Imagine a dystopian future where empty office buildings harken to a time when people worked together. Imagine a time when we got up from bed, showered, and put on the armor of our jobs only to become tales of yesterday. We’ll jokingly tell our kids that we used to drive our cars or ride a train to arrive at an actual workplace. We shake our heads in disbelief as we spin a yard about the ecosystem of our work, where we celebrated with friends, peers, and colleagues side by side. We existed together in kind of a gumbo of interaction. Hell, we even shook hands.
According to a lot of what I read, the days of grabbing a slice of birthday cake in the conference room are encased in the past like a prehistoric mosquito embedded in amber. The reality is does anyone really want to tap into that buzzing insect’s DNA to recreate a familiar workspace. Nope, those days of sharing lunch with your workmates might just be gone. So the question is, will we ever work together again?
Hmmm, I don’t know about that. I’m sure it won’t surprise you I have a rather contrarian position, which is probably why I have been on so many podcasts, interviews, and webinars.
The Science of Group Work
Does the future really hold the reality where working from home is a forever thing? There may be certain operational functions that can be performed from your kitchen but, one that won’t be delivered among the spices… INNOVATION.
In a 2010 Journal of Nature, one study found that as populations increase and people get together, economic productivity goes up. Not only total productivity but per capita productivity. The “why” of this is that as more people arrive they have the opportunity to work together and share ideas.
In 2013, MIT took that study and created a confirmation they called “super lineal scaling“. It found that the increase in people being together creates a greater opportunity for the interaction of ideas.
Face-to-face work is the heart of innovation and though you can connect folks via technology, it is not a substitute for close-quarters work.
Professor Alex Pentland at the MIT Human Dynamics Lab said; “when you put people together something special happens”. Innovation often needs a basic pattern of social interaction.
IDEO, a world-famous design consulting firm says; “executing innovative ideas thrives in a workplace environment.”
Forbes Magazine in an article following trends in innovation discovered; “innovation and great ideas seldom happen in isolation. They need face to face sharing to flourish”.
Look Back to Look Forward
Jonas Salk was a medical researcher who built a small team to attack the Poliovirus. They worked in close quarters trading ideas, leveraging success, and analyzing failures. They shared everything. It was through this constant face to face interaction that a vaccine to fight polio was created in 1955. Salk often credited the environment with providing the needed agreements and arguments that gave the vaccine life. He supported that belief by creating the Salk Institute where this same type of idea sharing could blossom.
I don’t know, maybe everyone will spin a cocoon around their home computer and we’ll learn to create and innovate in social isolation. But, history says you better hedge that working forever in your pajamas bet. My money is on a return to working together though it may be in some weird hybrid form. We will return to be with each other and this interaction will create the idea development and sharing that will change our new world.