Part I (below looked at some of the basic elements in the human condition like fear of dying and annihilation, resonance and communication with the world, authenticity, freedom, and equality in the sense of managing the letter or leading from the spirit of the law.
This can only be relevant if it achieves at least one of two purposes. It either must spur the contemporary discourse and/or be relevant for it. To be a bit more ambitious I quote Ole Fogh Kirkeby introduction to “Organisational philosophy – a study in liminality”:
“Philosophy presents two tasks for anyone, who wants to apply it in relation to any given field of practice: To argue and reason the field theoretically, and to determine the principles and mechanisms, through which it transforms”. [i] (p.11).
The field of practice in this case can be seen as the provision of sufficient flexibility for the human to live a good life through all the combinations occurring in the one life we have.
Where Part I uncovers part of the theoretical reasoning, Part I… and a half looks at the contemporary discourse (what’s happening in the real world) of the practice. As Kirkeby continues then philosophy (the love of knowledge) encounters a border, a limen, that both marks the limit for the theoretical reflection and the planned practice and the actual action. When we chose to see this as an opening and not just a limitation, we may be able to see new cartography where all kinds of liminality are in focus.
In short, without the contemporary discourse, the whole plot is disconnected from reality, and that is one thing we should not try to escape from, no matter how painful it may be.
What is the Contemporary discourse?
Meeting face to face has huge importance in building the relations that will define us being the basic motivator and secondly to enhance and maintain collaboration.
So, when some self-proclaimed (non) visionary CEOs proclaim they need the people back in the offices to run their business it seems obvious that they missed out on the past 18 months of the covid pandemic – the proclaimed need is basically a figment of their imagination, they have lost their own proof of concept and Taylorism has suffered a significant blow – because the humans have proven that the world can work without physically forcing people against their will. This is not to say that the idea of community rooms (offices) is dead. Meeting face to face has huge importance in building the relations that will define us being the basic motivator and secondly to enhance and maintain collaboration. The insightful mind will recognize one of the most prevailing ideas in human life – it is both/and, only rarely is it either/or. The idea of agility is the balance of stability and flexibility – but it must be mutual. The great gig in the sky has provided us all with an opportunity – flexibility is not a perk like free coffee and table tennis – it is an intrinsic motivator because it touches the lives of people (copying Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller companies and Raj Sisodia: “Everybody matters – the extraordinary power of caring for your people like family” [ii] and essay-like book review [iii]).
Arguments like those performed by CEO of Goldman Sachs, David Solomon, Barclays’s Jes Staley, and Mary Erdoes (head of asset and wealth management) JPMorgan Chase & Co in different settings and media are scary and ignorant reads e.g., ”The bosses who want us back in the office” [iv], “Why presenteeism wins out over productivity [v] ”, “Here’s why your boss really wants you back in the office” [vi], “If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that humans are hardwired to connect” [vii] and the list goes on and on.
The number of instrumental Pro and Con are many, but more than anything they are “surface” arguments of which many also hold double standards, and I’ll not further fatigue you with those. However, it may be prudent to contemplate the opinion of Professor Kevin Murphy “Performance management is the real unspoken reason behind the rush to bring us back to open-plan office hell” [viii] dealing with three core argumentative reasons for hoarding people back into the office:
- Spontaneous interactions – innovation & creativity
- Maintaining and building culture
- To build commitment (produces presenteeism)
All three are gently and decisively eliminated as valid reasons – there’s simply insufficient data, research, and evidence to support them. It is easy to see how this relates to the former described “psychological crisis” (Part I, Hartmut Rosa), both in the sense of lacking resonance responsiveness and perhaps most of all by way of not asking the right questions in the right space, hence lacking the foundation for even thinking about “parity of participation” (Fraser, Part I). In short, CxO see themselves as demiurg’s with divine self-invented answers to the real world of practice – to reuse Floridi in a different context, they simply stop the negotiation with the world of employees and hence any chance of resonance is lost – there’s, after all, a significant difference between being talked to and being talked with.
My own meager contribution to this discourse should limit itself to stressing “IT IS AN BOTH/AND” situation and the standards for handling it should be based on the best of both worlds – hybrid solutions that accommodate a fair balance of rights and duties by listening to the individual because the responsibility is mutual and so is the listening! Forget about compliance and dusty code of conduct and start to observe common sense and the “spirit of the law”, if you look closely enough and with sufficient attention, you will find the backbone, the axiology’s that people base their life on in form of ethical values and statements that eventually forms our behaviour.
PRESENTEISM – absurdities, and irrationalities
It strikes me as relevant to refer to a piece by Selina Short which showcases what can come of hybridity of thought. The title “If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that humans are hardwired to connect” vii and although subtitled “Is COVID-19 forcing real estate to rethink its role as a human connector?” is actually about loneliness and lack of connection.
I firmly believe we should have more meetings, not decision meetings but discourse meetings – because the most important thing (long-term) is getting to know each other as humans beyond the function or role we play
The issue is not a product of the pandemic it has been increasing for years along with the authenticity culture, a side product of being absorbed in the self. A very dear friend of mine Jane Adshead-Grant questioned a piece I wrote: “Remote work is a modus operandi – lets preserve the option” [ix]. Rightfully so, because I can come across as a one-sided proponent of not just remote work but work from everywhere – and I am a proponent, but not one-sided. At the same time (this is where my hybrid constitution comes into play) I have been working with relationship management for more than two decades and have a fairly good idea of the importance of meeting face2face. I firmly believe we should have more meetings, not decision meetings but discourse meetings – because the most important thing (long-term) is getting to know each other as humans beyond the function or role we play. In this connection it is a good idea to remind us all, that the task of rhetoric is not (as often claimed) “to convince/persuade”, but “to find the convincing arguments in every case”, and there’s quite a difference (Aristotle: Rhetorics). The idea of slowing down to speed up has its fundamental roots within these conditions.
This of course leads back to the thoughts by C. Taylor on authenticity – we cannot define ourselves by ourselves (M. Buber, more in Part II), authenticity based on an assumption that we can is nonsense and narcissistic (soft relativism is not only destructive, but it is also self-destructive). Defining ourselves must pertain to horizons of human significance, not just how I happen to feel about this or that – The “I” cannot define human significance, it transcends the “Me”. This can be perceived as counterintuitive, but any true encounters also always present and represent the “I” and when one is further capable of seeing “oneself as another (Riceour)”, that is in the sense of Løgstrup, “to trust and lay oneself open”, then we become each other’s guardians because we hold something of the other life in our hands.
Knowing that our wellbeing depends on how we interact and how we relate to others it is peculiar that we continue to have an unbalanced focus on extrinsic components in what I would call an irrational motivation culture. We know (period) that intrinsic motivation drives us long term, it’s self-reinforcing and contagious.
Let’s be honest about the “nature of perks” – they are a) extrinsic and b) only instrumentally implemented in the hope of better performance – that’s it, period. If we conceive the same notion about “real estate” VII we get the same result – genuinely feeling welcome will not come from a nice couch that encourages informal conversations, it does not suffice. It is simple because it is instrumental – it is a frame, it needs to be filled with content (content strikes out appearance when things are significant), in this case, the “Informal conversation”, and from a performance perspective that is generally perceived as a waste of working hours. The idea is nice, but empty, besides the invite. It is in fact a huge problem when these types of (supposedly) instrumental “affordances” cannot be filled with something meaningful because of inherent systemic organisational constraints!
I love the ideas proposed in the real estate article vii, but if they are empty boxes – they might even backfire. So, we should revisit Rosa – loneliness is a at a minimum a lack of resonance and it alienates the individual. Encouraging the informal conversation is the real content – it cannot be a surprise that to connect on a deeper level than function, real conversations about real human things are needed (how to reduce lead time is artificial).
”Most of us spend a third of our lives working, which means we connect with colleagues more hours each week – whether physically or virtually – than with family or friends. Where once people connected at the town hall, marketplace or place of worship, today it’s most likely to be the workplace. Feeling like we belong taps into an intrinsic human need. So when we look at the hours we work it is a logical conclusion that the workplace is a primary source of our sense of belonging.” vii
It may be logical, but perhaps the premise is flawed – maybe the idea of spending the best third of our lives separated from our core is not the best solution (for humans)?
The logical conclusion in either instance is that the needed circumstances to take advantage of the affordance (the nice couch) needs to be realizable – otherwise, don’t bother to buy the couch in the first place (save your budget).
On the upside, the couch is an opening (a glimpse of liminal potentiality) a place that we don’t really know yet, and in terms of Floridi we need to negotiate the invite to get a proper reply from the world. The wise could then negotiate the intrinsic through the extrinsic – because it will always be an invite to discuss matters of significance (when you face the insignificant “couch”). That’s the real affordance – the rest is just slippery surfaces with little or no hold (worth remembering that any traction is preconditioned by friction! (Newton).