The Changing Workplace
In the 2022 book, “Remote, Not Distant,” Gustavo Razzetti outlines helpful principles for companies to consider as they navigate the “new normal” of remote work realities in the modern workplace. Razzetti’s premise is that the COVID pandemic forever changed the structure of work and we will not be returning to business as usual. Indeed, the company that can best maneuver through these changes will have an advantage over those who do not.
The book straddles several categories: corporate management, leadership, psychology of work/life balance, and sociology. Remote work is a new phenomenon and after reading his book, one gets the sense that there will not be a single, simple solution that every company will follow. There are too many variables unique to each company and industry. It will therefore be up to the leadership of the individual company to successfully find solutions for employees and at the same time push the company to grow and out-compete its competitors. Razzetti states on page 28, “A successful company culture doesn’t happen by accident. It is designed and built with purpose and intent.”
The author organizes his material into five chapters. The first chapter lets the reader know that Razzetti is not against remote work. Rather, it is here to stay and he gives practical advice on how to prepare your business to embrace this change. He does an admirable job of combining theory and practice. He insightfully describes the underpinnings of remote work but he also provides actionable steps companies can take that will ensure remote work does not detract from the company’s culture or performance. He admonishes leaders, “Culture design is a journey, not a destination. It’s a never-ending job. Think in terms of building on what’s working while improving or eliminating what’s not.”
This first step brought Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow to mind. Razzetti proposes that business leaders think carefully about how to handle this change in the workplace. On such a complex issue as remote work, leaders should not make knee-jerk decisions or simply trust their gut (system one thinking). Think slowly, listen to others, read widely and deeply about the subject, and then make a decision. As Kahneman says, “Allocate attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations.”
Chapter two challenges leaders to reimagine a shared future. Razzetti asks the big questions of a business, such as “Why does your company exist?” From there, he wants a company to think how hybrid work can fit into the vision of the company’s purpose. He says on page 69, “Companies change over time and as your company evolves, your purpose should evolve with it.”
Nassim Taleb’s book, Antifragility has parallels with this idea. Taleb warns that when stressors happen to individuals or businesses, those who prepare for it, those who are antifragile, will not just survive the changes, but they will thrive in the new environment. This is the point Razzetti makes in step two—be prepared to adapt, overcome, improvise. Razzetti would agree with Taleb when he says on page 423, “The best way to verify that you are alive is by checking if you like variations.”
Chapter three is titled, “Reignite Belonging” and it focuses on the human element of these changes. In order for remote work to work for both employee and employer, the human factor needs to be considered. A company has to maintain its focus on profit, growth, and sales, but these factors can not come at the expense of employee health and well-being. Razzetti says on page 179, “A solid sense of belonging is vital for building a strong remote culture.”
Chapter four is titled, “Rethink Collaboration” and it guides the reader through the new ways of employees working together. Remote collaboration might be clumsy at first, but after practice people adapt and it becomes just as natural as collaborating in person. There are times for employee collaboration and that engagement can happen just as productively through zoom sessions. But there are times for solo work and that is just as critical for creativity. However, not all CEO’s are going to agree with Razzetti here. In an article dated January 11, 2023 on the NPR website, the CEO of Disney, Bob Iger, said in a company-wide email that all Disney employees must return to the office at least four days a week. Iger said, “As I’ve been meeting with teams throughout the company over the past few months, I’ve been reminded of the tremendous value in being together with the people you work with.” (https://www.npr.org/2023/01/11/1148334436/bob-iger-disney-return-to-office)
The fifth and final step is, “Release Agility” and it challenges those who might not yet be sold on hybrid work to give it a fair trial. A lot of the initial apprehension managers have with hybrid work turns out not to be applicable. Our initial reactions to new ideas are not always accurate and frequently statistics and results can prove our instincts to be wrong. In this I was reminded of Tom and David Chiver’s book How to Read Numbers. The authors state on page two, “We’re going to talk a lot about numbers . . . about how they’re used and about how they can go wrong—and give misleading impressions.” Our first impressions are often times incorrect and this includes remote work.
I can’t help but wonder what Peter Drucker or Max Weber would think about remote work. Remote work has the potential to alter our understanding of the workplace as much as the industrial revolution did. One thing is certain: remote work is here to stay and that includes Christian Ministry. The different forms of ministry are changing quickly ever since the advent of the internet and now they are changing again. I am doing all that I can to keep up with the pace of change. As leaders we must be flexible, open to technological change, and keep the employee’s health and well-being central to the mission of our specific ministry. The mission is the same since Pentecost but how we go about it is always evolving.
8 responses to “The Changing Workplace”
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Troy! Great post. I too chose to focus on the 5 steps Razzetti lays out. I’m curious about your invocation of Drucker and Weber at the end. What do you image their responses would be to the hybrid work revolution?
Thanks Michael: I think both Weber and Drucker would place the challenge to the individual: the motivated, hard-working, intelligent entrepreneur will figure out a better way than the other guy to make remote work successful. I think they would both say the intense focus still needs to be on results, the bottom line, you know? Achieve the goal, no matter how you get there.
Yeah I’m less familiar with Drucker, but I think Weber would praise the shift to hybrid work as long as it closed the gap inequality gap between owners executives and the workers. Razzetti talks about the natural boundaries hybrid work offers, and I can feel those effects fully. There is a level of equity in my work that I didn’t have when I was commuting 4 days a week to Portland. That time and money has allowed me to develop my project, close in on a doctorate, and invest in my own physical health. Ultimately I think hybrid work allows for a more natural and healthier relationship to work.
Troy, great summary of the book. I appreciate you noting that not all executives are on the same page with the hybrid workplace culture. My personal preference is to do my work in my office because I am much more focused and less distracted than when I am at home or at an alternate location. I’m guessing Razzetti would not advocate a hard-line approach to hybrid, but rather creating the structure that allows people to choose what works best for them and the team. In the church where you work, what has been there approach to hybrid ministry?
You’ve made many strong connections to the other reading from the program.
As you process all the things a leader needs to lead change, what aspects do you feel most prepared and equipped to do?
Excellent summary! And I love the syntopical associations. Well done.
I think you are spot on. It is here to say, but the ultimate mission is the same. Seek first the kingdom of God.
Do you think Christian Ministry will become more or less effective over time as technology is embraced/encouraged and perhaps less in-person ministry is taking place?
Hey Troy, another great overview of the book. I am curious about how you in
vison Christian ministry using the virtual world in developing and maintaining meaningful transformative relationships?