Issue #45: Cultivating Belonging at Work

"You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it." – Grace Lee Boggs

We now approach the end of the most February-like January if that makes sense. In contrast to the exuberant hopefulness of January, February usually feels like a cold slog through quicksand, showing that one of its few positive aspects is its brevity. Instead this January has been full of anticipation not unlike the dark foreboding of a trailer for a horror movie or Sisyphus gearing up to push that boulder one more time. Dramatics aside, the Building Belonging at Work series has been a bright spot for me.

For those of you who’ve haven’t had the opportunity to participate, whether you are stuck in the slog or in a tricky time zone, I decided to devote this issue to the ideas and insights shared to date and offer ways that you can contribute asynchronously.

The first session featured a simulation game called “100 Ways Anything Can Be Different.” This game helps overcome the cognitive barriers to imagine the future, warming up your brain and stretching your futures thinking muscles to practice divergence and creativity.

In the second session, we started identifying the building blocks of futures thinking: drivers and signals. Drivers are linear forces of change, identified across a range of arenas. We often use the heuristic STEEP to ensure we have a comprehensive view of the landscape: social, technological, economic, ecological, and political factors. Signals are small or local innovations with the potential to scale size, impact and/or geographic distribution. We combined trios of unrelated signals to imagine possibilities that could emerge at the intersections of those combinations.

A few of the possibilities that arose:

  • Cafeteria and sanitation workers are the next VCs as trash becomes treasure with the rise of waste as currency and growing calls for environmental stewardship.

  • The workplace accommodates grief rituals and enhances spiritual well-being as part of a human-first approach to work.

  • We pair consent with care to enable physical touch at work that addresses physical and psychological safety

In the third session, we revisited signals of change, turning our attention to the unintended consequences of a disruption mainstreaming. With student debt cancellation, we could have a world with more art and more space to work through grief and drama as a community. With universal fare-free public transit, the car loan market fails but we could divert policing resources to foster care and reducing domestic violence.

The next two sessions will center on building proto-forecasts of the future of belonging at work in preparation for the main event of creating scenarios in later sessions. If you’d like to join in, RSVP for any of the upcoming sessions.

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Read below for some of the themes and questions that have arisen over the first three sessions.

Main themes

  • Belonging at work consists of a centuries-long battle between focusing on the individual versus the group or system

  • In boom times, the individual reigns supreme. When crisis or technological breakthrough arises, there are brief windows that value the genius and contributions of groups or teams. Once stability arises, the pendulum swings back to favor the individual.

  • Decentralized work and workplaces are on the rise with freelancing, gig work, and remote work. More human needs are being decoupled from work, beginning with benefits and extending to education, housing, income and shelter.

  • Our physical communities face a dichotomy, suffering from neglect due to transience even as those who stay double down on planting roots and building stronger local relationships.

  • Theories and practices including emergent strategy, teaming, and self-management theories such as teal organization act as a counterbalance to the atomized workplace with small groups of workers coming together for a given project or product

  • Inclusion and legitimization of historically marginalized groups occurs along nominal lines with DEI programs, largely without significant impact or accountability for ongoing harassment and harms. Human resources gains newfound importance and influence in the race for talent, especially as they grapple with the complexity of identity and motivation.

  • These injustices give rise to movements led by worker power and voice that often cross industry and role boundaries, bringing up non-traditional alliances. The newest battlefront is caregiving. All labor becomes valued and valuable, leading to an end of exploitative arrangements such as prison labor and unpaid internships.

  • As the objective of work shifts from extraction to play and shared purpose, caregiving for others and the environment becomes a source and outlet for valued labor that unlocks connection and creative potential.

  • As the measure of success of a workplace moves away from productivity with the blending of work and life, workplaces focus on optimizing human potential and fulfillment. Income inequality falls as lifelong learning and building emotional intelligence mainstream. Workplaces focus on how they support prosocial behavior.

  • Potential pattern-disrupting innovations on the horizon include universal basic income (UBI) and alternative hedonism, care infrastructure, and increasing compute power and AI, and decentralized modes of organizing in the workplace and community

Key questions

  • How does the definition and experience of work change if it is not required to sustain life?

  • What changes in organizational structure and governance either accelerate or impede belonging at work?

  • How could the workplace become a sanctuary or source of reinforcement of caring, mental and emotional well-being and restorative justice?

  • How can the design of our economic systems inform incentives that reinforce connection and high quality human relationships?

  • Who and what are we compensating for?

  • What is the “post-career” world of work? What is the future of perks?

How to contribute

Here are a few ways that you can contribute to this work even if you can’t attend the sessions.

  1. Identify drivers. Watch this video to learn the basics of futures thinking including drivers. Add drivers to the Miro board. Drivers are inputs for developing scenarios and will also play a key role in the activities of session 6 on February 22.

  2. Share signals. Watch this video to learn more about signals. Signals are vital building blocks for creating both scenarios and artifacts from the future. You can submit individual signals using this form: https://bit.ly/belongingatworksignals

  3. Highlight gaps. What else are we missing from the themes and questions shared above? What are the tradeoffs or new connection points that we need to be aware of? Comment below with your thoughts!