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Ways of Working? What exactly does it mean? 

“What exactly is Ways of Working?” That’s an obvious question. It is followed by an equally obvious, if not more important question: “Why should I care?” You will find answers to both questions here.

What does Ways of Working mean?

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.

https://growthpitstop.com/2022/10/26/why-is-everybody-talking-about-ways-of-working/

Let’s Get More Specific!

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

The evolution of Ways of Working, to the point where it is now a commonly used management phrase, can be seen as follows:

Pre-2020

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.

2020-mid 2022

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:

  • Ways of Working are in flux. The way we work today is different to what it was in 2020 and will likely to be different 2025. Keeping pace with these changes is key.
  • It charts the progression from ways of working as a set of interesting topics to a critical business priority. A central challenge remains, however. How to make ways of working actionable, specific and real?
https://growthpitstop.com/2022/10/26/whats-driving-ways-of-working-the-8-mega-trends-changing-the-way-we-work/

Ways of Working – The Last Mile

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 trendSpecific – 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 benefitsIt must be a win-win – better work / better life
Top-down control – edits and even productivity trackingBottom-up, empowers the team to optimize its work
Vague or aspirational goalsModest (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.

Making Ways of Working More Tangible & Real

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:

  • Focuses on a team by team basis, rather than trying to change the entire organization or its culture at once
  • It recognizes that performance is a team sport, with executives now spending 70% of their time on teamwork & collaboration
  • Seeks leverages the self-organizing and self-optimizing potential of your team, which although vast goes largely untapped. 
  • Teams use a framework model, called the 7Rs, is used to plan and review its work on an ongoing basis.
  • Delivers marginal yet significant gains (2%, 3% or 5%). However, as these accumulate on a week by week and month by month basis, the overall impact is surprising (typically 7-25%).
  • The benefits of optimizing the ‘Way We Work’ are measured in terms of two criteria – better work and better life.

  1. If you would like to explore the concept of Work Disrupted see the book by Schwartz, Jeff. Work Disrupted: Opportunity, Resilience, and Growth in the Accelerated Future of Work. Wiley, 2020. []
  2. See: Google CEO tells employees productivity and focus must improve, launches ‘Simplicity Sprint’ to gather employee feedback on efficiency, By Jennifer Elias on CNBC.com, Sun, Jul 31 2022. Link:  https://www.cnbc.com/2022/07/31/google-ceo-to-employees-productivity-and-focus-must-improve.html  []
  3. https://growthpitstop.com/2022/10/11/the-ceos-new-more-cautious-agenda-for-2023/#footnote_5_373507 []

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