When former Hastings resident Christine Bullen and her two co-authors recognized that workers would hesitate to return to offices post-pandemic, they imagined a new roadmap to productivity and prosperity.
Together with Bob Johansen and Joseph Press, Bullen wrote “Office Shock — Creating Better Futures for Working and Living,” published by Berrett-Koehler on Jan. 17. It’s a book for people, companies, and communities concerned about Covid’s impact and wanting to survive its upheaval while becoming more relevant.
“This book is about abrupt, unsettling change and the fact that we now have the door open to really think about what working in offices should be in the future,” Bullen said. “Until the pandemic, that door was not open, and it can close, so we need to do this now before people fall back to their old habits. We are hoping this book provokes these conversations.”
Bullen lived in Hastings for 30 years, raising her daughters, Valerie and Georgia, with her husband, Richard. She and Richard relocated to North Carolina in 2011. Two years after he passed away in 2018, Bullen moved to Yonkers, near the Hastings border, to be near her daughters.
The idea for the book was sparked by contact Johansen had with a Swiss furniture company, USM, that was looking at how the pandemic caused people to work from home and wondered, “What does this mean for us?” USM ended up contributing funding for the research that resulted in the book.
Bullen and her co-authors interviewed thought leaders from companies, governments, nonprofits, and universities. “What was interesting was that the people who were sent home to work in good environments, with good connections, and were not overrun with children or older parents, were actually more productive than they had been in the office,” Bullen said. The authors’ research also found that those people were happier and more comfortable.
Though Bullen explains that there are reasons to work in buildings, like meeting in person, “Technology can help you meet anywhere and everywhere or have a combination hybrid office,” she said. “We are seeing work from home, or work from a café, or people going to tropical islands to be digital nomads.”
This led the authors to conclude that offices need to be designed differently. “Architects need to think about how to create spaces that support people getting to know each other when they need to. If they don’t need to, they can go somewhere else,” Bullen said.
Bullen added that technology has reached a stage where such an arrangement is possible. “If this happened 10 years earlier, it wouldn’t have worked as well,” she said.
The book is organized into three parts. Part one sets the stage by providing a background in futures thinking and how each person, organization and/or community can imagine better tomorrows. Part two goes into “Seven Spectrums of Choice,” which is what they want readers to do to create better futures for working and living. Part three introduces a “Quick Start Guide” to help readers use a mixing board and apply “futureback” thinking, which starts by looking 10 years out.
Younger people, according to Bullen, were angry about what they saw as companies caring only about profits. “They would like to see a future of work where they can feel a sense of purpose and are contributing to something larger than themselves,” she said.
The authors also found that many companies have only been thinking about their stockholders and now need to think about stakeholders, which means bringing prosperity to everyone.
When asked about artificial intelligence (AI) and the theory that technology will replace humans, Bullen said, “That’s not going to happen. We need to figure out what we do best and what computers do best and put it together.” She added, “AI is a terrible term. At a conference where this was talked about 40-50 years ago, they turned down a much better term, called Augmented Intelligence. If machines can make us do our jobs better, it’s augmented.”
Bullen and her co-authors are all associated with the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit in Palo Alto, Calif.
Bullen earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Barnard College, a master’s in management from MIT Sloan School, and a Ph.D. in technology management from the Stevens Institute of Technology. She was a consultant with Arthur D. Little, helped lead the MIT Center for Information Systems Research, and was a faculty member at the Fordham University School of Business and the Stevens Institute Howe School of Technology Management.
Johansen, who resides n Bainbridge Island, Washington, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois, then attended divinity school at Crozer Theological Seminary, and earned a Ph.D. in sociology at Northwestern University.
Press, who lives in Zurich, Switzerland, earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Carnegie Mellon and then a master’s and Ph.D. from the MIT School of Architecture. He worked for multiple architectural firms and co-founded IDeaLs at the Polytechnic Institute of Milan, Italy.
Thank you Rivertowns Enterprise for a great article about our book "Office Shock!"
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