Innovate your organization’s culture: create a social agreement, reduce working hours and travel

A few months ago, not long after The Great Resignation started escalating all across the globe, I wrote The War of Talent.

The fact that people are changing their values, changing their lifestyle, changing jobs, and moving to different countries or even other areas within the same country to look for better work-life balance is one of the things I heavily focused on in that article.

And as I wrote it, I, myself, was undergoing a major change in lifestyle while moving from Australia to Europe.

After inevitably becoming a remote worker due to the pandemic, I also became a digital nomad.

And with my nomadic experience through Europe I just recently came up with a new term and concept: the frequent living city. Let me clarify it for you:

Everyone thinks of remote workers in many different ways. Generally, there is one big differentiation between them, two prevalent types: the ones that are based in the same location and live and work from there all the time and the ones that frequently move from one place to the other – the so-called digital nomads. For me, this is a misconception. Some digital nomads, myself included, spend a vast majority of their time in two or three different cities across different countries.

And throughout the whole year, we keep traveling back and forth to those same places that start to feel like home. And that’s what I like to call a frequent living city.

I often encounter remote workers looking for a community to engage with, craving real connections. And they are not only looking for it in their private and social lives but also at work. And a great number of these people are experiencing a better work-life integration while traveling: they have work meetings in the morning, have lunch with a friend, practice sports in the afternoon, send some work emails afterward, and later head out for dinner and a drink together with other members of their digital nomads’ community.

We often talk within the Semco ecosystem about the ideal groups of 10 people working on the same project, and I like to think that that’s actually basically pretty much what happens in social life as well.

If you think about it, the same is happening with these new communities of digital workers arising across the globe. There are several groups being formed by people with shared interests: fitness, music, dance, yoga, language learning, parties, and the list goes on.

More and more, different people from different places (be it nomads, ex-pats, or locals) work remotely from the same location and get together to form communities.

One of the places I am happy to have as my frequent living city is Madrid. It is a city that enhances my creativity, a place where I feel motivated and inspired. Whenever here, I find it very easy to write new content pieces. I guess that’s what also happens when you are in your own office at home, at a local café or even in a specific location at your workplace, isn’t it?

Even pre-COVID, the world was moving towards an era where you would use different spaces for different purposes. And that actually proved itself to be very handy as one would not feel stuck between the same walls, surrounded by the same people every single day.

Diversity in landscape and environment always allows for fresh, new ideas to emerge.

For me, being a remote worker, being a global citizen, being a nomad, is actually how I find and keep my balance. I can spend some time with my family back in Germany, visit some of my longtime friends there as well, be in a university environment when attending an IE Business School gathering in Dubai and get back into my work, sports, and social routine when returning to Madeira.

This variety of environments and places ultimately creates a lot of diversity of thinking for me which is not only important for my content work but also something I quite enjoy.

An analogy that came to mind is the scene from the movie Dead Poets Society (1989). The part where Professor Keating (Robbie Williams) stands on the table, ‘to remind himself that he must constantly look at things in a different way’. Sounds familiar? Could that be what remote workers are doing at the moment, and getting a different perspective. That may be why they’re actually so productive in different ways. Suddenly the work that I didn’t use to be able to finish in nine hours, now I finish in six.

Isn’t being more productive and accomplishing more in less time what we should all be striving for?

For me, that’s the only way forward: having people give it their best, working in the best environment possible, in the best location for them. And most importantly, actually trusting them to decide the how, where, and when. This is empowering employees to make the best possible decisions not only for their work but also for their private lives.

Create a social agreement stating what is expected from your team. I personally don’t like checking on people, I’d rather let go of control and trust them to do their jobs the best they can.

And this is why this agreement works: it states what is expected from each person. There are questions you can and maybe should ask, like:

  • Can you deliver that in a given timeframe?
  • What could stop you from doing that?
  • What support do you need from me?

And then just trust that they will actually get it done.

Ever since I’ve moved to different ways of working years ago and accelerated the journey after joining the Semco Style family, I find myself being surprised every single day: how much we can actually get done, and how much more productive the business is. And all this without me having to constantly check on anyone.

This month we had already a great example happening that could portray what I mean. On the first Friday of the month, we shut down the office for the entire day – our new Mental Health practice.

And if I look at it, in four days of work, I do not have the feeling we got less done. Granted this was the first time we’re doing it and there is still room for improvement.

I can see how on the last day of work, one or more team members might have done a few more extra hours. But again, this probably balances out by having a full day off on Friday. And I don’t see that being an issue, quite the opposite.

I have already mentioned such a similar experiment from the government of Iceland in the Full Time = Dinosaurs? webinar last month and even quite recently read a similar study performed by Atlassian: 6 individual contributors and one manager working across different areas and locations trialed working only 4 days per week for 9 weeks. Even though employees felt pressured to have work delivered on time, they were constantly looking forward to their 3-day weekend.

And guess what? It was a successful experiment, their productivity was not affected, pretty much the contrary.

Would you also dare try it in your own organization?

If you worry about the commitment and performance of your employees I would suggest letting yourself be surprised.

I know I can trust my team to get the work done. In fact, I know that by working differently, they are actually starting to think and make decisions like owners.

And I see this happening every day.

Just recently we had a new employee start working with us. Two of them actually, and they started within one week of each other.
In a little over a month, both of them are making decisions that I couldn’t be more proud of. They are just working completely entrepreneurial: giving direction by going where we feel there is a market for it, researching, testing, iterating. They’re talking to each other, collaborating, and coming up with great initiatives and insights.

One of them is traveling and will be away for a few weeks in Lisbon, a city she has previously called home. It was never a question and she knew she did not need to consult me on whether or not she could do it.

I’m actually looking forward to seeing her work in a different environment and what kind of sparks it creates for her. I can’t wait for her to experience what I have been experiencing for the past few months. Maybe it will become one of her frequent living cities?

So, I challenge you once more with another thought: if you want to create diversity, if you’re looking at enabling people to be their best, and to work at their best, should you maybe even encourage your team members to travel and go to different places? Places where they may be challenged emotionally but also stimulated in a different way?

That’s it for the day, I believe there’s already quite a few Food for Thought in this piece.

As always I’d love to hear your thoughts and am looking forward to hearing your comments and feedback.