May 3, 2017

Workplace Trends: What's In and What's Out

“To every thing there is a season” begins Ecclesiastes 3, and if the phrase’s writer were alive today, he might have had the modern workplace in mind (not really but it makes a good intro). On April 21, I celebrated my 40th birthday, and I’ve been reflecting on the fads and trends I’ve seen during my career. What were they? Why did they become popular? Why did they fade away? And, ultimately, what took their place?

Out:MultiTasking In:Deep Work

At the beginning of my career, it seemed like every interview and performance review included a question about my multitasking skills. “Can you multitask well?”, they asked. Even though I couldn’t, I knew the answer had to be yes. The implication was the business world was moving fast with many different facets. Multitasking was essential to get things done.

Fast forward to today. Multitasking is out and deep work is in. The number of distractions competing for our attention has gotten out of hand. Children, work, email, devices, etc. Increasing productivity through multitasking is a myth. I’ve always been a fan of focus and concentration, and I welcome the deep work movement.

Out:Cubicles and Open Offices In:Remote Work

The cubicle. It’s the embodiment of the soulless workplace. The much maligned cubicle has been mocked for years. They reduce employee productivity and increase stress levels. Together with the multitasking trend, they led to more distractions.

To solve this problem, companies, led by Google and Facebook, tore down cubicle walls and constructed open offices. Wait, what? At least cubicles had walls. Open offices effectively remove everything that encourages privacy and concentration. The argument in favor of open offices is they lead to more collaboration, but in my experience, the increase in “collaboration” is mostly people chatting about their weekends.

Luckily, there’s an emerging trend for people to work remotely at home, in a coffee shop, or even on a beach in sunny Florida. Finally! A work environment with no distractions! Wait a minute…

Out:Always Connected In:Work-life Balance

There’s a reason why Google provides free gourmet food, massages, rides, and laundry service to its employees. The company wants its workers always on, always connected, and always available.

However, evidence is mounting that this approach may not increase productivity. 16 hour days may not be any more productive than 8 hour days. Today, work-life balance is making a comeback. More people are taking the time to put down their devices and make real connections at home and in their communities.

Out:Social Media In:Books and Newspapers

Social media is not out by any stretch, but more people are recognizing the harm it does to our personal lives and society. At best, it’s a time-wasting distraction. At worst, it spreads disinformation like wildfire. More and more people are rediscovering books and newspapers (print or online) for real information. Speaking for myself, I spend more time in my Kindle app than in Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn combined. The knowledge gained from books seems more substantial and satisfying.

The modern office is a dynamic place with fads coming and going. Overall I think workplace trends are moving in a healthy direction. Deep work and remote work combine to make work-life balance realistic for many professionals. Social media is here to stay, but people are recognizing that like junk food, it’s best consumed in small quantities. I’m looking forward to seeing how present trends pan out and writing another article in 15 years.

© Joe Buschmann 2020