Bonds without Hugs

February 14, 2023

The pandemic is over… the agony, in turn… seems endless.

Throughout the world, people are in no rush (or even have no intention) to return to the insipid offices. Even the now more playful environments seem to have no effect so far.

From now on, everything will be different! Welcome, avatars! Hurray to happiness pills! Shoo, time clock apps! Let’s keep the cameras closed ;)

After tearing down the walls, all is missing is to tear down the work permits! After all, we are all tribal entrepreneurs of self, free from the labor activities taken over by the proud bits and bytes.

Yet… how about the affection?... is it in the mirror?

We are social beings, period… or semicolon?

The deep... Organizations result from socializations orchestrated by dominant leaders over a long time. Social groups shape their signs, norms, legends, values and beliefs in interactive dynamics, in which veterans educate newbies on the uses and customs of the place. Solid cultures are able to build genuine perceptions of reality, not necessarily adherent to movements beyond their frontiers. Winning organizations may be resilient and adaptable to the new imperatives, as long as the speed of change is comfortable and compatible with their desires. Changes in social and technological paradigms are always challenging, just for the generational pressures against the traditional bastions.

...and the Surface... It still is early for categorical assertions beyond passions. Yet, interaction in a community has always been and will be very decisive to strengthen bonds and relationships. In the current collective imaginary, it is assumed an organization may be developed by people spread in all corners of the world. Still, what are the success cases? It may also be argued the new generations are already socializing through digital platforms and, as such, they would be fully capable of building virtual nexus. It is a fact that large organizations interact with subcultures, whether geographical, whether departmental. Even so, there are more adherences than fragments. Here, we are not dealing with hybrid models only. After all, the ephemeral trajectories themselves already challenge the normative logics wanted by social organisms.

Times of pleasure… in front of the mirror

The Transition... A few decades ago, the ethics of duty still meant social relationships at all various spheres: from home to the firm. Hierarchical frameworks and uniforms put all in their place. Relevant changes in familial make-ups, in community dynamics, in tribal references, and in spiritual practices have caused inexorable disruptions. The sense of obedience and collective duty has been overwhelmed by individual fluidity. The twentieth-century social institutions are being, little by little, imploded by the fragmented wrath. The new ethics of pleasure develops around the self-centered perspective. At work, trinomial loyalty-respect-stability makes way for connection-expression-experience. “Come as you are!” is the new motto. Goodbye, “Work to live”; hello, “Live working!”

...and the Problematic... It’s not all roses... Neuroses will always be lurking around. The oppression by the uniform has been, gradually, replaced by the anguish to stay afloat. The solitude of the ethics of pleasure manifests itself in the turmoil of digital connections and impulses, in the distorted images. The hurry has won the eternal race against perfection. The sensation the clock is ticking faster is true. We already lost a long time ago our capacity to keep up. The fluidity of everything has also rendered obsolete the desire for monogamic careers, for long-term commitments. It has reduced the very resilience in the face of inevitable frustrations. Being in one’s nest is just another step toward hyperconnected isolation… After all, liking the couch better than the rolling chair at the shared desk is not surprising.

Connected! Phew… but where and how to touch?

The Reality... The hyper-digital paradigm connects everything to everyone. Getting connected at the blink of an eye has been really amazing. Technology, like science, is neutral by definition. Its connotations develop around the applications. It is not different with the growing use of artificial intelligence. Connection facilitates, but does not necessarily integrate. The possibilities expand, but not always are concrete. The hybrid modus operandi is enabled through countless connection platforms: from synchronous sessions to knowledge-sharing applications. Staying connected on multiple platforms increases the perception of productivity and transparency. After all, the interactivity of communication has increased.

...and the Utopia... But there is an abyss between staying and feeling connected. The profusion of virtual sessions and messages provides the contour, but not necessarily means the content. The human connection happens, somehow, through affection. Affection that presents itself in the search for belongingness, the longing for recognition, the amplitude of the collective, the energy of the encouragement, the safety of the tribe, the comfort of the mutual understanding. Digital nomads must deal with the inevitable affective weakening, with their nerves on edge. Environments without affection can be able to complete missions, but rarely do they reach their meaning. At some point, the transactional is in the void. Virtual without affection is blasé. It has no flame. It just checks the boxes.

Workers, unite… in your pajamas

The Saga... Work relationships are tense by definition: they mediate prices between strangers in structures of power. The ideal of purposeful work is, fortunately, experienced by several individuals. But it may still be considered a privilege, in the face of the countless concessions and contradictions. The decision about the workplace is yet another of those battles between firms and workers. Organizations prefer in-person environments; the professionals may disagree. People spread around virtually weaken their bonds with the employing organization. They also question more. Resist more to the uniformizing modeling process. Yet, at least in theory, they improve the quality of their daily lives. Hybrid work is a gain for workers, even if to the detriment of the employer.

...and the Hungover... Hybrid work is a great achievement of the twenty-first century. Staying home or allowing oneself to roam the world, far from the office floors, is a victory. Shedding the corporate uniforms may be cause for celebration. There is certain lucidity resulting from the distancing. Immune to the organizational trances and mantras, one may better perceive the dysfunctional nuances, the flaws in the organism. On the other hand, the same distancing may result in estrangement in relationships, superficiality in perspectives, uninterest in the collective. Accidental tourists. The same autonomy that flexibilizes the locus may also weaken the logos. It is hard to commit to marathons, even if wearing comfortable flannel pajamas. The hungover may just lie on the performance evaluation systems, notably the subliminal ones. After all, those who are not perceived, might not be remembered.

Kiss, good-bye!... and the cute mercenaries.

The Journey... Long-lasting monogamic careers are increasingly more seldom. There is a reversal of values: yesterday, a consistent and loyal professional trajectory was prized; today, an eclectic journey in several experiences and relationships is encouraged. The hybrid model broadens such possibilities. Geographical frontiers have been abstracted, OKRs on cellular units have strengthened. Stiff Structures in full implosive movement. Ever shorter and faster operational cycles have increasingly resulted in precise designs for specific missions. The jobs to be done pulverize the value chains. The DevSecOps logic itself allows for loops of continuous feedback on the operational performance of the various cells committed to microcosmic deliveries integrated by APIs in complex open systems.

...and the Crossroads... An unpretentious look at the so-called new hyper-digital paradigm would not be surprised by the déjà vu: the praised digital cells mime Toyota production cells. Nonetheless, there is something really very different: the behavior of the members of digital cells compared to the organizational construct. They are much more transactional and looser. Such contemporary mercenaries may even see themselves as relevant participants in the construction process of innovative platforms, in the creation of iconic companies. Speaking of ungratefulness is basing contemporary relationships on medieval paradigms. Expansive minds in abundant contexts do not commit to remote promises. At the same time, paradoxically, paternalism remains in fashion: previously focused on employability, now repaginated to full care.

Ahh!!… and how about Avatar Managers?

The Capital... Human capital has permanently entered the agendas of the Administration Board and Executive Committee. Hurray! In the hyper-digital paradigm, the technological innovation agenda itself is atavistically related to the people agenda. Not necessarily in traditional bonds. The monetary spiral that inflated the remunerations of expert professionals has also shifted classic concepts related to benefit packages and working conditions. New times, new demands. The most latent challenge seems to be beyond the erratic behavior of the talents who go on with their lives without attachment. The organizational inconsistency will be the great challenge in the coming decades. Fragmented and amorphous cultures are less capable of achieving long-term excellence.

...and the Human... Giving new meaning to their own human capital management should be the key mission in the same senior leadership agendas. Just like open platforms are increasingly more built in self-managed communities using universal frameworks as common language, organizations will also be more deconstructed in biomes. The path to diversity is not just outside-in, but possibly outside-out. All people management cycles must be repositioned beyond labor relationships. The goal will be the orchestration on an open plan. The deconstruction of the organizational monoliths is irreversible. The new paradigm will be more organic. The intransitive being for the transitive being. The having for the sharing. The power for the trying. People will be acquaintances increasingly more recognized in their multiple avatars. The question remains: will we be fulfilled?


Daniel Augusto Motta é Managing Partner e CEO da BMI Blue Management Institute. Doutor em Economia pela USP, Mestre em Economia pela FGV-EAESP e Bacharel em Economia pela USP. É Alumni OPM Harvard Business School. Atua também como Managing Partner da corporate venture capital WhiteFox sediada em San Francisco (EUA), como Senior Tupinambá Maverick na content tech Bossa.etc e com Membro do Conselho de Administração da Afferolab. Também atua como Diretor de Planejamento Estratégico da UNIBES e Membro do Conselho Deliberativo do MASP. Foi Membro-Fundador da Sociedade Brasileira de Finanças. Foi Professor nos MBAs da Fundação Dom Cabral, Insper, FGV, ESPM e PUC-SP. É autor de diversos artigos publicados por Valor Econômico, EXAME, VocêSA e Folha de São Paulo, e também tem três artigos publicados pela Harvard Business Review Brasil. É autor dos livros best-sellers A Liderança Essencial, Anthesis e Data Insights.