The Reformation of the Work Space: Adapt or Die

fractalWith the rise of Cloud the old method of working, chained to a desk with an overlord of a boss clock watching, is fast disappearing. The old managers are falling by the wayside as the new employees force a change in the work place.

“A new form of work, sometimes called the results-oriented work environment, will take off in the new mobile workforce as the result of fractalization. Everyone will have to ask: Why are we tethered to a desk when being in the field or in the factory will help get things done more efficiently? Why are we working 9 to 5 when the work could be done more efficiently from 12 to 8 since it involves talking to a team in Bangalore? Why am I at my desk in Waltham when I could be at a restaurant in Boston reviewing the video on my mobile and sending the approval to the creative team?” – Business Models for the Social Mobile Cloud: Transform Your Business Using Social Media, Mobile Internet, and Cloud Computing.

Cloud technology is providing a mesh that allows the individual to manage a great deal of information, work, make decisions, and be effective from anywhere at any time. This in turn is driving change on how we work. With this change in work, the move from a 1950’s management style to a fractalized workforce is allowed to happen, the company benefits on a number of fronts.

Put simply, those that are adapting to this new method of working are seeing increased productivity, better innovation, happier employees, a reduced cost of operation, and a direct impact on sustainability.

So what is it?

Fractalization of the workforce is a phrase coined by Ted Shelton that effectively says that you give people the freedom to do whatever they need to do in order to succeed and that all that matters is results. He’s not suggesting anything illegal here, he’s suggesting that giving tools to employees and contractors, or allowing them to bring their own customised tools, allows people to focus on results rather than methods of work. They get to be grown up adults and decide when they work, where they work, and the tools that the need to work. Performance is measured in results, not attendance.

That, coupled with the more traditional work from home model, is delivering clear and measurable benefits.

Stanford published a report titled “Does Working from Home Work?” in February this year. The results were interesting.

A large Chinese travel company, with 16,000 employees, offered a work from home programme (four days a week) for 250 of their employees. All they needed was a broad band connection and room at home to work in. The experiment ran for nine months and because of the highly monitored environment of a travel agency, statistics were easy to capture.

What they found was that:

–          There was a 13% increase in productivity.

–          Employees were significantly happier both with work and psychologically.

–          Attrition rates fell significantly.

–          It saved a substantial amount of money per employee.

–          When offered the option to work full time from home at the end of the experiment, half took it up and half decided to return to the office.

It proved that working from home was a good thing. Better, it proved that the old view of working from home was “shirking from home” was not true.

The study didn’t look at other factors that are obviously in play.

–          A reduction in carbon footprint. Whether you are on the bike, the bus, or in the car, travelling to work has an impact on our environment.

–          A more lively local community. The ability to go to your local café for a coffee or lunch has a positive effect on a local community where you live.

–          Not travelling gives you hours a day back to reinvest in yourself, your family, and your friends.

–          It’s your workspace, you can choose to set it up how you like.

Fractalization supported by Cloud based tools takes this a step further. Rather than being trapped at your desk at work or at home, the ability to work with your tools, in your way, in your own time, wherever you like is unlocked.

Shelton contests that if companies do not adopt these practices then they are likely to find themselves left behind.

Let’s face it; it’s time for a lot of companies and government agencies to update their work place.

I had a colleague who recently took a job where he was all but chained to his desk. He was instructed to email his manager when he arrived in the morning, went to the toilet, had a break, and when he left at the end of the day. He was in a senior role on a good wage and has a long career behind him. This was an everyday name New Zealand private company. That 1950’s style of management was endemic within the organisation. He stayed for three months before leaving. The company had a huge problem with retaining staff and could not understand why the turnover was so high.

I worked for a small period of time, for a government agency in Wellington who shall remain nameless, who had an almost Dickensian approach to staff management. You had to bring your own cup and cutlery. The offices were dark, dingy, and cramped with as many people jammed onto the floor as possible. You were strongly encouraged to sit at your desk for ridiculous hours and it was questioned when you were not there. There was no remote access and the tools they provided were circa 1999. Staff retention was appalling and productivity was non-existent. Innovation was impossible in what was a mausoleum of beaten down employees and contractors. Of course there was an HR vision of giving people “the freedom to succeed”, as long as you did it from the end of the chain on your desk…

That kind of working environment is simply not acceptable anymore. We don’t live in the 1950’s and we don’t need to keep building command and control management structures designed in World War II.

The company that I work for at the moment has adopted a lot of the more modern practices and is a good example of how this stuff works. They are results oriented and not interested in micro-managing how you work. They are very interested in how you fit in with their culture and team. They do hot-desking that actually works and the tools they have are modern without being bleeding edge. The provide tools to allow you to work from anywhere, anytime, securely, with access to everything you need. If you want to bring your own tools, subject to some security policy, you can. If you want to work from home. You can. If you want to work from the library. You can. If you want to use social media. You can. If you come up with good ideas, you get listened too. The physical work environment is pleasant.

What do they have as a result? Very high collaboration, a lot of innovative and new ideas, a top performing team in terms of delivery of outcomes for the company, happy employees & contractors, very low turnover, and a reputation as “the place to work”, which attracts top talent.

Ted Shelton is right when he says;

“Fractalization of the workplace lends itself to accountability, job satisfaction, very high levels of collaboration, and positive financial results if you build the environment well.”

I’d suggest that if you studied successful companies you’d find this type of thinking is prevalent.

Cloud is providing a range of tools, options, and customisations directly to workers that allow them to manage their own world.

For those organisations that can’t adapt to this new way of thinking, they will become increasingly less relevant and probably bankrupt. For government agencies, they will become deserts that were once filled with good resource as the economy grows and they fail to retain their staff.


–          Shelton, T. (2013-01-23). Business Models for the Social Mobile Cloud: Transform Your Business Using Social Media, Mobile Internet, and Cloud Computing.

–          Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment.

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