Is work what you do? OR Where you go?

I was recently sent this article , my initial reaction was ‘surely they’ve got the job title wrong? Do they mean head of marketing – (location: remote)?’ As I was pretty confused I actually had to read it to find out more. And as I read more about this ‘Post Pandemic new role’ it made me reflect upon my own career in b2b technology marketing and how agile working has always been the ‘norm’.  

‘Work’s what you do. Not where you go’ This was instilled into me by one of my first bosses at the very beginning of my career (many moons ago, v. cool technology company) So I never quite got the ‘going to work’ ‘office based’ ‘9-5’ mentality. Work was something that I did and fortunately loved doing.  

Over the years I’ve had bosses and teams spread across various continents and time zones. B2B marketing agencies and other suppliers working together as part of my extended virtual team in every corner of the world. I’ve also had highly skilled B2B marketing experts work for me on projects and yet many of them I never met face to face.   

During my lifetime the work environment has evolved continually: 

1980s – Most offices were grey faceless office blocks.  The corner office was the preserve of the director. And the epitome of success was to have a corner office on the highest floor. PA’s sternly guarding the director’s door. Brave was the soul who crossed that threshold without permission. If you were a manager, you probably had your own office with a nameplate and title on the door. And the rest of the business invariably had their own desk, which, of course, was positioned according to seniority.  

1990s – The open plan era. Ok, not quite open plan, as there was no way most directors were going to work without a glass wall between them and their teams! The office cube arrived, where it felt like you had your own office, without having your own office – go figure…… 

2000s - hotdesking. Hmmm, possibly one of the most contentious working concepts ever. On paper, sounds great, in reality, most people hated it and it didn’t work. If you weren’t in the office before 8am you had no hope in hell of getting somewhere to set up your laptop and work. God forbid that you could actually find somewhere close to some of your colleagues/team so you could work together (woops, nearly forgot, the ‘uncomfortable sofa area’ with no power points was designated the ‘team working/brainstorming area, usually with some annoying fake greenery and motivational graphics) And don’t forget that person who always bagged the same desk, every single day. They also insisted on having their pictures, personal memorabilia on said desk, which would be stored away in their ‘locker’ overnight.   

2010 – WFH Fridays/ flexible working. A big driver for this were the changes in employment legislation, allowing employees to request different working patterns such as job sharing, reduced hours and working from home. On a Friday, many offices started to look like a ghost town and was probably the only day of the week you could be guaranteed a car parking space or hot desk (see above) 

2020- remote working. I’m not going to dwell on the pandemic/new normal or provide my point of view on what has happened.  Ironically remote working has been a working style for many in technology for years and years. Working with colleagues often scattered across the world in various time zones, using collaboration tools, video conferencing, conference calls – none of this is  new to the tech industry.   

If I’m ever asked, ‘Has the pandemic affected how you work?’ The answer is ‘hardly at all’ The big difference (and positive) is that I’m not travelling to London Heathrow almost every week, flying to meet colleagues/vendors/my boss in another part of the world. And returning back late on a Friday evening, dashing into M&S at T5 to get provisions for my empty fridge.  

 I’ve missed the occasional get together with colleagues for brainstorming and social meets, but thankfully that’s started to happen again now.  

So, I’m not entirely convinced that ‘head of remote’ is in fact a new role. Isn’t it a way of working? A cultural shift? (As we’ve seen since the 1990s) If it is a cultural shift shouldn’t the entire organisation embrace it? 

 Singling out a new role to ‘make change happen’ (and yikes, worse than that have a ‘program name’ associated with it!) sounds like it’s an answer to a board level initiative. It risks becoming ‘someone else’s problem.’ When in fact if the business is serious about adapting ways of working in a new era/decade it’s something that the entire board must take responsibility for and ultimately the CEO make it happen. 

I’ve worked in organisations who have launched initiatives like this in the past. They generally give a ‘change’ or ‘transformation’ project to one person to own (usually a very well experienced Project Manager) With the best will in the world, it often feels like they’re doomed to fail where others pay lip service to the initiative, and it slips down the board agenda until it disappears altogether.  

To make any change happen, it must be something embraced by all (top to bottom). Each function in a business should ask themselves ‘what does this mean for us as a team/me? What can we/I do to make this happen effectively?’ So, at the next board meeting let’s hear about the steps that sales, marketing, finance, HR, legal etc are taking in the evolution of work.