The conscious design of our studios
It's not about enabling a flexible future, but designing it.
I. Welcome back & follow up
Time passes so quickly these days! First up, writing this from Netherlands, last week was Liberation Day!🎗️
The main follow-up today is based off the last newsletter looking at the different possible futures of flexible, remote, and studio working as a Design Studio, so please read on below in the main section.
Otherwise, I’ve been asked multiple times what are the various newsletters I read on a weekly basis.
Platformer - As it sounds, reporting on platforms
Not Boring - As it’s described - Not Boring is the most fun way to learn about what’s going on in business and the strategy behind the decisions companies make.
Stratechery - Technology and strategy analysis
Big - Government and monopolies with a tech slant
Insights - “Smarter thinking for puzzles worth pondering” is the official tagline.
Chinese Characteristics - analysis and breakdown of Chinese technology market
Pirate Wires - Technology, politics, and culture
Galaxy Brain - Technology, media, and politics
Lastly, if you have found this newsletter useful in anyway, feel free to share or forward to others. It helps greatly in finding new readers and individuals for engaging discussions.
II. A flexible approach to a flexible future
As I’ve shared, this newsletter is often a way for me to pull back the curtain on how we run and make decisions within our studio at argodesign Amsterdam. This week I’ll continue to share our thoughts on the future of the studio and how we may work post-pandemic.
In our own studio and global discussions on how we leverage our physical studios in the future post-pandemic world, there are various voices and perspectives. In discussions, with working from home over the last year, some feel isolated, while others love the focus time. Some feel trapped with family, while others are using the time to connect more to those in their households. Whatever the outcome for any individual company, this last year will have many fundamentally re-thinking what is important to them in terms of work, life, family, friends, community, and life.
In looking at our Amsterdam Studio, as the person working to drive the studios core direction, I try to take in all views. I strive to think about our ability to provide great client work, deliver a great team experience, and deliver a great individual experience - in that order. While I may have my own beliefs, I think it’s worthwhile to explore other vantage points, and it’s been critically important to me to listen to others in the studio who have dissenting opinions to come to the best outcome.
During the last year, i’ve always said we should view this as an ability to experiment and find new value - not to languish in self-pity for the inability to see each other. We make the most of situations!
From our 2020 End of Year Report.
We never thought of this year as a hindrance that would handicap us. Instead we chose to focus on how we could still have the most positive impact with our client partners. While we have encountered challenges, our body of work for the year has become even more robust
During the last year time, I’ve often found myself enjoying remote work, or the ability to work from different areas. Recently I spent two weeks working from Portugal with a coworker. This was literally the best of both worlds as you could explore new locations, gain new experience, and take the collaboration of work with me. I am aware this isn’t always an option for everyone, but it was a new, and quite beneficial way of working.
At the same time I also found myself missing the studio for what I’ve labeled the Four C’s - Culture, Community, Collaboration, and Cross-Pollination [of ideas]. Those areas that have atrophied due to remote work. I’ve written an earlier version of these during the former part of 2020. The trip to Portugal and spending time sitting in the same room with a coworker really showcased this for the first time during the last year; what we missed by not having, or being in, a shared studio space. At the same time, I also enjoy working from home and want the malleable convenience that comes with that scenario.
Side note - Google seems to be working on spaces that bring digital and physical closer to being on par - so maybe this will all be a moot point in a decade anyway and we’re fighting or discussing something that is inevitable.
Paradoxically, what I found in Portugal was both a love for the studio and a love for being remote. Although I shouldn’t say “paradoxically” as they weren’t in opposition as many seem to believe. Rather I saw how they could become complimentary - likely what has been called a flexi-permi future. Permanent spaces with flexible working styles. Of course I think many people would share this outcome, but the devil is in the details of how this takes shape.
My conclusion in writing this weeks newsletter is less about what the future holds and more about the specifics in constructing it. It’s starting to feel like a flexible future is a forgone conclusion that some are fighting in the classic “Old man yells at clouds” scenario. If we state the future is flexible as a fact, how would we design it?
The new challenge will be in how companies actually divert time, resources, and funding towards shaping this future in a way that produces the best outcomes. The worst companies will be those who send out the announcement over email that “we are now allowing you to work 2-3 days a week at home”. The best will be those who shape management, policies, environments, events, meetings, cultural nuance, and tools around making a flexible future the best and most inclusive it can be.
III. End Note
Last week, BaseCamp changed their policies impacting work and culture. Given their a remote work company and have written books on it, when they make sweeping changes that will impact their culture and employee experience it’s worth listening.
For years we've offered a fitness benefit, a wellness allowance, a farmer's market share, and continuing education allowances. They felt good at the time, but we've had a change of heart. It's none of our business what you do outside of work, and it's not Basecamp's place to encourage certain behaviours — regardless of good intention. By providing funds for certain things, we're getting too deep into nudging people's personal, individual choices.
If you’d like to know the entire story on these changes and the imploding situation at Basecamp, start here: Verge and others are providing more backstory.
What has been much discussed on this, is the separation of work and life. In many ways I believe they articulated one of the missing pieces in how I’ve been viewing remote work. While many companies have provided perks that encourage individuals to stay longer at work, seek community, and build their lives around work, this type of move at Basecamp tells the opposing story. Work is work - don’t expect to find your community here. With this, it’s a shift that community, family, relationships and more can be built outside of work on personal time. For so long we’ve been encouraged to merge and mingle these, but that’s not the only option, and Basecamp is clearly heading in that type of Church and State separation. Good or bad, it’s a purposefully designed stance on their environment and what they want to create.
Is it right? I’ll say it’s not exactly what I would want, and it’s not a direction I would want for our studio, but it’s not wrong. I don’t think work should (or can) provide individuals with all the meaning they need in their lives. Sometimes it’s a job you need to do and it won’t always be exciting. However I certainly don’t think it should be void of meaning and have people come in on Monday waiting for Friday - that’s a great way to go nowhere fast.
. . 💼 . .
I don’t want anyone who reads this to have a first reaction of agreement or disagreement. What I would ask instead is to reflect on the grey zone - the possibilities. It’s about the type of environment leadership wants to build based on their company needs and goals. And it’s ok if a company doesn’t appeal to everyone.
We speak of the need as designers to be purposeful in the things we create and build - to look at a problem from all sides to understand how it impacts everyone and then make conscious decision that creates direction.
Creating our studios and our teams are no different.
Thats all for this week.
Thank you for reading!