Indiana Jones & The Lost Office

Ok, I admit, that’s a terrible name for a movie (maybe for a blog as well).  Who would want to watch a film about the most famous archeologist in cinema history looking for an office?

Indiana Jones has come to mind often lately as I’ve spent some time working in an actual office and thought about what the future of work should look like.  Like many people, I started a new job during the pandemic.  I worked entirely virtual for almost two years before I laid eyes on my office or met in person most of the people I work with daily.

Indiana Jones

You’re probably asking yourself what Indiana Jones has to do with the conversation around the shift to remote working.  Well, to be honest, he’s the only archeologist I know by name, which admittedly is a bit sad because he’s not even a real person.  Putting that aside, the reason I’ve thought of the Jones character is because when I am in the office, I feel like an archeologist from the future working a dig of an ancient culture.  

As I’ve walked through rows of empty cubicles and examined white boards with notes from 2020 and other pre-pandemic “artifacts,” it’s easy to imagine the script of some future tour guide:  “Ladies and gentlemen we have here a remarkably well-preserved example of how people used to work in offices in the days before the Covid-19 pandemic opened the world’s eyes to how technology makes it possible to work effectively from anywhere.” 

But on a deeper, more significant level returning to the office is a reminder of how much my work habits have changed the past two years – largely for the better.  There’s not one work meeting or task done during my visits to the office that could not be replicated virtually.  In fact, when you factor in the time required to commute and prepare to be in the office, it is much more inefficient.  Candidly my days working in the office have been some of my least productive.

Don’t get me wrong, finally being together, in person, with so many people who I had yet to meet is fantastic.  We’ve celebrated a major company milestone and enjoyed social time together outside of the office.  These gatherings only reinforced for me the invaluable role such occasions can play in building culture and strengthening team bonds.  I look forward to continuing to spend time in the office. 

This is not a blog making the case for corporate teams going fully remote. There’s no doubt that some job functions clearly can’t be done effectively remotely.  Producing live news for a television network, like the one I work for, is a full contact sport and a good example of the type of work that must be done in an in person setting.

But this notion that marketers must be in the office to have successful 1:1s, brainstorms, build culture or just stay focused seems as dated to me as using horses as our primary means of transportation.  From my own first-hand experience and what I’ve learned from others it’s clear that marketing teams can build a great culture and achieve terrific results absent an office-centric environment.   

I know many disagree.  In some quarters there seems to be a lingering, almost romantic mythology about working in the office.  Some CEOs have gone so far as to threaten employees with dismissal if they don’t come back full time.  To me these leaders are like the person standing on the shore with their hand up yelling “Stop!” in a futile attempt to thwart a tidal wave.  Any company attempting to ignore or defy a trend that clearly is here to stay puts the future of the business at grave risk.

There’s no question that it will take time for everyone to adjust.  Most companies and leaders probably haven’t figured out the right solution for their business yet, and that’s ok.  But companies should be asking the hard questions.  What is the office for?  How do we better use technology to build culture?  What is the right cadence of in person meetings?  How do we help people career path and grow in a remote/hybrid environment? 

If one believes the business school saying that “culture eats strategy for lunch” – and I do – then leaders need to invest the time to think about these and other questions if they want to build winning cultures in this new world.  Those who reflexively say “it can’t be done” or succumb to the temptation to pretend that the pandemic never happened will lose in the long run. 

With all due respect to Indiana Jones and the real archeologists who search for lost cities, I think we should focus on building a new world instead of pining for one that’s quickly being buried under the sands of time.

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