How Tectonic Forces Are Reshaping the Future of Work with Phil Simon

Wayne Turmel interviews Phil Simon about the trends that are reshaping the workplace, particularly in the context of remote and hybrid work. They discuss the dispersed workplace, employee empowerment, and the need for new metrics to measure productivity. Phil emphasizes the importance of acknowledging the shift towards remote work and the need for organizations to adapt to this new reality. He also highlights the role of employee engagement and the changing contract between employers and employees.

Key Takeaways

1. The dispersed workplace is here to stay, and organizations need to embrace the opportunities it presents.
2. Employee empowerment is crucial for attracting and retaining talent in a remote and hybrid work environment.
3. Traditional metrics for measuring productivity may not be effective in a remote work setting.
4. Companies should create a work environment that employees want to engage with, rather than forcing them to come to the office.
5. The contract between employers and employees is changing, and organizations need to adapt to the new expectations of workers.

View Full Transcript

00:00:08:09 - 00:00:35:11
Wayne Turmel
Hi, everybody. Welcome to the long distance worklife the podcast where we try to help people thrive and survive in the crazy changing, never quite the same world of remote and hybrid work. My name is Wayne Turmel. I'm with Kevin Eikenberry Group. This is a Marisa-less episode today. She will be with us next week. But I am really lucky.

00:00:35:13 - 00:01:02:06
Wayne Turmel
I get to talk to really smart people on this show. And one of them is my longtime friend and colleague, Phil Simon. And we are going to take a very high level look at some trends that are going to dictate whether exactly or generally where especially remote and hybrid work is going. And there's nobody that I would rather have this conversation with.

00:01:02:06 - 00:01:16:01
Wayne Turmel
So, Phil Simon, real quick, buddy, introduce yourself and then we're going to get down to the nine. The tectonic forces reshape in the workplace.

00:01:16:02 - 00:01:26:01
Phil Simon
Anyway, thanks for having me on. And let me just say that of all my podcasts, I think this is the first one in which the word chrysalis has been used well.

00:01:26:03 - 00:01:43:11
Wayne Turmel
And I think people tolerate me and like her is kind of out this year. So they tune in for Marissa and then they tune in for the people I talk to, and I am the necessary right way to that happening.

00:01:43:13 - 00:01:57:12
Phil Simon
I set the bar low. But anyway, thanks for having me on. My name's Phil Simon. I've written a bunch of books. The last four have been about the future of work and I write and speak and consult companies about how to navigate the chaos.

00:01:57:14 - 00:02:22:14
Wayne Turmel
And this book in particular, I like it. And you say, right on the cover of the book, this is not a tactical book. If you're looking for, you know, do this, don't do this, probably not the thing. But if like me, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out where is this going and what's impacting it and how the hell did that happen, I think this is an excellent book.

00:02:22:14 - 00:02:51:04
Wayne Turmel
And you outlined nine things that you think are kind of driving the workplace. And some of them are things like blockchain and generative A.I. and immersive technologies. But I want to focus on a few that are specific to this show and the people who listen. And I think I want to start with the dispersed workplace and what that really means.

00:02:51:04 - 00:03:13:17
Wayne Turmel
I know in the book you kind of said, look, the battles over people are working remotely, get over it. But what does that actually mean to organizations that are have been functioning in the before times and are trying to function now? What what what's the big aha. There?

00:03:13:19 - 00:03:36:09
Phil Simon
Well, I don't know if there's a single big aha moment, but as I write in chapter ten of the book, basically distilling some of the lessons from the nine into a number of strategies, pretending that COVID didn't happen and that people are going to gleefully return to the office five days a week is insane. And you could look at that as a negative because sometimes it can be difficult to do certain things remotely.

00:03:36:09 - 00:04:03:03
Phil Simon
You and I both know that if you're going to write all day, I don't need to be in office to do that right. If I'm going to code, if I'm going to do graphic design, But if I'm doing anything collaborative, you can do things sharing screens and design with Figment and those sorts of things. But, you know, for a collaborative session to receive a performance review, to brainstorm, to get to know your colleagues, you want to do that in person.

00:04:03:05 - 00:04:25:09
Phil Simon
So one of the consequences of that way in, as you know, is that if you only have employees coming in on a hybrid basis, that A, you may not need an entire office to yourself. So you might just want part of an office and B, you can actually hire from a larger talent pool if you're in San Francisco and you say, no, all of our coders have to be local.

00:04:25:13 - 00:04:45:05
Phil Simon
Well, good luck with that, because there are any number of tech companies, and as I write in the book, the head of machine learning at Apple, I think it was in March of last year, didn't take too kindly to Tim Cook's mandate that everyone return, at least on a hybrid basis. So he promptly quit. And I think by the end of the day, Google hired him.

00:04:45:07 - 00:05:06:01
Phil Simon
So that's a challenge. But if you look at it as an opportunity, well, now we aren't restricted to San Francisco, so it might be cheaper for us to pay someone who lives in Iowa a salary commensurate with other people in Des Moines and fly that person out once a month and still come out ahead, particularly if you then factor in lower real estate costs, even though the market has a bounce back yet.

00:05:06:01 - 00:05:25:18
Phil Simon
So all of these forces are related. But the most direct answer to your question, Wayne, is that it is silly to pretend that this hasn't happened. If COVID had been two or three weeks, it's a snow day. It's been two or three years of working remotely. The data is in. We have been productive. No, you don't want to hire people who will never come into the office.

00:05:25:20 - 00:05:37:04
Phil Simon
But if you think that you're going to find capable people who long term say, sure, sign me up for an hour or half commute each way, like it's 2018, ain't going to happen.

00:05:37:06 - 00:06:12:03
Wayne Turmel
What do you think this means to the individual worker? I mean, part of what the office provided, I think about new new hires and interns and people just out of school who are learning what it means to go to work right. What do you think this means organizations are going to have to do to help people prepare to work here, here being whatever that company is?

00:06:12:05 - 00:06:31:07
Phil Simon
Lots of things. First, and I think you recently wrote a post about this, about proximity bias that's alive and well. I mean, they've done studies controlling for performance. People who go into the office tend to be promoted and just thought of as harder working than people who are remote. Even though that may not be true. That's a legitimate concern.

00:06:31:07 - 00:06:49:08
Phil Simon
And I don't see it going away soon because it just taps into psychological biases. You could be cranking away at home. I don't see it out of sight, out of mind. But you're in the office till six and you take a couple smoke breaks and a two hour lunch. And boy, Wayne's a really good worker, but I think it's imperative for companies to find people who are willing to come to the office.

00:06:49:08 - 00:07:05:03
Phil Simon
I'm not saying that you have to be there a certain number of days per week because you can argue that that's arbitrary. But I think it's equally insane for companies to say you have to be in the office to work as it is for employees, say, I'm never coming to the office. So to me, that's an interview question, right?

00:07:05:03 - 00:07:26:01
Phil Simon
And then test people, you know, if they're not willing to come in, maybe it's time to cut the cord with them, because I agree with you, there is something to be said for that. And if I were 30 years younger, I would schlep into an office even when I didn't have to, to build that social currency, to establish reactions to relationships with folks, to collide with folks.

00:07:26:01 - 00:07:47:20
Phil Simon
Right. To have that random conversation about the bear in the hallway. And now, Oh, yeah, when you see the bear last night, I believe strongly love to get your thoughts on it, that those types of social ties matter. And if my manager likes me and my colleagues treat me well, maybe I'm less likely to leave for a 5% raise without having to move because I can now work anywhere.

00:07:47:22 - 00:08:21:09
Wayne Turmel
Yeah, I think that that's true. I also you know, I was talking to somebody about people returning to the office and she was bemoaning the fact that her people have basically gone feral and they don't know how to you know, they don't know how to act in an office setting anymore. And I think for young workers who've never had that experience, and if we're going to hire people from different backgrounds and people whose daddy didn't work at IBM, right.

00:08:21:11 - 00:08:47:04
Wayne Turmel
So it's kind of certain behaviors and certain tacit knowledge has been passed on. We have to create what it's like to work here and we have to teach people boundaries. And I know that it can be done with less physical proximity. But I think depending on where you are in your career, the demand for flexibility is going to be different.

00:08:47:06 - 00:09:12:22
Phil Simon
Oh, 100%. I mean, you could argue that the pandemic was ultimately a net positive for working mothers because to work from home and to not have to pay in some cases 20 $500 a month in childcare, and it should be a more present parent is beneficial. I'd also argue that companies there is a certain onus on employees. I agree with you there, but I believe that companies have to make the work a destination.

00:09:13:02 - 00:09:47:00
Phil Simon
Don't make me come in because I have to make me come in because I want you researching the book. I found many examples of companies that have completely rethought the office. My favorite example is Cisco. In the Manhattan office pre-pandemic 70% of the workspace Wain was allocated to individual workstation cubicles, desks, whatever they inverted that they spent a ton of money making it 30% individual workstations because they understand that if you're going to be coding or doing individual work all day, we don't want you there, right?

00:09:47:02 - 00:10:11:16
Phil Simon
It's actually better. It's a more flexible, collaborative environment so we can demonize employees all we want. And there certainly are many examples of slackers and quiet quitting. But if I were running any company of consequence, I would absolutely make it a cool place to be or people would want to hang out. And even though that mandate might be two days a week, people come in three or four because it actually is a better environment.

00:10:11:17 - 00:10:38:21
Wayne Turmel
Well, and that ties to employee engagement. One of the things that this show is very big on is that engagement isn't something companies can do. They can create an environment that people want to engage with. But engagement comes from inside the individual person, right? You choose. I can get down on one knee and give you a ring, but you're not engaged until you say yes.

00:10:38:23 - 00:11:00:03
Phil Simon
So I think we're now at my my prediction for laughing twice with your questions. But yeah, I mean, we could talk about nature versus nurture all day long. If I had to give a pithy 140 character answer, I'd just say do the opposite of what Musk is doing with Twitter and you'll probably be in a good spot.

00:11:00:05 - 00:11:11:04
Wayne Turmel
Safe enough. But this gets to one of your nine things, which is employee empowerment. Tell me what you mean by that.

00:11:11:06 - 00:11:35:22
Phil Simon
Yeah, as I've said before, when I think it's silly to believe that employees will return to their relatively docile states and forget what I think. Union approval ratings, I believe, are at 72%. Last time I checked. That's the highest rate in something like 40 or 50 years. Amazon famously is facing a number of union votes, and I think a few of them have been successful, even employee friendly companies.

00:11:35:22 - 00:12:10:12
Phil Simon
In the book, I write about Kickstarter and Trader Joe's have had to deal with unions, and I start off the book with the example of Google and how employees and contractors there basically staged a walkout over what happened with Andy Rubin from Android Frame fame and some sexual impropriety charges with the whole MeToo movement. It was remarkable to me watching that whole thing play out back in 2018, because Google employees aren't steelworker employees in the minds of Pennsylvania dying on the job or facing lung disease.

00:12:10:14 - 00:12:33:23
Phil Simon
They get free massages and dry cleaning and food, and here they are. So I think, again, all of these forces are related. And if you take for granted the fact that we do have a more dispersed workplace than a natural extension of that is I don't want to commute an hour each way. Prior to the pandemic, the average American commute was 37 minutes.

00:12:33:23 - 00:13:00:15
Phil Simon
I get that back twice per week. That's how is my math 168 minutes. That's close to 3 hours that I could spend walking my dog or watching TV shows or spending time with my family or whatever. So I. I couldn't separate the two. That's why they go in that particular order. But we've seen this with employees, this whole notion of bringing your whole self to work and maybe the pandemic contributed to that.

00:13:00:17 - 00:13:23:21
Phil Simon
If we saw you at home and you had a dog or a cat or a Breaking Bad poster in the background like I do, you got to know people a bit. And employees, right or wrong, started to develop this expectation. And without getting all political, we see how say would Salesforce, after Roe v Wade got overturned, the company more or less said, We will work with you to find alternatives.

00:13:23:23 - 00:13:55:22
Phil Simon
That to me, Wayne was unfathomable. Ten years ago. So progressive employers are responding to this because they realize it's just good business. That doesn't mean that you can placate employees as I said before, I think it's completely reasonable to expect people to come to the office once in a while. But I just don't think, particularly in this country, if you look at our labor laws compared to your home country, Canada, our countries in Europe that are much more employee friendly, I think it's going to be incredibly difficult to attract employees if you just say, we're giving you a paycheck now, shut up and do as you're told.

00:13:56:00 - 00:14:18:00
Wayne Turmel
Well, and there is a three beverage conversation to be had about the changing contract in the workplace. Right. This notion that for years the lip service has always been it's supply and demand. And when demand is up, you know, one side has leverage over the other. But it's been 60 years since Labor actually had any leverage.

00:14:18:02 - 00:14:39:06
Phil Simon
Yeah, it says it's funny. My masters is an industrial labor relations. I could bore you for more than three beverages on this topic, but I, I do think that a shift has taken place and that to me it's not a binary. So the pendulum will maybe swing back and forth a little bit, but I do think that employees in general and particularly talented folks will have no shortage of alternatives.

00:14:39:06 - 00:14:56:09
Phil Simon
And for you, if it's a deal breaker to only go in the office once or twice a week, you'll be able to find jobs like that from the previous book. Or maybe it was two books ago, I forget. But there was a story of a company that recruited a guy and he was thinking about the offer accepted on a Friday.

00:14:56:09 - 00:15:22:03
Phil Simon
But on Monday morning he emailed the recruiter and said, I'm sorry, I can't do this. Okay. Why you use Microsoft teams? I'm a Slack guy. To me, that is just a particular data point. But the very idea and I'm a big Slack fan or Slack for Dummies, I use it almost every day. The fact that you could say basically I like Miller Lite, not Bud Light, therefore I'm not going to watch that team no matter how much I like them.

00:15:22:04 - 00:15:37:22
Phil Simon
Does signal that the pendulum, I believe, has swung to employees, at least for the time being. And if you take a look at some of the other forces in the book, I just I'm not saying it's going to stick at 80% or 90%, but I don't think it's going to shift completely to the other way any time soon.

00:15:38:00 - 00:15:43:03
Phil Simon
But maybe generally I will prove me wrong.

00:15:43:05 - 00:16:10:16
Wayne Turmel
There are about five rabbit holes in that sense that I desperately want to go down and I'm not because I am a professional, darn it. But what I do want to do is talk about something that you spend some time on. And it's interesting to me that you broke it out as a separate item, okay? Because to me, this is part of the empowered employee thing and it's certainly important.

00:16:10:16 - 00:16:42:12
Wayne Turmel
And that is the idea of the analytics that we use to manage people and measure success and reward people. Are we are still using horse and buggy metrics and, you know, what's his face following people around in the factories in Buffalo doing time studies the idea that we're using the metrics, what's wrong with the metrics? We're using and how should we be measuring work instead?

00:16:42:14 - 00:16:47:11
Phil Simon
Oh, you want to talk about rabbit holes. That's all the time out of the way.

00:16:47:11 - 00:16:49:17
Wayne Turmel

00:16:49:19 - 00:17:14:03
Phil Simon
I think you're thinking of Frederick Winslow Taylor from that. Sam Yep. There you go. You know, by way of background, I'm not anti data. I've written books about analytics, big data, data visualization. I think that data can certainly informed decisions. But when it comes to productivity, we've got a number of problems. First off, and Rodney Malar from Vox wrote a great piece on this.

00:17:14:03 - 00:17:33:18
Phil Simon
Of course, after my book came out and it was just a month ago, it was something about how companies are obsessed with productivity, but they can't define it. So what does it mean? Does it mean being in the office? Well, that's not true because we saw during the pandemic you could not go to an office and we struggled at first with Zoom and different tools, but we were, by all accounts, productive.

00:17:33:19 - 00:17:53:22
Phil Simon
Microsoft's done some fascinating research about not only were we as productive, but as possibly more so. In fact, they coined the term second shift. People were putting in another hour or two after dinner, so they weren't get deluged in the morning with messages or they could prove that they were working hard and not watching Game of Thrones or Better Call Saul.

00:17:54:00 - 00:18:23:11
Phil Simon
So there's that. But generally speaking, and this isn't limited to the world of remote work, but I am fascinated with good hearts, lore and Campbell's lore. And to paraphrase them, they kind of overlap. But the minute that you begin measuring something, it ceases to become an effective measure. So by way of example, as a former college professor in part, I was not tenured, so I would receive an offer in part, again based on my student evals because students know what they want.

00:18:23:12 - 00:18:39:23
Phil Simon
Right? Okay, I can get my student evals up from a five to a six. On a scale of seven, I'll just make it easy. You know what, Wayne? I know you missed your assignment. What the hell? Have another crack at it and you're going to give me a higher rating If I'm a hardass and I am, I'm not going to do that.

00:18:40:01 - 00:18:58:09
Phil Simon
And you're going to give me a lower rating. But I'd argue that I'm actually doing you a favor. Now, higher education aside, once you know that they're grading you on how often you come to the office, you can come to the office and check out right. I'm pretty sure that in an era of bring your own device, you can find ways to slack off.

00:18:58:11 - 00:19:18:11
Phil Simon
Then you see companies countering that with surveillance software, particularly for remote employees. And then there are programs that you can download that will basically enter keystrokes because of course, if you're doing things you and I both know, that means you're super productive. And if you're thinking and not touching your keyboard, then you can't be doing something worthwhile. So I don't have all the answers.

00:19:18:11 - 00:19:40:12
Phil Simon
But I do think that when we tend to quantify things, and especially if you're working in a remote or hybrid capacity and we're entering things, we're using applications, you're going to be able to come up with certain numbers, but they're not necessarily effective ones. And if you tell me what the numbers are going to be, I don't have to be a rocket surgeon to figure out how to game them.

00:19:40:14 - 00:20:05:14
Wayne Turmel
Thank you so much. That's fabulous. I told you people that this would be a very high level conversation and give you what's to think about. And I hope your head hurts right now. I really do. The book, The Nine, The Tech Talk. Tectonic Forces Bet Reshaping the Workplace is an excellent, excellent read. If you want just stuff to generate your thinking.

00:20:05:15 - 00:20:45:22
Wayne Turmel
Phil, you and I have had much longer conversations. They are much deeper rabbit holes and I hope that will continue. But thank you so much for being with us and just introducing some of these topics to us. I truly appreciate it. For those of you listening, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. If you want links to Phil's book and his work and to him, if you want a transcript of this show, because so much good stuff flew by fast visit long distance worklife dot com you can also by the way, speaking of Marisa, we are currently taking pet peeves and questions.

00:20:45:23 - 00:21:12:16
Wayne Turmel
Those episodes people really seem to enjoy and you don't have any problem complaining, so get those in there. We want to hear from you if you have not yet checked out. Kevin’s and my new book, The Long Distance Team Designing Your Team for Everyone's Success. By golly, please do so. We really appreciate it. If you're listening to this, this is unlikely to be your first podcast, so you know the drill.

00:21:12:20 - 00:21:40:11
Wayne Turmel
Like subscribe, tell your friends. If you didn't like it, keep your mouth shut. And if you want to reach us on either LinkedIn or by email,, Phil Simon. Thank you so much, man. Good to talk to you. We really appreciate it. And for the rest of you, we will be back next week with another episode.

00:21:40:16 - 00:21:42:06
Wayne Turmel
Don't let the weasels get you down.


00:00:00 Introduction to the podcast and guest Phil Simon
00:01:16 Discussing the nine trends shaping remote and hybrid work
00:02:51 Focus on the dispersed workplace and its impact on organizations
00:06:12 Importance of helping individuals prepare for remote work
00:07:26 The value of in-person collaboration and social ties
00:08:47 Teaching boundaries and creating a work destination
00:09:47 Example of Cisco rethinking the office space
00:10:38 Engagement comes from creating an engaging environment
00:11:00 Conclusion on creating a positive work environment
00:12:10 The dispersed workplace and the desire for flexibility
00:16:10 Outdated metrics and measuring productivity
00:17:14 Defining productivity and the shift in remote work
00:18:23 The flaws of quantifying and gaming productivity metrics
00:19:18 The ineffectiveness of quantified numbers in remote work
00:20:05 Conclusion 

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Featured Guest

Phil Simon

Name: Phil Simon

What He Does: Workplace technology expert and author of The Nine: The Tectonic Forces Reshaping the Workplace

Notable: He also hosts the podcast, Conversations About Collaboration

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Remote leadership experts, Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel, help leaders navigate the new world of remote and hybrid teams to design the culture they desire for their teams and organizations in their new book!

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Wayne Turmel

Master Trainer and Coach for The Kevin Eikenberry Group, co-author of The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership and The Long-Distance Teammate: Stay Engaged and Connected While Working Anywhere, and trainer of remote teams for over twenty years.

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