Life Is Not A Box Of Chocolates 

From our experience (and we’re certain the rest of the HR world can relate), when employees are given the chance to choose how to work things themselves, it is not often that a clear consensus can be reached. 

There are so many diverse employees with diverse tastes and preferences, so we as HR professionals must lean harder on the things that got us to where we are now and that might actually also take us to our future – with some additional flexibility. At Spotify, we believe in being transparent and giving people options is a definite advantage. But don’t mistake this for pandering to each employee’s preferences. Just as we see with our customers – a totally open database of songs often puts people in a kind of paralysis: “I can listen to anything…ANYTHING. Amazing! Great – now what should I play?” *mind goes blank*. Most human beings need some guidance even when being given autonomy.

And there’s this other big fact. Of course, we want to make sure our people are happy, content and can be at their very best, but if you just give the candy (be the “yes to everything” person), then you must be the dentist too. Giving every single person just what they want is impossible, impractical, and expensive – and in most cases will not be the right thing to do for your business, or your people.

So, what is our promise when it comes to the best workplace approach in this not so new normal? 

We strongly believe in bringing the foundations of the Swedish model with us into the new era – balance and consent. A way forward that works best for the business and our people. People-first but with business sense. Essentially, our EVP is, and has always been a reflection of this – a hybrid. It’s a combination of things that give employees the perfect balance of flexibility, employment security and job fulfilment, all within a framework that can offer guidance and growth.

Flexibility in a framework for our new workplace plan

How can we lean on our EVP, our culture and values, the foundations of where we stem from and create a new competitive Swedish Model, while not forgetting what we know as behaviourists to help us shape the workplace of the future. 

Let’s start here with a brutal fact that comes from knowing human behaviour: being human means being change averse – even those who claim to embrace change are at least a little bit change adverse at first. Those who truly, truly, 100% embrace change immediately are an anomaly. 

On top of that, we still have the notion of physical borders, with country (or sometimes even state) legislation and types of offerings that are restricted (like home and travel insurance). This is another reason we need to offer flexibility but within a framework. 

What we mean is that we simply decided to embrace what we can’t change (for now) but still offer a contract with our people that gives them flexibility, and operates within a framework that can help guide and support them.

What our people want

We carried out work from home (WFH) surveys with our band members, discovering what it actually means for the 5000+ people to be forced to work from their homes. We used the insights we gained from surveys to consider the Spotify band in three major clusters (four if we also add the people who have not joined the band yet), as follows:

Cluster A, the band members who can’t wait to get back to the office as soon as possible and want to work more or less every day in the office during traditional working hours. 

Cluster B, the majority of the band members sit here. They are the ones who are hoping for a full-blown hybrid. A distributed way of working that fits everything else that is important in life but still means coming into the office when and if that is the best solution for focus, innovation, collaboration and/or social interactions. 

Cluster C, the smallest majority of Spotify’s band that thinks not about working from home, but instead working from anywhere, and interpreting it as ANYWHERE. They want to have the full freedom to work from any part of the world, when and wherever it suits them. No one knows how this could pan out yet, but workforces that go down this road will be faced with challenges around not having a majority working together in one or two time zones, as well as with managers who have not yet considered the practicalities on how to plan work and meet common deadlines. 

Cluster D, the digital nomads that have not yet joined the band and would never ever take a job if it meant coming into an office (even if it meant having the traditional safety net that includes insurance, tax structure, salary bands and labor law as we know today). Potential Spotifiers in this group would like to join the band if they get the opportunity to have a work commitment and retain the freedom to live and work when and wherever they want, as long as they deliver content / code.

Having flexibility inside a framework means you evaluating where you are in life, and us exploring whether we can accommodate your position within one of our frameworks. Remember, it’s not a hand out a candy situation. The important thing is that we have a support, reward, insurance, tax and labour law system that can work for you.

This means also evaluating the types of contracts that could match with the clusters of band members. 

For cluster A (one of the extremes), everything in the employee contract is embedded the same way it is today. No changes there. 

For clusters B and C, this is where a hybrid can serve both groups. It’s based on the ‘Swedish Model’, and offers flexibility and ‘safety’, but within our framework. This is where we will find a majority of today’s and tomorrow’s band members.

In addition, we’re prepping for the creative producers that we think will join from Cluster D. This is the other extreme and we see that we could offer the package we also offered to clusters A, B and C, but where we grant 100% freedom and flexibility, because they are an employee they  are also taken care of from a health insurance, tax liability and rest and performance perspective. Or, alternatively, you go to the market and fix it yourself, just as a freelancer does today.

Rome was not built in a day

Back to all you history buffs. Rome was not built in a day and the conclusions from the Spanish Influenza could not be drawn until 100 years later with regards to real behaviour changes. Most likely we’ll be able to draw conclusions much faster this time for obvious reasons. However, it won’t be overnight. So, as the conclusions take some time to come out in the wash, we advise you to do your due diligence as you make up your mind how to approach the workplace of the future. Make sure that everything flies, and your approach to a new normal supports your people in an authentic and relevant way, as well as enabling you to tap into new types of talent pools and amplifies what type of employer you are. 

We have decided to lean hard on the fact that complicated and complex systems, like a truly global workplace with multiple business ideas, means it would be naive to proclaim that going back to the old normal is stupid and would bring the organisation close to death, due to change adversity. If you are serious about being a people-first company and also state that the office is dead, then you also take the stance that technology and unknown human needs and behaviours, are given more priority in your organisation (and that’s not people-first).

What took us years to build as countries, cities, communities and companies is at the core – behaviour science. And to abdicate from your forte now would be like letting this big crisis go to waste. We are proud of our past, and by also embracing today, we will be strategically positioned for the future. 

Never before has the workforce situation been equally distributed between; people, technology, and place. You are the designated driver and this is not the time to take a comfortable seat in the back or do some back seat driving.

When cities prosper, attract and grow

Why do we still believe in the office when so many others have declared their death? Because we all know what happened to Rome in the end. When the pendulum swings, it swings hard. And what used to be the most developed, flourishing and impressive society can break down, disappear and its heyday is gone.

If you use the metaphors of a city, grand or small. How and when have they grown; in numbers, in wealth, in complexity and in infrastructure? When more and more people have gathered in one place, at the same time, with a conscious understanding of what playing by the rules means, what being a good citizen is, of how to expand, and then coming up with better but more complex solutions to co-exist. 

Not having an office means missing out on so much. A place where you feel a sense of belonging. Where you meet other people with whom you share a purpose, or with whom you decide what will be accomplished, or learn from, or celebrate your success with. It’s about togetherness. By no means are we saying that meeting digitally and working digitally is not a real thing and you can prosper then too. We are only stating that it is not binary, it’s not ones and zeros or black or white. It’s a polarity, it’s having an office and working from anywhere.

If there is any truth in the fact that creativity, ideation, innovation, collaboration and development in people, causes cities and societies to form, why would we take away the place where this community is grown from? It’s the simplest form of a club blazer, the membership card to access the rare thing we all used to have…an office. Especially when it’s now possible to also offer flexibility for those who subscribe to a 100% digital nomad setup. Those who never want to use and claim space in what we will call an office, but for the rest of us, will never again confuse with ‘work’.