Intersections and roundabouts

At an all-hands session recently, we were talking about the vaccine, plans to return to work and how the whole future of work might pan out.

I got asked a question – “are you OK to have individuals work from anywhere”?

This was a tricky one. Work from home got total sanctification in 2020 as offices moved at hyper-speed to our bedrooms. Homes got upgraded broadband, ergonomic furniture and digital upgrades to be able to accommodate our new reality. 12 months on – WFH is the new default setting for work.

I thought about the question for a few seconds. “Work from anywhere” is not the same as WFH.

No. What I can do from the comfort, safety and security of my home – I can’t do from a café or a beach or a mountain chalet. Much of Control Risks’ work involves assessments, investigations, crisis management discussions and presentation of intelligence findings – much of which are of a discreet nature. Clients have only just started accepting hearing all of these highly confidential insights over a Zoom or Teams screen. They will not – and should not have to – accept jittery internet connections and indiscreet surroundings while we discuss all that we found out about their business or their prospective partner!

I said as much. Actually, I said – “its your call, really.” We are all adults. We know exactly what the demands of our job are – and how we need to set ourselves up to be able to deliver competently to our clients.

I was borrowing from Aaron Dignan, who – in his landmark book, Brave New Work – speaks about the opposing polarities of intersections and roundabouts.

There was a time when most companies preferred intersections – with clear red / amber / green signals that tell people what to do, helped define plans and drive projects. There is an inherent lack of trust in this system of functioning – at least in the ability of the individual to do the right thing by the company & its business. Compliance is key and control is welcome. The polar opposite of this system is a roundabout – no traffic signals here, so people are trusted to detect the flow of vehicles as they navigate through. There is less reliance on infrastructure (and controls) to keep things in check, people rely on their skills & abilities and make judgement calls about how they transition through the rounabout.

Most companies are now a mix of these two “operating systems” (as Dignan refers to them) – and in the pragmatic world of business, there is need for both.

Candidly, 2020 made this even more the case… as most companies transitioned to a “tight-loose-tight” model of work delivery. People were given tight objectives to deliver, trusted to work on them in a loosely controlled framework (that allowed them to accommodate their home & personal obligations), as long as they were able to keep to tight delivery timelines.

I thought the “work from anywhere” was more of a roundabout moment – a moment where a few rules were established for people to follow, an expectation was established that a flow of work (traffic) had to be delivered and that there was a “right (of) way” to deliver it. The rest was left to the judgement of the bright and talented people we hire to be able to deliver the best to our clients.

What do you think?

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Amit Narayan
Partner & Managing Director, South Asia at Control Risks
Amit manages consultants who design, develop and implement risk-mitigation strategies for companies across South Asia. He has advised clients on political and regulatory risk, pre-investment risk, reputational DD, forensic investigations, public policy and stakeholder mapping. Amit has worked in Edelman in India and Burson-Marsteller in Singapore. He has also worked in-house at Vodafone in Singapore and The Walt Disney Company in Hong Kong.

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