Julie Clow is the SVP of Global People Development at Chanel, author of The Work Revolution: Freedom and Excellence for All, and co-founder of workrevolution.org. Julie earned her Ph.D. in Psychology and started her career as an instructional designer producing custom training solutions for large-scale clients. She joined Google in 2006 and spent five years there focusing on team effectiveness, leadership and management, and organizational culture, primarily for engineers. During her tenure, she discovered the power of freedom and autonomy for creating a thriving workplace, which served as the inspiration for her book. You can connect with Julie here: workrevolution.org | Twitter | Facebook.
1MFWF: Why do we need a “Work Revolution”?
Julie: The corporate world is a relatively recent phenomenon, having emerged in the last couple hundred years. However, we’ve lulled ourselves into believing the ways organizations are typically run, with top-down hierarchical leaders and plenty of rules to keep workers in line, are the only ways to keep order, turn a profit, and remain viable. Plenty of companies have come along to prove this wrong. Google is perhaps the most famous, and I had the good luck of working there for five years. The level of innovation borne by empowerment and utter respect and trust of employees was the tipping point for me in seeing how organizations can be run in a way that respects both the humans that work in organizations and the need to make money.
Newly formed organizations are quick to adapt this new way of working, but so many older and more established organizations have yet to acknowledge and move towards this new model. I am one of the many voices advocating for a new way to work, a new way to organize, and a new way to create vibrant communities of people who choose to work together towards common goals to make the world a better place, one business idea at a time.
1MFWF: It can be very hard to shake the notion that an “ideal worker” is someone who grinds away longer and harder than everyone else. But you make a great analogy in your book that helps clarify why this model is misguided – would you share for our readers how work relates to surfing?
Julie: Gladly! I learned to surf as an adult, which gave me the unique vantage point of seeing surfing for the many metaphors it offers for life. Primary among them: the best surfers work the least, but somehow find the biggest and best waves to ride. They work the least because they’ve learned how to paddle efficiently, and they know how to take off on the wave, balancing perfectly their position on the board, position against the approaching wave, and speed of take-off. They find the biggest waves because they can read the horizon, see where the waves are breaking, know from deep experience where the “bowls” are in the topography of the ocean floor, and can position themselves perfectly to be in line for the best waves that come through.
Amateurs, on the other hand (which I know well given I have been one!), chase after every little wave. They paddle furiously and make little progress, usually missing the waves because they aren’t positioned correctly or chased after a wave that was too small or too weak. Sometimes they make the wave and it peters out shortly after take-off, and as they paddle back, they gape with envy as the best surfers catch the big ones that followed the weak waves.
In work terms, we might look at the amateurs and marvel at how much work they do! We might remark about the long hours they put in, how late or early they arrive in the office, and how quickly they respond to emails. But this is misguided. We need to think more about working less and having bigger impact. We need to become deeply experienced to see the big wave and know when to put in the the work to catch it, given the payoff being so much bigger than a few little ones. If we focus on impact, rather than the activities related to work we typically track, we’d become so much more effective, but also able to sustain our energy for the moments it really counts.
1MFWF: You are a self-described “evening person.” How has your internal clock impacted your views on the workplace?
Julie: Being acutely aware of my inability to function in the mornings led me to question early-morning forced schedules. In my first job, I had to arrive no later than 9:00 a.m. each day, which required a commute of well over an hour, which meant I was forced to get up at 6:30 a.m. every day. I was miserable. I was more than happy to work late each day; in fact, this is when I had a burst of energy and felt always like I was shutting down my computer just as the flow of ideas was rolling. The set time schedule was silly because the work I was doing didn’t require me to be in the office the exact same hours as my colleagues. Having some overlap was good, but I started becoming resentful of the meaningless rules of the workplace that made it easy to “manage” people but had little to do with the actual quality of work.
I suppose questioning inflexible work hours led me to question the rest of the rules that didn’t make sense. Working at Google allowed me to confirm my suspicions that the rules could be broken, and anarchy would not ensue.
1MFWF: You were inspired to write this book in part by your positive experiences as an employee at Google. While Google embraces the concept of schedule flexibility, historically they have not been supportive of telecommuting. Do you think they might be missing part of the work revolution by not embracing remote work?
Julie: I think the jury is still out on telecommuting. Can people be super productive at home? Absolutely, 100 percent yes. Can an organization create a strong organizational culture with a vibrant community of people exchanging ideas through random interactions and collisions when everyone is at home? Still today, not so much (maybe in a few years, technology will change this as collaboration tools continue to evolve). From an organizational perspective, you lose the free exchange of ideas, the casual exchanges and conversations that lead to new ideas and innovation. From an employee perspective, you get the convenience of working from home, but you sacrifice interaction with inspiring colleagues from whom you can learn from and form close bonds. For some organizations or teams, working from home might very well be the best solution, given the kind of work they are doing. However, for organizations that wish to be innovative and agile, telecommuting creates a barrier that is very difficult to overcome. The emergence of co-working spaces, to me, is strong evidence that people largely prefer to be around other people for inspiration and simple human interaction.
That being said, working from home a day here and there is highly effective in restoring energy and creating space to think outside of the disrupters of the typical office environment. Google policies never precluded a day at home as you needed, whether to wait for the cable guy or to get a quiet day of work in solitude. In fact, people were incredibly generous with one another, trusting each other to manage their own time, schedules, and energy for their own personal preferences and needs.
1MFWF: You start your book by saying that change should be easy. But in your conclusion, you note that fear is likely what’s holding us back. How can we get beyond this fear to embrace a new, better world of work?
Julie: Test and iterate. I talk about this in my book as well, but whenever there is a big hurdle or a big problem to solve, start small, make a change that is small enough, where failure is no big deal, and see how it works. Learn from it, and follow your successes to make slightly-bigger changes in line with what worked. Eventually, through trial-and-error, it’s easy to make big changes in way that is guaranteed to work, given the changes are based on evidence of success.
But the most important part is simply taking the first step.
Learn more about The Work Revolution: Freedom and Excellence for All.
photo credit: Julie Clow