Reinventing Work Step 2: Challenge The Old And Imagine The New

We’ve always been reinventing work. 

In the 1990s, I was in technology sales for GE based in Dallas, Texas. Back in the time of Dilbertian cubicles, a typical workday looked like this:

  • To learn about a prospective customer, you called the research department from your desk phone to put in a request. A week later, a hard copy of the client’s annual report arrived via interdepartmental mail.
  • Once you secured a customer meeting, you flew down wearing nylons that became glued to your skin in the Texas summer heat while dragging a twenty-pound demo computer in a metal rolling suitcase with custom foam padding.
  • Upon landing, you headed to the nearest bank of payphones to check your messages. Then you rented a car and used a Thomas Map to make your way to the customer’s office.
  • Back in the office, you diligently taped receipts to a piece of paper and mailed them in for reimbursement.

Now, you use LinkedIn and Glassdoor to research the customer, Zoom for the initial (or all!) meetings, your mobile phone for staying connected, Waze for directions, Lyft for transportation, an iPad for the demo, and Expensify for your receipts.  

We’re better than we think at adopting new norms and technologies that help us work smarter. We can apply past learnings  to imagine a new and better future. To future-proof your organization, pull your team together for a lively discussion that considers these questions:

  1. What debates about flexible work now seem as ridiculous as the one over smoking in conference rooms?
  2. What pre-pandemic norms now seem as antiquated as the three-martini lunch?
  3. What collaboration practices are as messy as the ink from carbon paper used to make copies of memos?
  4. What assumptions about work might not be true? Challenge yourselves to think boldly. Car sales are up, even without the tactics that were held as sacrosanct in that industry.

Then based on that, tap your team’s creativity to imagine the ideal work experience:

  1. How could we have both flexibility and reliability?
  2. How do we maintain strong cohesion if some or all of us are remote for the long-term?
  3. What would an amazing onboarding experience look like right now?
  4. What new habits would double our joy and productivity? 
  5. How can we foster diversity and inclusion in wholly new ways?

If you can imagine, there was once a ban against married women in the workplace. As the old ad declared, We’ve come a long way, baby. We certainly have. Let’s keep going. The crisis of the moment has created the perfect impetus to think differently about what work can be. Don’t let this possibility pass you by.