announced that their ‘3 days in’ policy was being stepped up. Googlers were told that their ID badges would be tracked to ensure they were showing up consistent with policy. “Our hybrid approach is designed to incorporate the best of being together in person with the benefits of working from home for part of the week,” the company said.
Last week Facebook insisted that all employees return to the office for three days per week (unless in a specifically remote role). This is a long way from the world that Meta were talking about a year ago, when the boss of a business department like Instagram relocated to London (Take me to London / full reverse-Marylebone / No news on Nick Clegg being shipped back to California yet…) Martha Stewart, America’s version of Delia Smith, also weighed in a on the topic.
To add to the RTO intensity, this week the New York Times reported that the AI goldrush was driving a Return To Office diaspora in San Francisco, a city decimated by a talent exodus since 2020.
There is clearly a battle going on, generally (Gen X) bosses believe that face time in the office is vital for connection and innovation. The more leverage that firms have (in terms of being a destination employer or, in the case of banking, the salary they pay), the more they are insisting on co-ordinated office time. Professor Choudhury might have foreseen a future for firms of flexibility or death, but it looks like there’s life in the office yet.
(On a side note: today’s podcast is discussion with a tech firm which strongly disagrees…)
How is AI going to impact *your* job?
We’re in a stage place with AI right now where for most of us it’s still a parlour trick. Something that we’ve seen create images of the Pope in bling or summon up meal planners that we’ll never use. But we’ve not really seen how it will impact our jobs.
Along the way there have been some huge claims:
Anecdotally I have heard the same from software developers.
And in aggregate there’s certainly a chance that we’re not thinking of the implications of these things. The economist Paul Krugman this week said that if AI is able to deliver an additional 1.5% of growth per year to the economy then we should stop worrying about national debt and a percentage of GDP.
Of course, he would say that his own extrapolations on these things are just an attempt to float ideas.
That’s why today’s podcast was so important for me to feature. I got the chance to chat to Alexia Cambon, Senior Director of Modern Work Research at Microsoft and Nick Hedderman, Senior Director of Modern Work, Microsoft. The discussion has implications for all of us, and how quickly we set about changing the way we work.
A wonderful Twitter thread of all of the things that the Telegraph has blamed on WFH (including conflict with Russia and China, school truancy and tax fraud). I wrote a piece for the Telegraph last year and they asked me to remove everything favourable about flexible working
Don’t call my job a calling! Just because a job taps into a passion shouldn’t be a substitute for being paid fairly
There was a great response to the podcast with Zeynep Ton last week, here’s an excerpt of her new book, The Case for Good Jobs