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I'm the founder of FutureWork IQ where I spend my time assisting businesses to design digital workplaces or “offices in the cloud.” These environments enable companies to allow flexible and remote working for their teams. I also teach the digital literacy, fluency, communication and collaboration skills needed to work in these modern technology-rich workplaces.

In this interview with Emma Goldberg of the NYT she references this comment by Andi Owen, the chief executive of MillerKnoll, who warned that workers who resist going back to the office could find themselves isolated and at a disadvantage:

“One of my biggest worries is that we’re going to have remote orphans. Walking down the hall to somebody’s office and knocking on the door, or doing a drive-by versus setting up a video appointment, these things are easier to do in person.”

She is basically describing a two-tier workplace with two distinctly different default communication channels — one in-person and the other digital.

This is of course is a recipe for disaster.

So a few things need to be in place to avoid this situation.

  1. The Digital HQ has to become the default HQ, and “the office” has to be demoted to just another place to work from if you choose to. It should have no more value than any other location work can be done from, eg. a coffee shop, co-working space, or home.
  2. To ensure the Digital HQ becomes the default HQ, the leadership team should have the least visibility at “the office.” Everyone should know that leadership access is easier in the Digital HQ, in fact access to anyone should be easier in the Digital HQ than at any physical location.
  3. Walking down the hall to somebody’s office and knocking on the door” is the hallmark of synchronous working, which is highly inefficient and is also at the core of the levels of distraction experienced in physical offices. Asynchronous working must become the default communication style for work flows. The need to “knock on someone’s door” to ask a question should be replaced by documented answers so individuals can “self-service.”

I am sounding like a broken record but here goes: it is in fact easier to be a fully remote than trying to navigate a “hybrid workplace.”

This does not mean that there isn’t considerable work that needs to be done in order to become fully remote, including considerable un-learning. But trying to straddle two operating systems (in-office & remote) is very tricky and most will fail at it.