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Ebook evaluation – Working Assumptions by Julia Hobsbawm


Working Assumptions by Julia Hobsbawm has an undeniably true core argument. Yet Mark Eltringham can’t always come to terms with itThat is nearly definitely crucial e book about work and workplaces to look within the first half of this 12 months. Working Assumptions by Julia Hobsbawm will likely be one of many two most essential printed this 12 months, as we will quickly uncover. It is usually one full of knowledge, information and a central premise that’s undoubtedly true. Specifically that the occasions of the previous 4 years have given us the chance to rethink how we work and so how we spend our days and our lives extra usually.

If you happen to don’t already personal this e book, you need to. Full of concepts and knowledge, Julia Hobsbawm writes with ardour. It’s a simple e book to love from an individual who’s simply as simple to love. I wouldn’t argue with Julia about just about something she has to say on the topic. She is making arguments that I’ve been engaged with for thirty years and for which the proof is just about incontrovertible.

And but – right here it comes – I discovered studying it a weirdly uncomfortable expertise at occasions. After discarding a few theories about why that was – I may let you know over a drink – I realised that it was much less to do with the e book itself, however the best way wherein it evoked wider issues I’ve with the best way conversations about work within the put up covid period have been framed over the previous 4 years.

I discovered studying it a weirdly uncomfortable expertise at occasions

Probably the most distinguished of those is the best way that the dialog routinely overlooks nearly all of working individuals. This isn’t simply in regards to the two thirds for whom the conversations about 4 day weeks, hybrid working and the influence of generative AI are irrelevant. It’s additionally about clusters throughout the most-talked about 30 %, who’ve wildly various expectations, preferences and circumstances.

It’s why I insert my very own asterisk to many pronouncements about the way forward for work to indicate that they’re a couple of minority, however it will be tiresome to say it after each single level. To Julia’s credit score she applies an precise asterisk on this manner as early as web page 2, and features a entire chapter addressing the difficulty. Disgrace that extra individuals don’t appear to do the identical. Of their heads no less than.

The e book’s major power is its compelling enterprise case for a brand new mind-set about work. And meaning by adopting a distant first mindset. There’s additionally an excellent enterprise case for individuals to come back collectively to work, nevertheless it’s one that’s often poorly made by the workplace sector and when it’s, depends on some simply refutable vacuity comparable to ‘watercooler moments’. Even when it’s made effectively, it doesn’t imply it has to occur on a regular basis. Julia is significantly better armed and pushing towards an open door from the standpoint of staff.

The way in which we work has at all times had its insanities and the pandemic gave us the chance to do one thing about them on a a lot wider entrance than up to now

The way in which we work has at all times had its insanities and the pandemic gave us the chance to do one thing about them on a a lot wider entrance than up to now. Commuting, bland and half-empty workplaces (they’ve at all times been half empty – that’s not a consequence of hybrid working), ineffective conferences and most of all, the compulsion to hold out duties in an workplace that might be executed simply as effectively or higher elsewhere.

The e book’s subtitle refers to “what we thought we knew about work earlier than Covid. And the reply is an terrible lot of stuff that’s now mainstream considering alilgned with the issues for which Julia is arguing so compellingly. Which is why it’s such a disgrace that pioneers comparable to Jack Nilles and Frank Duffy don’t even get a point out.

You’ll be able to raise entire passages from their work that learn as if they’ve solely simply been written. And are nearly at all times extra attention-grabbing and much more ahead trying and knowledgeable than the relentless squawks – more and more regurgitated as AI generated slop – that ‘hybrid working is right here to remain’.

Practically the entire work cited within the e book dates from 2020 onwards. I perceive that Julia desires to look ahead and never return to what she refers to as a ‘pre Covid manner of working and dwelling’. However this begs the query of what you assume that world was and that is the place I’ll have one in all my largest points with the entire debate.

Even earlier than 2020, we had already developed a lot of the considering that now defines mainstream conversations about work and workplaces. A few of it, within the case of Jack Nilles and Robert Propst and others dates again to the Sixties. Christel Kammerer developed the concept of versatile working in Germany within the Sixties.

Within the Nineteen Eighties and Nineteen Nineties the work of Frank Duffy and others explored the implications of the revolution in communications and miniaturisation of tech. We began speaking about new methods of working. There have been journals devoted to them. Places of work adopted fashions of exercise based mostly working and different types of shared area to accommodate the brand new work cultures and a peripatetic or distant workforce.

After we ignore this historical past of the pre-covid office, we wind up with that Swiftian spat between one facet arguing how we have to return to a previous that by no means existed, whereas one other argues we shouldn’t return to a previous that by no means existed

Versatile working was codified into legislation in 2003 in a manner that’s but to occur for hybrid working. After we ignore this historical past of the pre-covid office, we wind up with that Swiftian spat between one facet arguing how we have to return to a previous that by no means existed, whereas one other argues we shouldn’t return to a previous that by no means existed. This issues not solely as a result of this strife is tedious, ridiculous and pointless, but additionally as a result of we now have already synthesised the options that can break the deadlock.

I don’t assume that can entail the creation of a ‘candy spot’ for hybrid working of three days within the workplace, two at dwelling, for the straightforward cause that it appears to be extra inflexible than the shift to versatile working that was already underway.

Nick Bloom, undoubtedly crucial researcher working within the subject right this moment, should bear a few of the accountability for this regardless that, as Julia Hobsbawm factors out, it seems to be Rory Sutherland who first coined the phrase TWaT to explain the concept. By establishing the perfect common cut up between in-office and distant work, Nick Bloom could have inadvertently fed the fixation with understanding a cut up which will operate on a spreadsheet, however in all probability doesn’t serve people. I already see indicators that companies are transferring away from this fixation, even when a few of them have overshot the mark with draconian, so-called return to workplace mandates.

Dilbert made sense to us due to the common themes of human behaviour it poked enjoyable at, not due to the cubicle farms

One different challenge that won’t work for British readers is that the e book usually appears to be like throughout the Pond for its standpoints when it ought to be gazing over The Channel. British working tradition and workplace design have extra in frequent with European fashions than they do the US. Dilbert made sense to us due to the common themes of human behaviour it poked enjoyable at, not due to the cubicle farms.

Actually, I’d argue that the European mannequin has led the world in progressive excited about workplaces till just lately, when Australia appears to have picked up the baton. The US has had far additional to shift on these things and remains to be adapting. I’m liable to ask individuals – nonetheless – why the case research we get in of American workplaces are usually so stuffy. Why are the chief workplaces so large? Why have they acquired a lot darkish hardwood?

Anyway. I appear to have spent half of this evaluation choosing at a e book that I’ll hold returning to as a supply of concepts and inspiration. So it goes. There’s little doubt that Julia is already one of the vital influential individuals on this planet proper now with regards to speaking about work in its new incarnation. This e book will cement that fame and ought to be added to the bookshelf of anyone critical about excited about these things. So consider this evaluation as a footnote to that work. Yet another asterisk so as to add to an essential dialog.

Working Assumptions by Julia Hobsbawm is accessible via your native bookshop or library. 

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