Hybrid work isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. Here’s how managers can better understand and support different preferences and attitudes across their hybrid teams.
The conversation between business leaders and employees about long-term hybrid work plans is a complex one. We’re trying to answer some really big questions: How is our in-person time best used? What tools do people need to succeed, wherever they are? How do we build a sustainable hybrid system?
As we strive to address these big-picture challenges, managers overseeing day-to-day operations are struggling through a messy middle ground. Every day, they’re tasked with guiding different types of employees in an entirely new (and often shifting) work environment that affects individuals differently. Managing hybrid work today can feel like trying to cross a bridge that’s still under construction.
To understand how hybrid work is affecting people, we commissioned a global survey with Economist Impact. One of its central findings was that 77% of hybrid workers agree that their managers need more specific training on managing hybrid teams. To help address this training gap, we took a deep dive into the Economist Impact research and coupled our findings with proven best practices at Google. With the right tools and guidance, hybrid teams can be successful and drive impact together, no matter where teammates work.
Discovering the four types of hybrid workers in your organization
Economist Impact recently categorized employees into four segments based on their relationship to hybrid work: evangelists, pragmatists, fair-minded, and undecided. Interestingly, employees did not fall into categories based on neatly predictable criteria like role, seniority, or industry. Instead, the primary driver was more personal: how hybrid work affects their everyday lives. The study found that feelings about hybrid work are often determined by factors like need for child care, length of commute, and personal work styles.
Here’s a look at the four types of hybrid workers identified by Economist Impact, coupled with tips for managing each one.
The evangelist: Happy with hybrid. They want to sustain the current model.
As you might guess from their name, the evangelists (24%) are the most optimistic about hybrid work and typically very satisfied with the policies, technology, and social dynamics already in place. Many work fully off-site. At Google, we have long had distributed teams who are central to our organization, so we recognize many hybrid work evangelists in our midst by their enthusiasm, productivity, and loyalty. The system is working for them.
The questions we are always looking to answer are: how do we make sure that our most satisfied employees stay that way, and how can we tap into their enthusiasm to help their colleagues see the benefits of a hybrid structure? Here are a few ideas:
Empower them to keep working in a way that supports their natural productivity, using centralized tools like Google Drive for easy collaboration and shared calendars so coworkers can clearly see their schedules and availability.
Invite them to share their best practices company-wide by creating and moderating Google Spaces dedicated to hybrid work tips, work-from-home hacks, and more.
Keep them engaged through short Google Meet check-ins on a quarterly basis, with the agenda focused on how hybrid work practices are functioning and whether improvements can be made.
Offer continuing support by making sure they have the right technology, especially if they work fully off-site. Ask: “Is technology helping them stay in the mix across all the ways and places that hybrid work happens?”
The pragmatists: Optimistic, but facing challenges. They need to be heard.
The largest segment identified by Economist Impact were pragmatists (39%), a group who is optimistic about hybrid work, but experiencing significant challenges with it. Their sentiment can be summed up as, “Yes, but …”. Meaning that they want hybrid to work, and they want to be a part of making it work, but they don’t think it’s working well… yet. Pragmatists feel that their organization’s new policies don’t incorporate enough employee input and are more likely to feel these policies are unfair.
Pragmatists are also concerned with blurred work-life boundaries. This demographic includes workers who have less location and/or time flexibility, so they may not be experiencing significant benefits of a “flexible” workplace. Here are some ways to support pragmatists:
Gather input by creating an anonymous survey using Google Forms. Ask what’s working or not about hybrid schedules, team processes, technology tools and training, work-life balance, etc. Repeat these surveys at regular intervals to ensure that pragmatists’ voices continue to be heard.
To improve flexibility while ensuring collective team work, agree on “core work hours” in which teams determine daily hours when they will typically be online and meetings will take place. Offer flexibility around the “non-core” hours for focused individual work or personal needs such as medical appointments or taking children to school.
Enhance transparency and shared understanding across the team about each others’ preferences and schedules using Calendar features like working location and focus time.
Enable teams to communicate and collaborate across locations and time zones through shared comments in Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
The fair-minded: Feeling good, hoping for continued cultural change. They want to improve the dialogue.
Most concerned about employee wellbeing, fairness, and inclusion, the fair-minded (23%) report an overall positive impact of hybrid work on their lives. Whereas the pragmatists express a “Yes, but…” sentiment, the fair-minded express “Yes, and…”. They like where this is going, and they want more. Over the long term, they are hoping for greater flexibility in their location and work schedule. They believe that better communication and collaboration will strengthen the culture of trust in the workplace and benefit everyone. Here are strategies for managing the fair-minded:
Foster social connection by adopting platforms specifically built for inclusivity and get creative in using them – it’s OK to have fun! Choose thematic backgrounds or break into small groups for a quick icebreaker before a meeting.
Build an inclusive environment by providing opportunities to bond at in-person events devoted to mentoring, discussion, and socializing.
Keep people informed via a “hybrid-work hub” on Google Spaces where management can share the latest policies and employees can ask questions.
Strengthen the culture of trust by shifting toward impact-oriented performance evaluations.
The undecided: Craving connection, direction, and better technology. They need to hear from you.
At 13%, the undecided may represent the smallest number of respondents, but they’re a group that need significant support. Why are they undecided? Overall, it’s because they’ve yet to experience significant benefits from flexible work. They’re more likely to be at organizations that have not issued formal hybrid policies, so they’re working in uncertain environments.
This group also reports higher rates of technology challenges, suggesting that they haven’t been equipped with the right tools to connect, collaborate, and communicate remotely. And finally, many are frontline workers who have suffered from limited social interactions or extra strain during the pandemic that has affected their mental health.
With so many challenges, it’s not surprising this cohort is the least confident about the future. Strategies for meeting the needs of the undecided include:
Clarify your hybrid policies through active communication. Consider hosting regular “re-onboarding” video calls with small groups to make sure everyone understands hybrid policies and gets training on new processes or tools.
Strengthen their sense of belonging with clear, inclusive updates on company wide projects and achievements via Google Meet video conferencing. Use the Q&A function so employees can ask questions and everyone can see answers, or conduct live polling to survey a specific topic. Follow up your meeting with an email recap for those who could not attend.
Help teams communicate and collaborate better with instant communication tools like Spaces in Google Chat, which keeps conversations about scheduling, shared tasks, and files together.
Let’s make it work
As leaders, it’s important to understand and acknowledge your team members’ different experiences of hybrid work. Do you know which of the four types your employees fall into? Taking the time to engage with them and learn their preferences allows you to shape policies while also making decisions that help the organization get work done. A thoughtfully planned hybrid work structure can adapt to individual needs, connect distributed workforces, and, ultimately, strengthen your organization. While our global shift to hybrid work was born out of necessity, we can use it to provide opportunity for every type of worker.
With the rise of the gig economy and with many companies adopting flatter, more flexible organizational structures, now is the perfect time to refocus on what good leadership looks like. Because, in our rapidly changing workplaces, leadership will apply to more people than ever before. You may be overseeing a project that requires you to coordinate several team members. Or you may be a gig worker collaborating with other gig workers.
Or you may be occupying a traditional management role. Whatever your job title, this precious ability to bring out the best in people will be a vital part of success.Of course, being a good leader really requires us to polish up multiple skills at once. Here are ten skills that I think are essential for leaders – with a few pointers on how to develop them.
1. Motivating others
The ability to motivate others is all part of inspiring people to be the best they can be. So how can you better motivate others?
· Ensure people know how their role contributes to the company’s vision. That their work matters, basically.
· Be clear on what you need people to do, why, and when. But, importantly, give people the autonomy to accomplish those tasks their way.
· Show your appreciation and celebrate success.
2. Fostering potential
Great leaders look for potential, not performance. Here are three ways to foster potential:
· Don’t fall into the trap of getting people to think and act like you. Encourage them to think and act like them.
· Let people know that it’s okay to fail sometimes. This is all part of inspiring people to take risks, step outside their comfort zone and test new ideas.
· Don’t let people grow complacent. Encourage them to develop their skills and think about the next stage of their career, whatever that may be.
3. Inspiring trust
What makes a leader trustworthy? The following behaviors are a good start:
· Being ethical. This means being honest and transparent, keeping promises, and generally making sure you don’t say one thing and then do another.
· Making your values clear and, of course, living those values.
· Standing up for what you believe in.
4. Taking on and giving up responsibility
Good leaders take on responsibility, but they also know when to let go of responsibility and delegate to others. When doing this, try to:
· Play to the strengths of those around you and allocate responsibility accordingly.
· Ensure people have the knowledge, resources, and tools they need to succeed.
· Decide how you’ll monitor progress without micromanaging. For example, you can agree on how the person will report back to you and how often – as well as the best way for them to raise any questions.
5. Thinking strategically
Strategic thinking requires leaders to take a wider view, so they can solve business problems and make a long-term plan for the future. To enhance your strategic thinking skills:
· Remember the difference between urgent and important. Urgent fire-fighting tasks can suck up a lot of your time and energy, leaving very little bandwidth for those things that are important from a big-picture perspective but not urgent. Constantly remind yourself of your priorities, and manage your time accordingly.
· Use critical thinking to gather data and find solutions to your most pressing strategic questions. For example, “Where will our growth come from in three or five years’ time?”
· Don’t rely on assumptions or gut instincts when answering such questions.
6. Setting goals and expectations for everyone
Setting goals is a great way to drive performance. But have you considered a more dynamic way of setting goals?
· Instead of the traditional, top-down approach (where leadership sets strategic goals, then managers set goals for teams and individuals), you might like to consider the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) approach.
· With OKRs, leadership sets some strategic OKRs for the business, then each team and individual designs their own OKRs that contribute to achieving the company’s strategic OKRs.
· OKRs should be simple and agile. Forget annual goal-setting; OKRs are typically set on a monthly or quarterly basis.
Good leaders are able to give and receive feedback, both positive and negative (or, as I prefer to call it, constructive). When it comes to giving people constructive feedback:
· Don’t put it off. You don’t want to overwhelm someone with a loooong list of everything they’re getting wrong. Instead, have a process in place for regular catchups, where you can chat through progress and give feedback.
· Don’t dilute constructive feedback with praise. While it’s important to regularly give people praise, I wouldn’t do it at the same time as constructive feedback. When you sandwich negative comments with a positive comment on either side, there’s a risk the person may only hear the good stuff.
· Be specific, not emotional. Just treat it as a straightforward conversation, using specific, concrete examples instead of opinions or emotions.
8. Team building
A good leader is a bit like a football manager in that they have to pick strong players who perform different roles and then shape those players into a cohesive unit. As part of this:
· Remember, each person will bring their own unique skills and experiences, be motivated by different things, have different working styles, and so on. Embrace this rather than trying to get everyone to behave the same way.
· Model the behaviors you want to see: connecting as human beings, showing an interest, listening to each other, treating people with respect and dignity, and supporting one another.
· Give feedback and reward a job well done.
If you show up with a negative “this won’t work, that thing sucks, why do we bother” kind of attitude, it’ll soon spread throughout your team. Here’s how to lead from a place of positivity:
· Think carefully about the language you use, verbally and in writing. Use words with positive connotations – turning a “problem” into an “opportunity” being a prime example.
· Celebrate successes, big and small. Highlighting the little wins frequently can be just as impactful as sporadically celebrating the big wins.
· Resist the urge to complain in front of your team. As Tom Hanks says to his band of soldiers in Saving Private Ryan, “Gripes go up, not down. Always up.”
For me, being an authentic leader is a key part of building trust. So as well as being ethical (see earlier), you’ll want to:
· Practice self-awareness. A good leader is aware of their weaknesses as well as their strengths.
· Be open about those weaknesses rather than trying to hide them.
· Bring your whole self to work, as opposed to having one persona for work and one outside of work.
LocalCentric is a new app that helps local businesses improve their online reputation and get more leads, sales, and profit. The app uses artificial intelligence to monitor and respond to online reviews, helping businesses keep their reputation positive
LocalCentric is an online review and reputation management solution designed to assist businesses/multi-location agencies in monitoring and responding to reviews and improving their online reputation. You can now start a full-blown brand management agency that tells local businesses what’s working, what’s not, and what to do about it.
How It Works:
Simply enter a keyword and this AI-Assisted Software’s Deep Search Algorithm gets into actions mode and finds you thousands of businesses (in any niche you select) that desperately need your help.
These are businesses that consistently get bad reviews online & have no one to monitor/respond to such reviews. These are businesses that do not have even a Google My Business listing.
Just contact these clients as they are most likely to pay you for your services… saving you headaches, time, money & other resources you’d have spent on dead leads!
LocalCentric Is The FIRST EVER A.I. Assisted Local Business Brand Management & Lead Generation Platform On JVZoo That Helps Local Businesses Monitor And Respond To Reviews…Improving Their Online Reputation + Find Laser Targeted Leads You Can Sell Your Brand Management Services To…
It Is The World’s #1 A.I. Powered Local Business Brand Management Platform. You Can Now Start A Full-Blown Brand Management Agency That Tells Local Businesses What’s Working, What’s Not, and What To Do About It.
In the details, It’s an online review and reputation management solution designed to assist businesses/multi-location agencies in monitoring and responding to reviews and improving their online reputation.
LocalCentric will obviously help your business grow by leaps & bounds. But don’t forget that it can also help you kickstart a brand new method of earning money.
Simply search for businesses that are desperately looking for Brand & Online Reputation Management Services using our built-in Lead Gen tool. Contact them & show them what you can do for them… and get paid every month for managing their online reputation.
Take a look at the kind of money people are charging for such services on Fiverr, UpWork, etc. Charge a monthly or an annual fee… for helping local businesses monitor and respond to reviews… and
improving their online reputation
Increasing their sales & profits
And even building a list of reviewers that may want to hear from them
LocalCentric gives you complete control over your & your client’s brand image with real-time and extensive assessment of your & your client’s brand’s online perception.
Use LocalCentric to easily engage with consumers thoroughly, to obtain a competitive advantage, and to prevent crises.
Actively monitor mentions of your business (or of your client’s business) on websites and social media and respond to any negative or misleading remarks… totally hands-free.
LocalCentric SaaS Platform makes it easy for anyone regardless of their technical skills, to BOOST the Social Proof Authority of any website by showing up real customer reviews on any website from any niche out there. Nearly 95% of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase decision.
First let’s take a look at what you will get inside
A cloud-based software that finds and extracts all customer reviews from the top online reviews platforms known
You get to follow a step by step blueprint with “LocalCentric local method”
Done for you email campaigns to help you sell reputation management services
Access their top 100 local business niches that convert well and gives you the best results
The complete outsourcing cheatsheet for when you need help with clients
And more surprise bonuses (you’ll find out as soon as you join)
There are a lot of powerful features packed into this futuristic app including first to market feature like… Video review campaigns using QR code trigger. Users can Setup video review campaigns that get triggered with a QR code that can be printed on product packaging.
By simply scanning the QR code users can record a video review and submit it. They can even share the video review on social media or post it as a widget on their websites
Check Out LocalCentric’s Powerful Features
Find Businesses That Desperately Need Brand Management
Simply enter a keyword and our AI-Assisted Software’s Deep Search Algorithm gets into actions mode and finds you thousands of businesses (in any niche you select) that desperately need your help.
Complete Review Management with Unparalleled Control and Visibility
Connect Google My Business (GMB), Facebook, Yelp, TrustPilot, Capterra, Amadeus, Foursquare, etc.
Easily monitor and respond to reviews in real-time, improve local search engine rankings, track performance, enhance your reputation, and drive additional sales.
GMB & Facebook Control
Less than 10% of businesses take full advantage of all GMB tools to improve search discovery and achieve higher map rankings.
Bulk Upload & Schedule Google & Facebook Posts
Talk directly to clients in the search results via Google and Facebook Posts. Share updates, offers, events, etc. to inform and engage customers — driving website visits, phone calls, and walk-in traffic.
10X Competitor Reviews
Access ratings, comments, and brand responses for up to 10 competitors for each of your locations. Compare comment trends for products and services, track trending topics, and evaluate custom categories.
Deep Performance Insights Across Your Business
View insights for… searches, maps, driving directions, phone calls, website visits, brand vs. indirect queries, and photo counts & engagement by country, state/region, city/location… and more.
Enterprise-grade access control allows you to scale your local optimization efforts to the entire organization.
Video review campaigns using QR code trigger
Setup video review campaigns that get triggered with a QR code that can be printed on product packaging. By simply scanning the QR code users can record a video review and submit it.
Automated Review Campaigns
Set various feedback to customers’ reviews based on their rating for a specific period of time.
Use the LocalCentric to effortlessly manage reviews across all your locations. Reviews are automatically retrieved daily.
Access insights from Google My Business for all your locations in a single dashboard with powerful grouping and filtering.
Respond to reviews with personalized messages or leverage saved replies to provide a consistent approach.
Secure an understanding of exactly what your customers are doing in Google before they reach your web properties.
Need to distribute yesterday’s negative review scores to 200 managers? Set workflows to socialize reputation control.
Save, share, distribute, download, and schedule reports across all data sets and locations.
Access up to 2 years of customer reviews for every location and up 18 months of Local Search Insights.
Build integrations from LocalCentric to your existing customer support and Social Media platforms.
Email autoresponder integration
Capture leads of reviewers and add them to your email autoresponder so you can market to them over and over again
Built for Scale
Enterprise-class user rights management to support companies with tens of thousands of locations across the globe.
This Artificial Intelligence Software allows anyone to display eye grabbing and beautiful Review cards in front of their visitors, to boost conversions, sales and profits overall!
In other words, with LocalCentric you get the power to turn any underperforming web page, into a high converting and authority inspiring website that makes it impossible for any visitor not to trust and purchase within their first visit.
Yes, it’s that simple. With LocalCentric, not only you are able to show of your positive reviews from the most important sources that customers trust, but also offers you the ability to BOOST your reviews on top of converting visitors to long time customers.
The story of the modern web is often told through the stories of Google, Facebook, Amazon. But eBay was the first conqueror. One weekend in September 1995, a software engineer made a website. It wasn’t his first. At 28, Pierre Omidyar had followed the standard accelerated trajectory of Silicon Valley: he had learned to code in seventh grade, and was on track to becoming a millionaire before the age of 30, after having his startup bought by Microsoft. Now he worked for a company that made software for handheld computers, which were widely expected to be the next big thing.
But in his spare time, he liked to tinker with side projects on the internet. The idea for this particular project would be simple: a website where people could buy and sell. Buying and selling was still a relatively new idea online. In May 1995, Bill Gates had circulated a memo at Microsoft announcing that the internet was the company’s top priority. In July, a former investment banker named Jeff Bezos launched an online storefront called Amazon.com, which claimed to be “Earth’s biggest bookstore”. The following month, Netscape, creator of the most popular web browser, held its initial public offering (IPO).
By the end of the first day of trading, the company was worth almost $3bn – despite being unprofitable. Wall Street was paying attention. The dot-com bubble was starting to inflate. If the internet of 1995 inspired dreams of a lucrative future, the reality ran far behind. The internet may have been attracting millions of newcomers – there were nearly 45 million users in 1995, up 76% from the year before – but it wasn’t particularly user-friendly. Finding content was tricky: you could wander from one site to another by following the tissue of hyperlinks that connected them, or page through the handmade directory produced by Yahoo!, the preferred web portal before the rise of the modern search engine.
And there wasn’t much content to find: only 23,500 websites existed in 1995, compared to more than 17m five years later. Most of the sites that did exist were hideous and barely usable. But the smallness and slowness of the early web also lent it a certain charm. People were excited to be there, despite there being relatively little for them to do. They made homepages simply to say hello, to post pictures of their pets, to share their enthusiasm for Star Trek. They wanted to connect. Omidyar was fond of this form of online life. He had been a devoted user of the internet since his undergraduate days, and a participant in its various communities. He now observed the rising flood of dot-com money with some concern.
The corporations clambering on to the internet saw people as nothing more than “wallets and eyeballs”, he later told a journalist. Their efforts at commercialisation weren’t just crude and uncool, they also promoted a zombie-like passivity – look here, click here, enter your credit card number here – that threatened the participatory nature of the internet he knew. “I wanted to do something different,” Omidyar later recalled, “to give the individual the power to be a producer as well as a consumer.” This was the motivation for the website he built in September 1995. He called it AuctionWeb. Anyone could put up something for sale, anyone could place a bid, and the item went to the highest bidder. It would be a perfect market, just like you might find in an economics textbook.
Through the miracle of competition, supply and demand would meet to discover the true price of a commodity. One precondition of perfect markets is that everyone has access to the same information, and this is exactly what AuctionWeb promised. Everything was there for all to see. The site grew quickly. By its second week, the items listed for sale included a Yamaha motorcycle, a Superman lunchbox and an autographed Michael Jackson poster. By February 1996, traffic had grown brisk enough that Omidyar’s web hosting company increased his monthly fee, which led him to start taking a cut of the transactions to cover his expenses. Almost immediately, he was turning a profit. The side project had become a business.
But the perfect market turned out to be less than perfect. Disputes broke out between buyers and sellers, and Omidyar was frequently called upon to adjudicate. He didn’t want to have to play referee, so he came up with a way to help users work it out themselves: a forum. People would leave feedback on one another, creating a kind of scoring system. “Give praise where it is due,” he said in a letter posted to the site, “make complaints where appropriate.” The dishonest would be driven out, and the honest would be rewarded – but only if users did their part. “This grand hope depends on your active participation,” he wrote.
The value of AuctionWeb would rely on the contributions of its users. The more they contributed, the more useful the site would be. The market would be a community, a place made by its members. They would become both consumers and producers, as Omidyar hoped, and among the things they produced would be the content that filled the site. By the summer of 1996, AuctionWeb was generating $10,000 a month. Omidyar decided to quit his day job and devote himself to it full-time. He had started out as a critic of the e-commerce craze and had ended up with a successful e-commerce company. In 1997, he renamed it eBay. Ebay was one of the first big internet companies. It became profitable early, grew into a giant of the dot-com era, survived the implosion of the dot-com bubble, and still ranks among the largest e-commerce firms in the world.
But what makes eBay particularly interesting is how, in its earliest incarnation, it anticipated many of the key features that would later define the phenomenon commonly known as the “platform”. Ebay wasn’t just a place where collectors waged late-night bidding wars over rare Beanie Babies. In retrospect, it also turned out to be a critical hinge in the history of the internet. Omidyar’s site pioneered the basic elements that would later enable Google, Facebook and the other tech giants to unlock the profit potential of the internet by “platformising” it.
None of the metaphors we use to think about the internet are perfect, but “platform” is among the worst. The term originally had a specific technical meaning: it meant something that developers build applications on top of, such as an operating system. But the word has since come to refer to various kinds of software that run online, particularly those deployed by the largest tech firms. The scholar Tarleton Gillespie has argued that this shift in the use of the word “platform” is strategic. By calling their services “platforms”, companies such as Google can project an aura of openness and neutrality. They can present themselves as playing a supporting role, merely facilitating the interactions of others.
Their control over the spaces of our digital life, and their active role in ordering such spaces, is obscured. “Platform” isn’t just imprecise. It’s designed to mystify rather than clarify. A more useful metaphor for understanding the internet, one that has guided its architects from the beginning, is the stack. A stack is a set of layers piled on top of one another. Think of a house: you have the basement, the first floor, the second floor and so on, all the way up to the roof. The things that you do further up in a house often depend on systems located further down. If you take a shower, a water heater in the basement warms up the cold water being piped into your house and then pipes it up to your bathroom.
The internet also has a basement, and its basement also consists largely of pipes. These pipes carry data, and everything you do further up the stack depends on these pipes working properly. Towards the top of the stack is where the sites and apps live. This is where we experience the internet, through the pixels of our screens, in emails or tweets or streams. The best way to understand what happens on these sites and apps – on what tech companies call “platforms” – is to understand them as part of the broader story of the internet’s privatisation.
The internet started out in the 1970s as an experimental technology created by US military researchers. In the 80s, it grew into a government-owned computer network used primarily by academics. Then, in the 90s, privatisation began. The privatisation of the internet was a process, not an event. It did not involve a simple transfer of ownership from the public sector to the private, but rather a more complex movement whereby corporations programmed the profit motive into every level of the network. A system built by scientists for research was renovated for the purpose of profit maximisation. This took hardware, software, legislation, entrepreneurship. It took decades. And it touched all of the internet’s many pieces.
The process of privatization started with the pipes, and then worked its way up the stack. In April 1995, only five months before Omidyar made the website that would become eBay, the government allowed the private sector to take over control of the network’s plumbing. Households and businesses were eager to get online, and telecoms companies made money by helping them access the internet. But getting people online was a small fraction of the system’s total profit potential. What really got investors’ capital flowing was the possibility of making money from what people did online. In other words, the next step was figuring out how to maximize profit in the upper floors, where people actually use the internet. The real money lay not in monetizing access, but in monetizing activity.
This is what Omidyar did so effectively when he created a place where people wanted to buy and sell goods online, and took a cut of their transactions. The dot-com boom began with Netscape’s explosive IPO in August 1995. Over the following years, tens of thousands of startups were founded and hundreds of billions of dollars were invested in them. Venture capital entered a manic state: the total amount of US venture-capital investment increased more than 1,200% from 1995 to 2000. Hundreds of dot-com companies went public and promptly soared in value: at their peak, technology stocks were worth more than $5tn.
When eBay went public in 1998, it was valued at more than $2bn on the first day of trading; the continued ascent of its stock price over the next year made Omidyar a billionaire. Yet most of the startups that attracted huge investment during these years didn’t actually make money. For all the hype, profits largely failed to materialize, and in 2000 the bubble burst. From March to September, the 280 stocks in the Bloomberg US Internet Index lost almost $1.7tn. “It’s rare to see an industry evaporate as quickly and completely,” a CNN journalist remarked. The following year brought more bad news. The dot-com era was dead.
Today, the era is typically remembered as an episode of collective insanity – as an exercise in what Alan Greenspan, during his contemporaneous tenure as chair of the Federal Reserve, famously called “irrational exuberance”. Pets.com, a startup that sold pet supplies online, became the best-known symbol of the period’s stupidity, and a touchstone for retrospectives ever since. Never profitable, the company spent heavily on advertising, including a Super Bowl spot; it raised $82.5m in its IPO in February 2000 and imploded nine months later.
Arrogance, greed, magical thinking and bad business decisions all contributed to the failure of the dot-com experiment. Yet none of these were decisive. The real problem was structural. While their investors and executives probably wouldn’t have understood it in these terms, dot-com companies were trying to advance the next stage of the internet’s privatisation – namely, by pushing the privatization of the internet up the stack. But the computational systems that could make such a push feasible were not yet in place. Companies still struggled to turn a profit from user activity.
In his analysis of capitalist development, Karl Marx drew a distinction between the “formal” and “real” subsumption of labour by capital. In formal subsumption, an existing labour process remains intact, but is now performed on a capitalist basis. A peasant who used to grow his own food becomes a wage labourer on somebody else’s farm. The way he works the land stays the same. In real subsumption, by contrast, the labour process is revolutionised to meet the requirements of capital. Formerly, capital inherited a process; now, it remakes the process. Our agricultural worker becomes integrated into the industrialised apparatus of the modern factory farm.
The way he works completely changes: his daily rhythms bear little resemblance to those of his peasant predecessors. And the new arrangement is more profitable for the farm’s owner, having been explicitly organised with that end in mind. This is a useful lens for thinking about the evolution of the internet, and for understanding why the dot-coms didn’t succeed. The internet of the mid-to-late 1990s was under private ownership, but it had not yet been optimised for profit. It retained too much of its old shape as a system designed for researchers, and this shape wasn’t conducive to the new demands being placed on it. Formal subsumption had been achieved, in other words, but real subsumption remained elusive.
Accomplishing the latter would involve technical, social and economic developments that made it possible to construct new kinds of systems. These systems are the digital equivalents of the modern factory farm. They represent the long-sought solution to the problem that consumed and ultimately defeated the dot-com entrepreneurs: how to push privatisation up the stack. And eBay offered the first glimpse of what that solution looked like.Ebay enlisted its users in its own creation. They were the ones posting items for sale and placing bids and writing feedback on one another in the forum. Without their contributions, the site would cease to exist.
Omidyar was tapping into a tradition by setting up eBay in this way. In 1971, a programmer named Ray Tomlinson invented email. This was before the internet existed: Tomlinson was using its precursor, Arpanet, a cutting-edge network that the Pentagon created to link computers across the country. Email became wildly popular on Arpanet: just two years after its invention, a study found that it made up three-quarters of all network traffic. As the internet grew through the 1980s, email found an even wider reach. The ability to exchange messages instantaneously with someone far away was immensely appealing; it made new kinds of collaboration and conversation possible, particularly through the mailing lists that formed the first online communities.
Email was more than just a useful tool. It helped humanize the internet, making a cold assemblage of cables and computers feel inhabited. The internet was somewhere you could catch up with friends and get into acrimonious arguments with strangers. It was somewhere to talk about politics or science fiction or the best way to implement a protocol. Other people were the main attraction. Even the world wide web was made with community in mind. “I designed it for a social effect – to help people work together,” its creator, Tim Berners-Lee, would later write.
Community is what Omidyar liked best about the internet, and what he feared the dot-com gold rush would kill. He wasn’t alone in this: one could find dissidents railing against the forces of commercialisation on radical mailing lists. But Omidyar was no anti-capitalist. He was a libertarian: he believed in the liberating power of the market. He didn’t oppose commercialisation as such, just the particular form it was taking. The companies opening cheesy digital storefronts and plastering the web with banner ads were doing commercialisation poorly. They were treating their users as customers. They didn’t understand that the internet was a social medium.
Ebay, by contrast, would be firmly rooted in this fact. From its first days as AuctionWeb, the site described itself as a community, and this self-definition became integral to its identity and to its operation. For Omidyar, the point wasn’t to defend the community from the market but rather to recast the community as a market – to fuse the two. No less a figure than Bill Gates saw the future of the internet in precisely these terms. In 1995, the same year that Omidyar launched AuctionWeb, Gates co-authored a book called The Road Ahead. In it, the Microsoft CEO laid out his vision for the internet as “the ultimate market”: “It will be where we social animals will sell, trade, invest, haggle, pick stuff up, argue, meet new people, and hang out.
Think of the hustle and bustle of the New York Stock Exchange or a farmers’ market or of a bookstore full of people looking for fascinating stories and information. All manner of human activity takes place, from billion-dollar deals to flirtations.” Here, social relationships have merged so completely with market relationships as to become indistinguishable. The internet is the instrument of this union; it brings people together, but under the sign of capital. Gates believed his dream was at least a decade from being realised. Yet by the time his book came out, AuctionWeb was already making progress toward achieving it.
Combining the community with the market was a lucrative innovation. The interactions that occurred in the guise of the former greatly enhanced the financial value of the latter. Under the banner of community, AuctionWeb’s buyers and sellers were encouraged to perform unpaid activities that made the site more useful, such as rating one another in the feedback forum or sharing advice on shipping. And the more people participated, the more attractive a destination it became. More people using AuctionWeb meant more items listed for sale, more buyers bidding in auctions, more feedback posted to the forum – in short, a more valuable site.
This phenomenon – the more users something has, the more valuable it becomes – is what economists call network effects. On the web, accommodating growth was fairly easy: increasing one’s hosting capacity was a simpler and cheaper proposition than the brick-and-mortar equivalent. And doing so was well worth it because, at a certain size, network effects locked in advantages that were hard for a competitor to overcome. A second, related strength was the site’s role as a middleman. In an era when many dot-coms were selling goods directly – Pets.com paid a fortune on postage to ship pet food to people’s doors – Omidyar’s company connected buyers and sellers instead, and pushed the cost of postage on to them.
This enabled it to profit from users’ transactions while remaining extremely lean. It had no inventory, no warehouses – just a website. But AuctionWeb was not only a middleman. It was also a legislator and an architect, writing the rules for how people could interact and designing the spaces where they did so. This wasn’t in Omidyar’s plan. He initially wanted a market run by its members, an ideal formed by his libertarian beliefs. His creation of the feedback forum likely reflected an ideological investment in the idea that markets were essentially self-organising, as much as his personal interest in no longer having to mediate various disputes.
Contrary to libertarian assumptions, however, the market couldn’t function without the site’s ability to exercise a certain kind of sovereignty. The feedback forum is a good example: users started manipulating it, leaving praise for their friends and sending mobs of malicious reviewers after their enemies. The company would be compelled to intervene again and again. It did so not only to manage the market but also to expand it by attracting more buyers and sellers through new categories of goods and by expanding into new countries – an imperative that shareholders imposed after eBay went public in 1998.
“Despite its initial reluctance, the company stepped increasingly into a governance role,” writes the sociologist Keyvan Kashkooli, in his study of eBay’s evolution. Increasing profitability required managing people’s behaviour, whether through the code that steered them through the site or the user agreements that governed their activities on it. Thanks to network effects, and its status as both middleman and sovereign, eBay easily turned a profit. When the crash of 2000–01 hit, it survived with few bruises. And in the aftermath of the crash, as an embattled industry, under pressure from investors, tried to reinvent itself, the ideas that it came up with had much in common with those that had formed the basis for eBay’s early success.
For the most part, eBay’s influence was neither conscious nor direct. But the affinities were unmistakable. Omidyar’s community market of the mid-1990s was a window into the future. By later standards it was fairly primitive, existing as it did within the confines of an internet not yet remodelled for the purpose of profit maximisation. But the systems that would accomplish that remodelling, that more total privatisation of the internet, would do so by elaborating the basic patterns that Omidyar had applied. These systems would be called platforms, but what they resembled most were shopping malls.
The first modern shopping mall was built in Edina, Minnesota, in 1956. Its architect, Victor Gruen, was a Jewish socialist from Vienna who had fled the Nazis and disliked American car culture. He wanted to lure midcentury suburbanites out of their Fords and into a place that recalled the “rich public social life” of a great European city. He hoped to offer them not only shops but libraries and cinemas and community centres. Above all, his mall would be a space for interaction: an “outlet for that primary human instinct to mingle with other humans”. Unlike in a city, however, this mingling would take place within a controlled setting. The chaos of urban life would be displaced by the discipline of rational design.
As Gruen’s invention caught on, the grander parts of his vision fell away. But the idea of an engineered environment that paired commerce with a public square remained. Gruen’s legacy would be a kind of capitalist terrarium, nicely captured by what urban planners call a “privately owned public space”. The systems that dominate life at the upper end of the stack are best understood, to borrow an insight from the scholar Jathan Sadowski, as shopping malls. The shopping malls of the internet – Google, Facebook, Amazon – are nothing if not privately owned public spaces. Calling themselves platforms, they are in fact corporate enclosures, with a wide range of interactions transpiring inside of them.
Just like in a real mall, some of these interactions are commercial, such as buying clothes from a merchant, while others are social, such as hanging out with friends. But what distinguishes the online mall from the real mall is that within the former, everything one does makes data. Your clicks, chats, posts, searches – every move, however small, leaves a digital trace. And these traces present an opportunity to create a completely new set of arrangements. Real malls are in the rental business: the owner charges tenants rent, essentially taking a slice of their revenues. Online malls can make money more or less the same way, as eBay demonstrated early on, by taking a cut of the transactions they facilitate.
But, as Sadowski points out, online malls are also able to capture another kind of rent: data rent. They can collect and make money from those digital traces generated by the activities that occur within them. And since they control every square inch of the enclosure, and because modifying the enclosure is simply a matter of deploying new code, they can introduce architectural changes in order to cause those activities to generate more traces, or traces of different kinds. These traces turn out to be very valuable. So valuable, in fact, that amassing and analysing them have become the primary functions of the online mall. Like Omidyar’s community market, the online mall facilitates interactions, writes the rules for those interactions, and benefits from having more people interacting with one another.
But in the online mall, these interactions are recorded, interpreted and converted into money in a range of ways. Data can help sell targeted advertising. It can help build algorithmic management systems that siphon more profit out of each worker. It can help train machine learning models in order to develop and refine automated services like chatbots, which can in turn reduce labour costs and open new revenue streams. Data can also sustain faith among investors that a tech company is worth a ton of money, simply because it has a ton of data. This is what distinguishes online malls from their precursors: they are above all designed for making, and making use of, data. Data is their organizing principle and essential ingredient.
Data is sometimes compared to oil, but a better analogy might be coal. Coal was the fuel that powered the steam engine. It propelled the capitalist reorganization of manufacturing from an artisanal to an industrial basis, from the workshop to the factory, in the 19th century. Data has played a comparable role. It has propelled the capitalist reorganization of the internet, banishing the remnants of the research network and perfecting the profit engine. Very little of this vastly complex machinery could be foreseen from the vantage point of 1995.
But the arrival of AuctionWeb represented a large step toward making it possible. The story of the modern internet is often told through the stories of Google, Facebook, Amazon and the other giants that have come to conquer our online life. But their conquests were preceded and prefigured by another, one that started as a side project and stumbled into success by coming up with the basic blueprint for making a lot of money on the internet.
As the pandemic threat recedes and more employers call workers back to the office, new data from a survey of 10,000 workers describes a “troubling double standard” in the realities that employees and their bosses face, with non-executives showing much steeper declines in measures of work-related stress, anxiety and work-life balance.
Future Forum, a research consortium on the future of work launched by Slack and other partners, released on Tuesday its latest Pulse survey of 10,000 knowledge workers globally. The consortium, which also spearheads a working group of executives to discuss future workplace issues, found that non-executives are nearly twice as likely as top managers to work from the office every day, and their work-life balance scores are now 40% worse than executive respondents. Workers also reported more than twice the level of stress and anxiety as top bosses.
There was also a sharp divide between the employee experience scores of workers who have full-time in-office mandates and those who have hybrid or remote options, with declines twice as steep for full-time office workers when it comes to work-life balance and 1.5 times as steep for scores on stress and anxiety, the survey found.
“Executives are embracing flexibility while they’re telling everybody else to come back to the office,” says Future Forum vice president Sheela Subramanian. “What we’re seeing is just a lot more rigidity, more top down mandates happening and executives are not necessarily setting that model from the top.”
Meanwhile, Subramanian says, the overall declines in employee experience scores since its research last quarter come as some companies are requiring workers to revert to pre-pandemic approaches to office attendance. The new survey found that 34% of knowledge workers have gone back to working in the office daily, the largest share since the consortium began its research in June 2020.
Yet recent weeks have seen a wave of companies launch their hybrid returns to office, with many introducing policies that range from a few days a year to a few days a week onsite. At Overstock.com, most workers’ in-office mandates will be limited to a few days in the spring and late summer. Apple is easing workers in with a requirement of one day a week, which will grow to three days a week starting in May. Google has also said it expects workers to be in the office three days a week.
At Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which officially reopened its offices April 4, about 80% of its workforce is designated as hybrid, with no mandate for the number of days they should be in the office. These employees, as HPE CEO Antonio Neri wrote in a recent blog post, will be “working primarily remotely but encouraged to come into the office for collaboration.”
The company’s chief people officer, Alan May, says that HPE is doing more to articulate when those collaboration times might be. For instance, the tech firm asks leaders to meet with their employees every couple of months for targeted career, strategy and performance-metric discussions.
“We’re encouraging all of those to occur face-to-face where possible, in the office,” May tells Forbes. Collaboration events, meetings with customers and meetings designed to recognize workers should also be done in person, he says.
Yet at the same time, there’s “certainly not an edict or a quota on the number of days people have to show up,” he says.
Still, May says, they’re trying to make the office a draw, with a new headquarters in Houston that includes make-at-home meal kits to take home, large outdoor screens for movies, onsite health and fitness facilities and a pop-up “makerspace” with equipment like 3-D printers for workers to dabble in their own projects or attend workshops with peers.
Of the “makerspace,” May says, “it’s an additional amenity that I think, frankly, is a lot more thoughtful than just another foosball table.” People are excited to be back on the new campus together, but that doesn’t mean “they suddenly jumped back in five days a week,” he says. “I think those days are gone.”
“Actually I don’t think you come together to work. You do the work remotely. You come together to build social bonds.”
Future Forum’s Subramanian agrees being flexible doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no role for the office. Despite all the focus on where people will be working, their new survey showed that when employees are expected to work may be even more important to workers than where. While 79% of respondents say they want location flexibility, 94% say they want to be able to choose the hours they work.
When making plans for coming together in person, she says, companies should create team-level agreements for a set of core hours and be “really intentional about why you’re getting together—rather than ‘you need to come into the office so I know that you’re working and responding to my messages quickly.’”
“Intentional” is exactly the word Scott Farquhar, Atlassian’s cofounder and No. 123 on our 2022 billionaires list, used when describing his software company’s strategy recently. In an interview with Forbes, Farquhar said details are still being hammered out, but he expects the direction to be that employees who don’t live near one of the company’s offices will travel about four times a year for what he calls “intentional togetherness.”
He says he doesn’t call it working together “because actually I don’t think you come together to work. You do the work remotely. You come together to build social bonds.” When people come together, “I think it does look much more like a conference you go to.”
At Atlassian, the company allows people to work anywhere as long as three criteria are met: They’re legally allowed to work there, the company is legally allowed to employ them in that location, and the time zone works for their team, wherever people are based. Farquhar said about 10% of the company’s U.S. employees have moved states over the past 18 months, and 44% of its new hires in the U.S. in the past year live two or more hours from one of its main office locations.
Subramanian says it’s critical for companies with hybrid policies to set “behavioral guardrails,” as it’s “very easy for things to become inequitable.” That goes for executives, too. Ben Langis, head of workplace of the future at State Street, which has announced a hybrid work plan, says the giant asset manager has asked senior leaders to model the expectations it has for employees around working hybrid, and offers managers training on this new approach to work. “Everyone has to realize this is a large social experiment,” Langis says.
At Atlassian, where its Trello team has always had a remote-first approach to Zoom calls, if one person is remote, everyone else is join calls that way, too. That includes Farquhar: He once flew in from Australia for a town hall meeting at Trello’s offices but conducted it from a phone-booth sized room since some employees were dialing in remotely.
“I call it the Brady Bunch mentality,” he says. “Everyone has their own little box.”