I’ve been using the ‘X’ suffix to words for a few weeks now. Mainly because of 5 factors:
- The SpaceX phenomena that Elon Musk has led with reusable spacecraft and new technology that ushers in the next stage of space exploration and utilisation of our extra-atmosphere.
- The sign for multiplication. And the need to think about things as a multiplier, not just an add/subtract binary.
- It could indicate a version of something where x replaces an unknown numeric. Like 2.x
- It’s become a shorthand for a few things — eXecutive; eXperience, eXecution (as in operationalising an idea).
- In my case lately, it is to symbolise the word experiment — and that ‘ex’ sound that I seem to over-emphasise in pronunciation when I say this word (more than others I used like external, extraordinary, exhale). Try it, you might do that too (with the others I go louder, naturally on TER, TRAORD, and HALE).
Anyway, what is WorkX then? Another silly mash-up of letters that before we know it is the new disrupt, hack, pivot, agile, hybrid whatever? It might be. And yes, I use those words. I want to when they make sense to explain something or give something a new twist or sense.
Some people detest those words because they’ve been misused, overused, they don’t get them or they just don’t like them.
So some of you will not like WorkX either. Fair enough if I’ve turned you off already, c’est la vie.
If you’re curious or even keen please read on.
WorkX is for me, how we need to think about the act of working in a range of ways as we head into a post-pandemic world with infection rates and the loss of life curtailed.
Let’s get one thing clear when we’re talking WorkX,part of it is about the workplace. The current fixation for those who have had to stay away from a shared space and work from home.
Whether it’s an office or other place where people come together in some shape to get work done.
- It may have been in continuous use but with necessary adaptations.
- It may have been mothballed ready to use with some further adjustments planned now ready for June/July occupancy.
- And in some cases, will never be the same as it was pre-March 2020, so people will have to reorient themselves significantly on their return.
So, on the one hand, we have seen declarations that some office-based environments — like all-in occupancy of a single HQ building or other places of work like leased floors in shared buildings to house people in office environments — are no longer going to be used. Some big names with expensive leases and contracts have bought themselves out of them, they are that convinced it’s not a good idea to bring people to a single place of that nature, all the time.
And on the other hand, we’ve declarations that we’re all stampeding back to the office and calling any form of remote office work an aberration. And from that particular firm where the declaration emanated from, several first-year workers pleading for less than 100-hours working weeks — their own form of an aberration I guess — irrespective of venue.
“Going back” needs more than a sweeping statement clearly. However leaders want to simplify this, it’s not that simple. It’s more complex than it was before (and what may even have been ignored, dismissed or not noticed then).
In my book, The Energized Workplace I called out this concept of Peak Work. By that, I meant there are no more kilojoules in the human battery to do any more work than we’re doing now. Levels of exhaustion, mental-ill health and stress-related deaths are on the rise and this was all pre-pandemic and the additions of being ill, losing loved ones, social anxieties, home-schooling and trying to keep your business afloat and work done from a corner in your dwelling not necessarily meant for working.
Yet, this past 12 months, we’ve found a little more energy to “get through this” but we’re even more depleted as a result. And then we have the dilemma of choice now — at least we had to put up with continuing to work at a place or be locked-down working at home.
Now that’s a looming and unclear choice for many. Cue, more anxiety not just blissful returns.
And if anything, our heroic key workers have been outperforming even more in their non-confined ways — health and social care, utilities, agriculture and food retail, pharmaceutical, logistics and delivery, essential manufacturing, justice and social safety, government administration, teaching, and transport — and have kept the world going.
They’re now faced with the return of office-based commuters and sharing the space and time with those who’ve slugged it out at home. So the quieter roads, rails and cycle lanes may not be quite so navigable as they have been for these past 12 months.
And there’s those of us craving the team and longing to get out of the safe house into the world again, we have new kilojoules for going “back”. We can’t wait to do things ‘in-person’ again. Grab that cheeky coffee. Have that side-bar conversation outside the meeting room. Run that brainstorming session in a room with people and post-it notes and Sharpie pens.
Not everyone feels the same about any of this. Which is part of our problem kaleidoscope.
Not everyone will even want to come back. Not everyone will be pleased to get on a train more regularly and reassemble some of the old routines they are now pleased to have discarded.
Some will want to stay away from the office (in the main) for good reasons. More conducive to life and caring responsibilities, less polluting travel, and more space to get on with the work they’re there to do that doesn’t necessitate ‘teaming’.
But even they will fear “If I’m not present, will I be overlooked? Will my career prospects suffer? I won’t be included in key decisions about work and clients.”
And we should remember this: Office workspace was notoriously underused in deskspace occupancy (many studies put it at 40–50% at most); and meeting rooms (the so-called collaborative spaces we’re all looking to go to a place for more of now) were notoriously hard to book and caused ridiculous delays to projects, work and deadlines.
You know the “we’re going to have to push the Programme Board to the 11th as the RoomX big enough for it, is booked up until then.” How preposterous that now seems.
And the ritualistic ‘ExCom bookings” same day, same room, the same tiring experience of inconclusive outcomes and hidden agendas, wasn’t the bastion of togetherness we might think it was, since trying it out as being a same-size square on a screen and wait our turn to speak/present/decide.
And we should also remember the PersonX at the end of the video or conference call is the least likely to be influential whilst the other 6 of us are in a room together.
Now, these might seem like very privileged, first-world problems but if we operate in that arena, it’s a real issue to us whatever virtue-signalling tag we adopt.
Back to WorkX then. It’s not
- A rota or quota.
- A random choice/forced diktat.
- Just “Let’s make the space more collaborative and move some desks out” tactic.
- “Let’s give it to a Machine Learning algorithm” though increasingly, I think we might see that help us more than we ever imagined it could.
- Just abandoning the place entirely and all work from home forevermore.
And it’s not just slapping the word Hybrid everywhere. As many people have said, Hybrid Working may be more difficult, more administrative and counter-productive if not done right. But what is right? Well, partly my point for this entire piece.
WorkX, therefore, is a design-based, reimagining of how, where, who and what work gets done in a particular way. From all aspects.
It’s like Elon’s mission — a totally different form of space travel. Not just Hybrid working, as the brilliant Neil Usher says It’s a Hybrid Organisation By Design.
WorkX is a totally different way to look at how work gets done.
It’s like the multiplier X — taking advantage of exponential, multiplying factors to solving climate damage, human health damage and damage to the fairness of opportunity for all. 2x better, 5x better, 100x better.
WorkX is your chance to repair and even more so, regenerate and reinvent work, for a much better outcome for all.
It’s like the version X — so why create Work V1.2 or even 1.8 when you could create V3 and head towards V4 — a more radical and sustainable shift given to you by the hard-stop that has been the pandemic.
WorkX is a once-in-a-decade or even lifetime chance to really make lasting, sustainable change for all aspects of your being as an organisation and as people working within it, around it and impacted by it.
It’s like the shorthand — declaring your intent with a new way to depart from old orthodoxies into new ways.
WorkX is your strategy for now and next. However long you dare look into the future.
And most important for this piece — it’s like the eXperiments you need. No one has the answers to Hybrid working, or all the permutations going through Corporate Real Estate, Finance, HR or Operational leaders’ minds.
WorkX is a series of continuing experiments to design, test, learn, adapt, retest, adapt again as a continuum.
It’s work in Perpetual Beta (HT Harold Jarche), it’s a never finished version. It never was anyway, but we thought it was more stable, replicable and static than it really was (even with our occasional Change Programme launch statement that ‘Change is the Only Constant’ platitude).
So why the fixation to remove aberrations and “go back” or abandon what was and stay as-is mid-pandemic?
We’re scared. We’re uncertain. We need the stability of something. To the power of X, I suppose.
And that’s understandable after our discombobulation of the pandemic. Understandable but perhaps not that helpful or even necessary now.
Because we need experiments. WorkX is therefore my urge for us all to accept, get on with and conduct evidence-revealing experiments wherever they are needed.
And the unit of experimentation most likely to reveal the insight needed to make choices is NOT at a large scale.
It’s one team at a time.
SpaceX hasn’t built a Starship Fleet fit for the Federation — yet. They’re doing it one at a time, Falcon-9, Falcon Heavy, Dragon as variables. And launching, learning and adapting.
So the team is the most powerful unit of experimentation, variable testing and evidence-reveal at a time for WorkX.
“But we can’t wait until all teams have done so — we need building lease decisions, hardware, refit, software purchasing and reengineering now.”
Yes, yes, I know that. I’m not immune to the nature of early certainty and comfort and commitment to base decisions on.
I didn’t say one team sequentially, like a relay. So we run parallel streams of team-based work that isn’t just “what do you do now but needs to be remote-v-colocated” we need them all to have mini WorkX strategies and plans, experiments, shares and reveals.
THEN we can aggregate, analyse, make decisions.
“But how do we do that and our current work? That’s like building the rocket whilst you’re flying it.”
I don’t have the precise answer to that except to say that you’re going to have to focus on how you do your work much more anyway. Whether you say “let’s go 2 in 3 out” you’re going to be paying attention to things like this more than you perhaps did before, as it’s a new frame of operation. And no, it’s not a licence to bring in extra-numerary consultants to do this. With the current scrutiny on the “value-added” by particularly the Big 4 in the UK, I’d say keep this as close to you as you can.
It’s not initiativitis either. It’s activated, working experiments within teams as they are naturally tackling their work and demands but being conscious of the findings of experiments to inform theirs — and the overall — WorkX agenda.
So my rather trite answer then is this:
- Each company of whatever size and scale declares its commitment to WorkX. We need to do things differently come July-December to shape our long term thinking. So with a similar way that we would commit to a Living Wage, an International Standard or a Banking Code, we’re committing to WorkX.
- In making this mean something, each team is guided on what WorkX means to them and they are invited to experiment and reveal and share evidence of those experiments. You then create the infrastructure to support these team-based units of experimentation. WorkX has to be alongside the work, and influence and be informed by it. It’s not that detached study by consultants, it’s you shaping things whilst you’re doing them.
- Around the end of the year, we’ll have 6 months of experimentation, to match our 12 months of forced lockdown working. A WorkX team of analysts from within are given this to work into the future, long-term way of operating. So WorkX goes from eXperiment to eXecution. You can say that “we’re shifting this way of working/place/who does it as part of our WorkX approach”.
- WorkX becomes version control as continued company-wide adaptation, experimentation, diversification and more, becomes part of the way all companies sustain their place in the world. And like magic, you don’t need as many convulsive and ineffective change programmes anymore because you ARE the change. WorkX is ongoing. It’s the sheet that you score different types of music onto. It’s part of your Operating System. Upgraded. And it’s where your constantly upgrading work apps and user interfaces also sit.
It would take too long to establish WorkX as a researched, hallmark/kitemark at the moment. So my intention here is to see if more companies can adopt their version of WorkX we’ll have the world’s largest, ongoing, applied research experiment in work we’ve perhaps ever seen.
We could then use WorkX to really give the one truth where there isn’t one answer to the conundrums of work.
I think that one truth could be in this hypothesis:
Work as we know it is tested and adapted through live experiments that arrive at the best possible balance between what the world needs and business demands, that utilises skills and creativity in people whilst looking after them and their well-being, makes the best use of physical and virtual space that connects us all to what matters and provides sustainable imaginative ways into the future of work that is aligned to purpose, people and planet.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX mission is paraphrased here (simply by removing words relating to space travel):
“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past.”
“OK, all good for Elon, but what about right now? That’s what matters to us most surely?”
Well, yes. Our now is the (unknown) future of our past. None of us expected to be like we are now and its implications.
- To some, now doesn’t feel better than it was, and they long for a return to the past ironically perhaps as a key part of their future.
- To others, the future could be so much better by not returning to the past at all and be an extension of now with adaptations. But NOT the past.
- In both instances, we need the lessons of now and the more recent adapted past to create a superior version (the future).
With a large degree of convergence but some truly divergent views, that version of the future has many polarised aspects.
How we close dilemmas, narrow paradoxes, create more choice but less confusion, it would be nice to thank ourselves in future, for what we do now that led to things being not just a bit better, but a LOT better.
All 5bn of us working in some shape or form could reveal some fundamentally life-changing ways to live, work and love
WorkX is my suggestion for experimenting, teaming, and revealing our way to do better. It can’t be prescriptive, it shouldn’t be owned, it is the adapted principles of a better working world.
It’s not an all-out aberration or an all-in living museum.
It’s our future, so let’s claim it by stamping WorkX on it.