With the current pandemic, lots is being written about open offices, work from home, flexible conditions, shorter weeks, etc. One of my favourite theories in that “field,” the Eudaimonia machine, has been around for a few years and I was surprised I never mentioned it in Sentiers, so here are a few bits around the topic as well as some speculations.
Basically, it’s building an office with actual separations, not one big giant space, and each section is built to match a certain level of focus or collaboration.
This newsletter issue by Stowe Boyd got me thinking about EMs when he mentioned a recent piece by Christopher Mims. Sadly, it’s behind a paywall so I’m just quoting from the newsletter but this dynamic workplace framing is part of the new discussion around offices; a place to congregate, and which you go to only for specific times or reasons, not all week.
Cue the “dynamic workplace,” a pivot away from the open plan, built on the idea that with fewer employees coming to work on any given day, offices can offer them more flexibility of layout and management.
While open offices and dynamic workplaces share similar components — privacy booths and huddle rooms to escape the hubbub, cafe-like networking spaces, etc. — they’re philosophically distinct. One is intended to be a place where people come (at least) five days a week, and get most of their work done on site. The other is planned for people rotating in and out of the office, on flexible schedules they have more control over than ever.
On the Eudaimonia Machine specifically, here’s a good piece about a trial run designed by David Dewane.
Dewane’s scheme is a multipart floor plan that effectively funnels employees through various spaces with the intention of triggering different mental states. The layout consists of an entry gallery, a social salon, a multi-person office, an archival library, and the chamber—a site for deep work.
Notably, Dewane’s concept doesn’t look to eliminate the social aspects of the work space—rather, it aims to optimize them and separate them from deep work.
Conceptually, it might look something like this (taken from Amar Singh’s excellent piece on office forms):
The dynamic concept, as far as I can tell from the quotes picked by Stowe, reminds me of the flipped office. The term is a variation on the idea of the flipped classroom where students get videos and readings to do ahead of class, on their own, and the time in the classroom with each other and the teacher is meant for discussion, exchange, collaborative work, support by the teacher. Things best done in person.
A flipped office would work the same way, knowledge work (the vast and blurry category most appropriate for remote work) happens from home offices and perhaps hyperlocal coworking spaces, while some meetings, workshops, and lighter work more easily done in a shared space, happens at the office.
A flipped workplace turns this on its head. Productive individual work is done outside of the office, on your own time, in your own place, at your own pace. Consequently, the office transforms into a space purely dedicated to meeting people, asking questions, brainstorming, and making unexpected connections. Liberated from enforcement of time-based productivity, managers don’t need to be babysitters. Instead they are coaches, enablers, and facilitators focused on unlocking each employee’s unique value to the entire organization.
A flipped workplace is better for both employers and employees because it optimizes for productivity, not presence. A universally accepted flexibility of structure makes true diversity possible by accommodating the varying styles, strengths, and constraints of employees. Balancing remote work with in-person collaboration ensures cultural cohesion, creating an environment of momentum and trust when in the office. Plus, the ability to work independently provides a clear reason for tracking accountability by quantifying outcomes—a process which may otherwise feel overbearing to employees.
Whether it’s through infrastructure as a service à la Breather (disclaimer, co-founded by a friend), through new kinds of real estate deals, or probably with new types of subletting, I expect some small flexible firms to start sharing offices, perhaps where each have one or two rooms for their permanent installation, and a larger shared section that is either a coworking space for all tenants, or an alternating office. Think something like a mix of coworking space and café, where for example each of four companies has a day of the week for collectively being in one location, and Fridays are coworking for everyone.
It could also be a new form of coworking space, where the “lead” is not one of the tenants but a separate entity, or an occasion for an existing coworking to spread to a new floor and offer this service, or even a café opening in a much larger space with this co-tenanting in the back, maybe with no client seating, just for take-out and people from the co-tenant companies.
All of this is mostly doable right now in some coworking spaces but usually more ad-hoc, early in companies’ life, because that’s all they can afford. This would be a couple of steps further, where their new-normal (sorry) is purposefully to work in a distributed fashion, with concerted hours / days to be in person, only when it’s the best way to work.