When the office melts

For most of us, the “office” has been the centre of power. It’s been where  the politics and power plays mingle with the tasks at had and business models to create the complexity in which we work. We’ve become accustomed to it to the point where it just is. Present, but largely invisible.

I’m wondering what will happen as unexpected circumstances cause the “office” to melt. 

The news is full of large companies asking, even requiring, those who can to work from home. More anecdotally, many smaller companies are doing the same.

Although my sample is limited, it seems to me when I look at those who are able to work from home, a large proportion of them are either customer facing, or working on discrete, often innovative and interesting projects. They are working at the edge, and the edge is where what’s next happens.

Those who have to be in the office are generally part of the “business as usual” structures – the centre, not the edge. The centre is where we’d really prefer things not to change too much. It’s also where the resources are allocated to those at the edge.

Those at the edge are those who are creating the opportunities, and those at the centre are those who can enable them. Whilst there is often a conflict in the office, maybe when we are forced to deconstruct the office, things change. The complexity dissolves, and issues become plain. 

Those with resources need people who will do something with them to generate a satisfactory return. Resources on their own settle into entropy.

Those at the edge can see the opportunities, If the resources to realise them are not provided by the office, they will find them elsewhere. There are, in the end, far more organisations with resources than people at the edge who can see the opportunities.

It feels a little like a T Shirt I used to wear at University many years ago. The logo read “what if they threw a war, and nobody came”. Perhaps that’s what might happen if the separation of the centre from the edge continues., when we free people from the “office”. 

A gradual (or maybe not so gradual) realignment, and a change in the power dynamics.

Moreover, the surprise that is Covid-19 which is driving the current separation is likely to be followed by others. 

The impact of Machine Learning and AI in the office as they erode the routines of office life through encroaching into those areas where they are well suited, hollowing out those needed at the centre even further.

Reducing travel as we come to terms with the practicalities of climate change – trips into the office, conferences, unnecessary face to face meetings.

The winners will be those who have a sense of will – who can see where the needs are and connect to them using what ML and AI cannot – imagination, creativity, empathy and humour. The losers will be those who service the office.

The potential lesson for us all is clear. Whatever we do, it needs to matter to us. We need to understand it, be willing and able to shape it to create real value for others who will pay for it. Something that harnesses that in us which makes us smile as we deliver what others cannot.


Something we can use to grow.

When the office melts, just turning up is not a good strategy.

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