Business

WFA? It’s just the new lexicon of work

Even if you can’t yet move beyond 2020’s ‘‘sleeping at the office” lifestyle, a new year at work demands, at the very least, fresh stationery, a bit of optimism and a fancier pair of elasticated trousers (check, sort of check, check).

And while 2021 will, I hope, eventually offer the chance to meet colleagues in person, in the short term it will just bring more change in the ways people are working, often remotely.

Here, then, is the new lexicon of work, words that sum up where we are heading in terms of workplace culture and practices this year. I hope you find it useful — and please tell us what I have missed.

Intentions: Young adults are apparently not making resolutions this year. It’s all about “intentionality” instead. While my daughter correctly guessed my personal intention — after getting to 5k in 2020, I want to run a 10k — the concept also applies to the workplace. After the year we’ve all had, let’s be less prescriptive about what counts as success and failure. Resolutions only set us up to fail. In other words, don’t worry about setting up that fancy Bullet Journal right now.

Fuzzier “intentions” — such as aiming to take a walk or run every workday at the same time — are often easier to turn into daily practice. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, talks about “stacking” new habits on top of existing ones, rather than making a big new resolution. So that’s lunchtimes taken care of as I train for the virtual 10k.

WFA: Working from home (WFH), or even “hybrid” work is . . . very 2020. Your new buzzword is WFA or “work from anywhere”. It’s even on the cover of the current Harvard Business Review. Beyond the home/work binary are all sorts of places where work can happen — and soon will.

This “anywhere” might be a café, a co-working space, or a “hub and spoke” offered by your employer, where central office hubs are complemented by local “spokes” in (for example) suburbs where a critical mass of staff lives. It even includes a temporary version of “colocation” (another buzzy word) where remote staff — often in the tech and start-up arena — gather together regularly, sometimes staying in a big rented house, and work together on projects for a few days or more.

Collab: short for collaboration, again stolen from Gen Z who use collab to talk about brands and designers making products together. This is my prediction for the biggest workplace trend of 2021. As we continue to be apart from each other, and those serendipitous meetings known in the Before Times as “water cooler moments” cannot happen, idea generation and co-operation has to be formalised. The bedrock of this for many teams and companies is already in place using collaborative software. Slack has become indispensable to many in 2020: Salesforce just paid a whopping $27.7bn to buy it.

But in 2021, the human side of collaboration seems certain to reassert itself. The random brilliance of corporate life will be replicated in new and imaginative ways. Here’s one: I am in an FT pilot project, linking managers in different parts of the business to talk about what we do, how we do it, and how we can collab better. Being out of our physical space might even help to break down departmental silos and look beyond the next bank of desks for friendship/inspiration/shortcuts to better work.

Asynchronous: This off-putting piece of workplace jargon is actually very useful, meaning something that is done when it suits you, and your work schedule, rather than in real time. (Meetings are “synchronous”).

It’s a word that I first heard early in the pandemic when moderating “future of work” webinars, and the best exponent I’ve come across is Jason Fried of Basecamp, a longtime champion of remote work. Asynchronous working as a concept and practice looks set to hit the mainstream in 2021, as more managers realise that remote work that replicates the rhythms of the office is often timewasting and draining. So if you are making a new year bid for more freedom and fewer meetings, this is the word to deploy.

My biggest hope for 2021, though, is that at some point we can stop living in pandemic crisis mode. How will working life change in the After Times? That’s much harder to predict.

[email protected]

Twitter: @isabelberwick

Pilita Clark returns next week




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