Ways of Working can mean different things to different people. Sometimes it can be a little abstract or vague. When this happens, it can lose its power and relevance. To avoid this, we distinguish between the general and the specific – between Ways of Working and the Way We Work.
‘Ways of Working’ (WOW) – is a hot topic with many buzz-words. While it makes for interesting reading in a business blog or listening at a business conference, it is largely the territory of business writers, consultants and academics. It is something that is abstract and general with sweeping statements and broad trends. It is general and could be talking about any industry, organization or trend. So, it is not an actionable agenda.
By Contrast, ‘The Way We Work’ (WWW) – is an actionable agenda. This is the territory of ambitious leaders and their teams and the pitstop approach. It is specific – the ‘WE’ is your own unit, group or team. The focus is on how WE (i.e. your unit or team) are working today and how WE will work tomorrow given the priorities, projects, work streams and tasks before us.
As explored below, the evolution of WOW is very interesting – from a conference hot topic before the pandemic to the drive for greater productivity in the face of increased economic uncertainty. If you follow that evolution to its logical end, then you arrive at ‘the Way We Work’.
The evolution of Ways of Working, to the point where it is now a commonly used management phrase, can be seen as follows:
Future of Work – An interesting topic at HR and Talent conferences foretelling of a range of trends (incl. the multi-generational workforce, the gig economy and AI) that will transform the future of work. By in large, these were threats that were looming out into the future.
Work Disrupted – With pandemic the future of work gave way to ‘work disrupted’ – changes that might otherwise have taken decades were affected almost overnight. Remote working became the norm.
In the wake of the pandemic, ways of working are still in flux, with trends such as hybrid working, the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting having a profound impact on how we work. It has led to trends such as productivity tracking and performance theater. The focus is now on post-pandemic ways of working. Again very interesting, but far from an actionable agenda.1
Mid 2022 onwards
Business Disrupted – Growing economic uncertainty has led to demands for greater productivity and cost efficiency, with a scarcity of resources requiring a focus on key priorities with a new intensity. This forms part of a new more cautious business agenda. High profile examples of this are Google ‘Better Results, Faster’ .
Optimizing Ways of Working is going to be essential to driving productivity and efficiency, as well as addressing resource constraints. It will also be essential to coping with accelerating change – to greater speed and agility, as well as collaboration and innovation.
Why are these stages in the evolution of Ways of Working significant? Well, for two reasons:
The post pandemic optimism has been short-lived. High profile organizations such as Alphabet (Google)2 and Meta (Facebook)3 have launched productivity and efficiency drives. Google’s performance and productivity drive (launched mid-2022) was called ‘Better Results, Faster’. But how to transform such aspirations into grassroots action.
This is the last mile for Way of Workings and, if gotten right, it could represent one of the biggest leaps forward in white collar performance / productivity, for a long time. With this in mind it is worth contrasting the two approaches:
|Ways of Working (WOW)||The Way We Work (WWW)|
|Abstract – could be talking about any issue or trend||Specific – how your team is working together today & tomorrow|
|Idealistic, vague aspirations & no actionable agenda.||Practical – Your team reviews & optimizes the Way We Work following a set of steps|
|Unmeasurable, but some are turning to productivity tracking (e.g. based on PC activity)||Measurable – a team can measure impact & track its progress|
|Focus on the business benefits||It must be a win-win – better work / better life|
|Top-down control – edits and even productivity tracking||Bottom-up, empowers the team to optimize its work|
|Vague or aspirational goals||Modest (2%, 3% or 5%) but cumulative marginal gains|
Ways of Working has changed from being an interesting but vague management topic, to being a key business priority.
While interesting, Ways of Working (WOW) falls short of providing leaders with an actionable agenda. To deliver, Ways of Working must be made specific, actionable and real. It has to go beyond interesting topics, broad prescriptions and sweeping management mandates.
You can explore The Way We Work (WWW) in detail here, but here are some of the highlights:
Cover art: Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay