Adam Nathan, CEO of Almanac, said modern work is broken and needs to be fixed by reframing remote work, creating writing-based cultures and processes and providing enough space for the magic of human collaboration.

Nathan's approach, which was outlined on DisrupTV Episode 328, is worth a listen starting at the 40 minute mark. Here are some of the takeaways.

Work itself is broken. "It was broken before Covid but since then it's very clear that where we work has changed but how we work hasn't. Teams are experiencing a ton of burnout, a ton of chaos at work. People are just not being able to get stuff done," said Nathan.

Creating a modern work method. Nathan said Almanac set out to conduct 5,000 interviews with organizations that have mastered collaboration. The research informed Almanac's modern work method. "We largely found that regardless of what a team does, purpose of the company or location is that the teams that are working the fastest and delivering the most value work with a lot more structure, more transparency and can't wait for meetings," said Nathan.

That tired remote work debate. "I think there has been a very loud push especially in the New York Times and from what I call old white guys on Twitter to return to the office but if you actually look at the data on this remote work a percent of the workforce has actually continued to grow even after the end of the end of Covid-era restrictions in September 2022. If you look at white collar professional jobs before the pandemic about 22% of the workforce was working in a remote or hybrid fashion. Today that number is 66%. I don't love this debate between office versus remote. It's a tiring one if you think about remote work as internet work," said Nathan. He added:

"Internet work is a disruptive and inexorable trend. Just like our consumer lives have moved from shopping in person to e-commerce and hanging out in person to social media, the same thing is happening to work. Working on the internet is not going away anytime soon. I think the questions we're asking are almost all the wrong ones. Theory and data don't support this idea that life is going to return to how it was."

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Advantages of internet work. "For workers, there's obviously flexibility and freedom. You can work when you want and where you want and that gives people a lot more time to get into focus and flow to balance their lives better between work, family and friends and hobbies. I think that's why CEOs and owners are pushing back so much," said Nathan. "There's another chapter in this tension between capital and labor and who controls the leverage. Labor has gotten broad new freedoms and I think CEOs, people who own real estate and maybe some elected officials that there's discomfort with how this new normal is going to work out. There's not the same sense of control anymore over people's time and location. For the last 50 to 70 years managers have been managing my presence by butts and seats and did you attend meetings. I don't think that was at all correlated with effectiveness, growth or value delivery."

Well managed teams do well remote or in person (the office hides dysfunction). "The other silly thing is that remote is not a place--it's the absence of one. What we've seen in the data is that remote work and network really expose how teams are functioning. Well-managed teams tend to do better in remote settings because they already have good systems and structures and processes in place," said Nathan. "There's a high trust level. Teams that were dysfunctional don't have the theater of the office to cover it up, so all the dysfunction is exposed. These teams are often facing the choice of do we want to improve how we're working or revert and ignore it by going back into the office. There are bosses that clearly don't know how to operate in a distributed environment and would prefer the control an office creates."

Culture of writing. Amazon is well known for requiring employees to draft a memo before any meeting. Bridgewater is another example of an organization with high performance and a culture and decision-making process based on writing. "There's this misconception that the only way to get stuff done in stressful environments is to get everyone together, create a lot of chaos and move really fast," explained Nathan. "In the Marines slow means smooth and smooth means fast. A lot of organizations we've interviewed and observed are calm working environments. Everything feels really smooth, everyone's really calm and yet they're moving extremely fast in part due to a culture of writing."

How to get there? Nathan said high performing organizations start with a doc before a meeting. "Sometimes the doc obviates the need for a meeting. Even when there is a meeting everyone has read beforehand and commented. It makes the synchronous time they're spending more effective," he said.

Another move is to understand what recurring meetings aren't useful anymore. "What happens in organizations is that back-to-back meetings are just an accumulation of things that were once useful," said Nathan. Use documents to cancel meetings and store them so they can find answers easily.

Generative AI's impact on writing cultures. "I think the main thing LLMs are doing right now is producing fuzzy first drafts. It's the average of everything out there to give you an answer. Now we have a better chat interface that's going to get us to look over a larger amount of information much faster and produce a better outcome," said Nathan. "I think the productivity curve of what we can do with writing is to move up and into the right."

"What happens in the future is there are going to be some people who are going to really be able to exploit this technology to their advantage and some people who fall behind. Teamwork and collaboration are still a deeply human exercise. The human brain is constantly rewiring based on interactions it has with other people." 

The magic of human collaboration. "What makes collaboration so magical is we don't know what will happen when we get together to work on a problem together. We might see AI almost like a collaborator in some ways but LLMs are just looking at past information, decisions, and knowledge," said Nathan. "I think the magic of human collaboration will always be there and what we do together might be more elevated because we have better technology to automate the overhead work."