The Flipped Workplace [Baum]

Well, not quite as literally as that but still…

One of the things I’m most grateful for in my AltSchool experience has been learning to look for solutions in the progressive education domain for problems in the organization design domain. 

Granted, there is still much to fix in our current education system. We talk such a big game about innovation, especially in Silicone Valley, but the “science of learning” has had much more breakthroughs and progress over the last two decades than the “science of working”. I’d also guess that at any given moment there are more experiments in learning differently than there are in working differently. 

Therefore my immediate reaction to Allison Baum’s 

Now is the time to implement the flipped workplace at scale

was “Duh. How come nobody else saw the parallels sooner?”. 

In the workplace, office space design and remote work continue to be hot button issues with plenty of media debate around them, and thankfully, a small trickle of credible academic research that’s starting to surface some interesting insights. While some companies opt for a more extreme perspective of either eliminating remote work altogether or being 100% distributed, most companies try to find a healthy medium between the two. At the core of the debate is the tension between individual work, which is location agnostic and benefits from an environment that is optimized differently by different individuals, and collaborative work, which benefits greatly from co-location and consistent environment design that fosters serendipitous interactions and collaboration. While both types of work are critical for business success, typical organization and space design force a trade-off between the two. 

Now comes Baum’s a-ha moment: Guess what? This challenge is not limited to the work environment, it’s also an issue in the classroom. Effective learning requires both individual work and collaborative work, so learning institutions have grappled with the same tension for decades now. One solution, implemented in multiple variations in some institutions in the “flipped classroom” model. Here it is in a nutshell: 

And in Baum’s own words: 

Instead of listening to lectures in class and doing homework at home, flipped learners watch lectures and read at home and then use class time to ask questions and practice applying their learning. Teachers are no longer instructors; they are coaches. Peers are no longer distractions, but collaborators.

You may already be connecting the dots and seeing the parallels but Baum paints an even clearer picture for us: 

Productive individual work is done outside of the office, on your own time, in your own place, at your own pace. Consequently, the office transforms into a space purely dedicated to meeting people, asking questions, brainstorming, and making unexpected connections. Liberated from enforcement of time-based productivity, managers don’t need to be babysitters. Instead they are coaches, enablers, and facilitators focused on unlocking each employee’s unique value to the entire organization.

The “flipped workplace” seems like a great way to thoughtfully navigate the tension between the poles, rather than collapse the solution towards one of them and lose all the benefits of the other. And Baum does a great job making the case for that:

A flipped workplace is better for both employers and employees because it optimizes for productivity, not presence. A universally accepted flexibility of structure makes true diversity possible by accommodating the varying styles, strengths, and constraints of employees. Balancing remote work with in-person collaboration ensures cultural cohesion, creating an environment of momentum and trust when in the office.

The Flipped Workplace [Baum]

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