The Future of Work
I was honored to be included in a recent panel on “The Future of Work” at the WORKing Together conference in Eugene, Oregon with an esteemed group: Tami Wood from The Riveter, Blaire Hervey from ZoomInfo powered by Discoverorg, and Erin Reeves from Airship. It was an interesting group of panelists: two from tech companies, one from a coworking company, and lil’ ole me, a partner in a design agency. The conversation was moderated by Skip Newberry, the CEO of the Technology Association of Oregon (of which we’re a proud member). The future of work, in this case, is the future of what we used to call “knowledge work” – spending all day looking at computers, managing projects, designing, writing, and crunching numbers on spreadsheets.
During the first dot-com boom, the trend pioneered by Google and a million tiny software companies and fueled by venture capital was to offer free massages every day at 4 pm, ping pong tournaments, free lunch, and free dinner and free midnight snacks (because you’ll be staying). Currently, tech culture seems to be fueled by beverages on tap: cold brew, kombucha, IPAs. Maybe bone broth will be next?
One point of consensus shared by the panel was that the future of work is personalization. We see hints of this shift in the broader narrative of our time: the individual matters, everyone is different, and this truth is something to celebrate. As the budgets for perks became more realistic, and as collaboration technology has advanced, employees have started to recognize what helps them work and collaborate better with teams. Sometimes, that means having flexible workspaces instead of open office plans. It sometimes means giving people flexible work hours. Everyone is different. Do they need to work from home, deal with children and pets, take some self-care time? As long as they can perform at a high level, then why not loosen your grip, as a manager?
I think this is a great development, but it means getting creative and learning how to adapt to the times. I want my employees to be happy and productive. As I wrote a Thoughts piece about a recent policy change, we partners made the mistake of unilaterally removing a PTO policy, creating a very negative response with our staff (understandably!). However, after including people in the change process, we came up with a more flexible approach that felt more, well, personalized. Personalization can mean many things, including being inclusive about the process of making decisions that will affect people. It’s important to be there for people, to support them rather than be extractive. That’s why we started this agency, after all.
I leave you with the most important thing, something I told the audience in Eugene. Make it possible for people to take naps.
I’m not kidding. Aside from our principles and values, Smith & Connors is built on naps. Years ago, my partner Talie spent almost 7 years working for a large digital agency in NYC with rigid work policies (your garden variety corporate culture). Across those 7 years, several times a week she would literally slip down under her desk, pull in her chair, and sleep during her lunch hour. To her astonishment, no one ever noticed her napping habit even though it was an open office plan with desks clustered together. It occurred to her that no one cared to look over their shoulder towards her desk to see her. Talie is the most productive person I know. And naps, it turns out, are a key ingredient to her success.
Smith & Connors recently moved into a spacious new office. Our team is having fun “nesting,” thinking about what will go up on the walls to inspire us, what kinds of collaborative spaces we can create, and where we can hang out and have “coffee talks.” But most dire and debated is our conversations around our lost Zen Closet, space we used for napping in our previous office. Perhaps the future of work is not needing a shot of coffee at 3 pm, but a dark quiet room for self-care – imagine?