In this edition, Lee looks at the return to the office debate, home working productivity, corporate education, the magic of blockchain and the recent Digital Workplace Disruption online conference.

Welcome to Our New-Look Linklog

We have switched our newsletter over to Substack as we like the simple layout, but also because we are looking into how we can make some of our extensive learning material available in an easy format, perhaps as part of a paid subscription for digital leadership methods, techniques and case studies. If you (or your colleagues) could benefit from this, please let us know what you think of this idea.

We will try to offer interesting commentary and links every two weeks as usual, but with some bonus content thrown in from time to time. Any comments or feedback gratefully received.

In the meantime, here are some things that caught our eye in the past two weeks…

Social Distancing Considered Harmful

To me, this humorous tweet sums up the polarisation of the debate in the UK about whether or not workers should return to a life of commuting to be ‘present’ in the office; but it is also an example of how an older generation continue to believe they are able to dictate the work behaviours of the young:

The debate about going back to the office is framed around saving sandwich shops, but cynics suggest that perhaps older people want young people to risk their health not just to save the service economy, but rather to prop up commercial property, which many hold in their REITs and pensions.

Beyond sandwiches and coffee shops, the reduction in work-related consumption and services does indeed look like it might lead to a major hit (and possibly permanent capacity reduction) in various other sectors, such as hotel, airline and ancillary services, as this article by Steve LeVine attests. Whilst few will shed a tear for commercial real estate investors, the long-tail ecosystem of small service providers – from shoe repairs to artisanal coffee – will suffer a big hit and many will go out of business. But looking longer term, I hope cities like San Francisco, New York and London will evolve and even improve to become more liveable in their central districts, if we can find a way to cushion the short-term pain for so many people in the urban precariat. It is hard to see beyond UBI (Universal Basic Income) as the obvious strategy to enable that once-in-a-generation transition to play out without the kind of divisive ‘K-shaped’ recovery that Christopher Mims warns about in the WSJ.

Working From Home Can Be Productive

But in fact, as many have long argued, working from home (managed and supported appropriately) can be more productive than going into the office.

An HBR study published this week contrasted surveys of knowledge workers from 2013 and 2020, finding that remote working was in fact helping address long-held frustrations about the rhythm of office work:

What’s going on here? It seems we have been taking more direct charge of our time during lockdown. Working from home gives us a bit of breathing space: We don’t have colleagues or bosses badgering us, and we don’t get drawn into meetings by force of habit, just because we happen to be around. The result is a reassuring increase in us making time for work that matters most to us.

Right now, I am in the process of trying to design and activate a distributed transformation programme with a core group in 5 countries, and this made me realise how much easier and more effective it is to start with the assumption that meetings will be online only, and therefore more emphasis needs to be be placed on online work and communication. In contrast, another similar digital leadership group I have been part of has never (in over two years) managed to develop an online-first rhythm of working, simply because turning up for a monthly meeting is so much easier, even if we get a lot less done. Defaults matter when human habits and laziness are a factor.

Executive Education Ripe for Disruption

One of the areas that urgently needs attention in newly-remote-working firms is learning, both in terms of leadership education to switch managers from meatspace to online-first work coordination, and also in terms of general digital skills and confidence among the workforce. We do quite a bit in this area and are able to achieve good results at low cost with our digital learning hub and new ways of working content. But leadership development remains something that is rather elaborate, expensive and often not entirely focused on the real skills, responsibilities and mission that leaders and managers need to grasp if they are to stay relevant in a world of networks and automation.

I have been lucky enough to be part of some excellent and well-designed leadership development programmes, and I especially enjoy teaching and coaching emerging leaders. My style is somewhat challenging and intensive, because I think they need to walk the walk and not just learn new buzzwords and surface behaviours. But I am often surprised how fluffy and undemanding much of what passes for leadership development really is. I think this is an area rich with opportunity for disruptive offerings.

One fast-growing international player in this space is Mumbai-based education startup Eruditus, which announced this week it had raised a further $113m with a valuation of $700m. Eruditus focuses on expanding course provision for executive education through leading Universities, but it is also a player in corporate education more broadly. One to watch.

Blockchain, the Amazing Solution for Almost Nothing

This article about the Blockchain was quite popular recently. My favourite quote:

Out of over 86,000 blockchain projects that had been launched, 92% had been abandoned by the end of 2017, according to consultancy firm Deloitte … Why are they deciding to stop? Enlightened – and thus former – blockchain developer Mark van Cuijk explained: “You could also use a forklift to put a six-pack of beer on your kitchen counter. But it’s just not very efficient.”

Digital Workplace Disruption Still Imminent!

Last week, I joined a number of friends and colleagues for an online Digital Workplace Disruption conference hosted by Björn Negelmann and colleagues at Kongress Media.

We have been talking about this for years, of course, and I much prefer to do rather than describe or predict, but nevertheless there are always useful insights to take away from these events.

David Terrar helpfully wrote up a brief summary of the main speakers’ talks and I would encourage you to read or reach out to any whose work you don’t know.

I will share a video of my talk when I have it.