Thursday, February 2, 2012

Back to the real world?

In one of the myriad prognostications on "the future" we've read around here, we learn that in 2012 we begin the great migration back to the real office, where real people collaborate, innovate, and create. In fact, we are told to expect these behaviors:
  • The landline, the jacket [for men], the commute, the handshake, and above all the office itself.
  • Out of fashion will be the virtual office in which employees sit hunched over laptops in their local Starbucks, joined to their colleagues by webcam and e-mail.
  • Employees will turn up to work at predictable hours five days a week, and will comport themselves with greater formality than before.
  • Face-to-face meetings will be preferred to video conferences; ideas will be exchanged not by tweet, but by the coffee machine.
The Economist, December 2011

Well, that's great news for agilists.

Agile is built around person-to-person face-to-face collaboration. It's pretty hard to do what Alistair Cockburn calls "communication by osmosis"--that is, absorbing what's going on around you--if you're not there to absorb.

Communication by osmosis is sort of the body language of office communication. There's something in the air,perhaps in the water, and you have to be there to get a sense of it. Otherwise, you're out of loop on some of the best stuff.

But of course everyone is not doing agile, so what's driving "back to the real world". Three things:

1. Defense: people with jobs want to be seen, and be seen productively engaged.

2. Culture: Remote working has been disastrous for spreading corporate culture, and

3. Inheritance: Virtual working has made it difficult for younger workers to pick up the tricks of the trade. And, that sword has two edges: older workers can learn from the young--new tricks, and all that!

And, to top it off, Volkswagen has turned off corporate email for most of its workforce during off hours. Good grief! Does that mean returning to a regular work day when stuff got done in the work place?  What's next?