But working remotely can feel like working alone. The friendly familiarity, collaboration and water cooler connecting that used to be possible when people shared the same physical spaces aren't naturally occurring in our new virtual workplace environments.
The third wave, happening now, is a response to isolation. A new dynamic is emerging, creating "urban hubs"- physical spaces that remote workers can share. Urban hubs give remote workers a place to go, (instead of the local coffee shop), for well-designed workspaces, meeting areas and current technology. What's different about this than the old office building model? It's down the street from your home and you're not necessarily sharing space with people from your company.
It can be argued, and it has been, that productivity wasn't guaranteed when people were expected to show up to work in offices together. The term, "presenteeism," was coined at first to describe the phenomenon of people coming to work sick just to be counted as present. The word has expanded to mean the erroneous expectation that showing up for eight hours to an office space with your colleagues will guarantee that something meaningful will emerge.
Urban hubs offer a new take on the rationale for workers inhabiting a physical space. Rather than grouping people according to their corporate affiliation, a work space becomes the hub of activity based on shared interests and objectives. Gratton describes a membership-based Tech Shop in California that provides space for novice inventors, with shared tools and equipment, populated by local creative people supporting one another. She predicts outcomes from the more than 2,000 - and growing - co-working spaces around the globe:
Take out the HBR corporate language of productivity and what does this sound like? It is the ongoing conversation we're having in the Jewish community about how to re-imagine the use of our synagogue buildings.
We built physical spaces throughout the twentieth century with a "presenteeism" understanding of Jewish community. It went like this: If people just come into the building and are present for services, school and programs, something meaningful will emerge.
We have found that this logic has not held up. I hear it from synagogue leaders who ask, "What are the newest, most creative program ideas that get people in the door?" "What can we do to get young people to come to services?" "How do we make our services more interesting?" They're watching the numbers in the sanctuary decrease and imagine that changes to what goes on in the sanctuary will bring those numbers back up.
The expectation of "presenteeism" misses the point. It is true that Judaism is best experienced and practiced in community, but defining our community and the quality of experience by how many people show up in the spaces we built is what we need to change.
This is more than merging two or three congregations into one building. We do need to accept the fact that more mergers are going to happen in the next ten years because of changing demographics. This also isn't about offering space in your current building to a chavurah or emerging kehilla.
This is about re-thinking hubs of activity and relationships. What are some examples in our kehillot?
- The leaders of three congregations in one community are exploring a vision of locating their joint religious school based on educational function, rather than choosing one synagogue location. This means looking at options that might place classes for the children in a site other than the synagogue buildings, and creating shared family experiences in all of the synagogues throughout the calendar year.
- The moving minyan: two or more kehillot collaborate and rotate minyan to various sites, rather than trying to get everyone to one synagogue building twice a day.
- Snowbird and Sunbird services: Rabbis and lay leaders travel in the winter to hold special Shabbat services for their members who spend the season in warmer cities. Or they co-sponsor summertime services in vacation areas with the synagogues in the resort areas.
- Sharing the two-year communal adult education program, Context, sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary. Collaborative partners of Context become the hub for high level, intellectually rigorous study using local scholars and resources. The Conservative kehillot in Hartford, CT, Greater Washington, DC, Middlesex County, NJ, and many others in New York, Long Island, Brooklyn, and Queens are just the beginning.
- Congregational schools are beginning to use Shalom Learning, an online platform, for their learning curriculum and family engagement.
- The adult education program on Conservative Judaism at Beth Judah in Ventnor, NJ, connected speakers from the Conservative movement, including USCJ's CEO, Rabbi Steven Wernick, by webinar to their congregants who either watched at home or viewed the recording later.
The suggestions in the Harvard Business Review article about how companies can make changes also apply to our kehillot:
- Focus on collaboration.
- Reconceive physical space.
- Tap remote talent.
- Invest in intuitive technology.
- Recognize idiosyncracy.
In a nutshell, where can we start?
Move out of the mindset that only sees people in terms of membership and participation numbers. Both are tied to the bottom line of maintaining our buildings. Look, instead, at relationships and action. Is there a group you just wish would stop wanting their own services in their homes and come to Kabbalat Shabbat in your chapel? Is there a person who has all kinds of crazy ideas about adult education? Recognize their idiosyncracies and energy. Help them take one step towards their dreams. There might be others who want to join them. Don't get in the way.
Where can people collaborate? Where are points of energy in your community, regardless of location? What kinds of technology that people use at work (Webex, Go-to-Meeting) can bring resources to your community instead of trying to bring people or speakers to your building?
No one expects anyone to sell off synagogue buildings in the next five years in favor of an online homeschooling chavurah-type Judaism. Let's recognize, though, that the presenteeism of the 20th Century doesn't work anymore, and the world is already giving us clues about where and how people want to naturally find each other in the future.