How we see our world and our future is impacted greatly by what we have already experienced. Until March of 2020, even if you had worked remotely some (or a lot), you lived in a world that was place-centric and not work-centric. Now that we all have a new set of experiences, its time to think about redesigning work.
When I say “redesigning” work, I don’t mean:
- “It’s ok for people to work from home if the repairman is coming or they have a doctor’s appointment.”
- “We need a new policy.”
- “Can I work from home once in a while?”
I mean re-evaluating the when, where, and how of work to create a model that supports great results as well as the needs of everyone involved in the work – the organization, the customer, the leader, the team, and every individual doing the work.
An excellent article in TheGuardian.com stated the starting point of this redesign conversation very well:
Pretty much all of our work practices – when we work, where we work, how we work – are designed around location. Worse still, they were designed decades ago, and it is only now, with the pandemic forcing change, that we have been given the unique opportunity to question those structures.
The rest of this article lays out my belief about the starting point for the redesign of work. If you and your organization are serious about creating a future of work – whether hybrid or otherwise, these are the topics you must think about and discuss, and the questions you must answer. Use the questions below to explore the desired future state, and create the open thinking required to redesign work, rather than simply reflect on how it has been or was done in the past.
The Questions That Aid in Redesigning Work
To move to a work-centric model of work, we must focus on and understand the work itself and why it is done. To do that, we must begin with the expectations and demands of the work itself.
- What is the work product?
- How do we know when it has been done successfully?
- How will/might this look different in the future?
- What is needed for ultimate success with this work?
- What else is required of successful work beyond the specifics of the currently defined work product? (For example, how do new ideas, projects, and products play into the work?)
- What else do we need/want from the work and the individuals doing the work? (Note the difference between need and want.)
Note that if you have a large organization, you aren’t asking these questions across all functions as much as you are looking at this by department, team, and perhaps individual job. One component of the location-centric model of work was a one-size fits all approach. There was a time when that kind of standardization made sense – maybe it doesn’t for you and your work any longer. Fundamentally redesigning work requires you test all assumptions – including that one.
With deep discussion and understanding of the work, we can create a work-centric work model that then can answer the questions of where, when, and how, rather than simply dropping questions of where, when, and how on the past experience and approaches.
Where We Work Questions
Here are specific questions to get at where work needs to take place, based on the deep understanding of the work itself.
- How does (or doesn’t) location impact the completion of the desired work?
- If a common space is required, what is required of it?
- How does location impact productivity?
- What elements can be added to location(s) wherever they are to support greater productivity?
- How do technology tools and availability impact or dictate where work needs to be done?
When We Work Questions
Redesigning work also includes the question of when people need to work. Henry Ford instituted the workday as 9-5. How is that (or is that) serving the successful delivery of the work being considered?
- What if we didn’t all work at the same time? How would that impact our output?
- How does timing of delivery play into the time work is delivered?
- What are the customer needs and expectations (and will they change) and how do they impact when work is completed?
- If work is done asynchronously, how can we create the needed hand-offs, so speed of implementation isn’t negatively impacted?
How We Work Questions
At the heart of work is the how we do it. In order to think about redesigning it, we must look at the wants and needs of the work process – and those who deliver those work products.
- What is the role of interaction and collaboration in the completion of the work?
- What is required/desired in terms of trust and relationships, and how can that be created/nurtured/maintained?
- What are the levels of communication needed – both for the work itself and for those doing it?
- What are the levels of cohesion and teamwork that is required by our work?
I have asked more questions than I have answered. Your answers will be your own. Hopefully, I have provided the prompt to think about this more deeply.
Until we ask these questions and reexamine our paradigms and future of work in the context of what we have recently experienced, we are doomed to penny-ante changes and perhaps falling short of what is possible. Without these conversations, your organizational success (in part, but not entirely because of your ability to attract and retain talent) will be severely limited.
Now is a unique time to ask these questions and create an inflection point for your organization and yourself.
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