What we can learn from bees about work

Alex Butler wonders whether humans can learn new ways of working from honey bees.

I am a beekeeper. Not a very good one, but I’d argue that you never stop learning from bees. And as I observed them recently, watching their awesome ability to communicate, working seamlessly together – all for the greater good of the colony, I wondered what we could learn from them.

Workers’ cooperatives are not a new thing.  Indeed, there is a fine history of mutuals, credit unions and cooperatives that rose out of the Industrial Revolution, and the increasing mechanization of the economy. It transformed society and threatened the livelihoods of many workers giving rise to labour and social movements which tried to address some of those imbalances.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We are already seeing a resurgence of co-operative model in its modern form.  Indeed, we are considering the very same model for KindredHQ.

But back to the bees.  What can we learn from the way bees organize themselves to create the ideal model for the new working economy?

Unlike humans, bees seem to be able to organise complex social interactions without any command and control. Despite our best efforts to second-guess them, they seem to adapt to facilitate community defence (wasp attacks), environmental control, food production and manufacturing, reproduction and bringing up their young.

frame with honey bees on itAt the heart of this is a pattern of shared social behaviours. Basically, it’s a case of all for one and one for all. Watch any colony for a few minutes and you will witness the Mexican wave communication behaviours between them. The most memorable is the waggledance, where a bee that has found a good source of forage (nectar and pollen) wiggles it’s bottom in a figure of eight movement and flaps its wings in the direction of the food source. In other types of communication, the bees carry pheromones around the hive by grabbing hold of each other and shaking.

What is wonderful about this behaviour is that the colony manages to work seamlessly without having a leader.  The Queen Bee is too busy laying eggs and being regal to issue commands you see. In fact, bees don’t really do command and control.

And that’s why they offer such a good model for us in the new working economy. They are very good at self-organising in a way that works for mutual benefit.  Here are 5 lessons we can learn from bees about how we could organise ourselves to make sure everyone succeeds.

1.     One for all, and all for one

Bees are the ultimate in team players. They work together so closely that if one bee is suffering or failing the others step in for the greater good of the hive. That’s why you won’t see a drop in productivity because of one bee.

2.     Pollination – share the love.

Those of you who work for themselves know the value of sharing knowledge, because you get twice as much back. When bees go foraging, they also pollinate our crops and the whole cycle of life continues.  So think about what you have to offer and who might benefit. Don’t think about being rewarded for it. You will be, in time.

3.     Girl power

I’m talking about feminine values rather than about girl bees being better than boy bees.  Most of the bees in the hive are girl worker bees, and they are responsible for mhoneyaking the hive work like a colony. The traditional ‘feminine’ values of collaboration, relationship building, sustainability and balance are evident in the hive and should be in the way we do business. We wrote about it here.

4.     Communication

Now, more than ever, it’s vital for us to stay connected to each other and communicate in better ways than we did before. That’s the only way that we can be individuals, but enjoy the benefits of working as a group.  They used to say knowledge is power. Well that’s as true now as it has ever been.

5.     Work effectively

‘Busy as a bee?’ This is about working smartly, not by the hour. Working for yourself means that you are in charge of your own time, so you get to decide what working rhythms work for you. Despite all that stuff about procrastination, nothing can beat the motivation that comes from doing something that will truly make a difference rather than working towards a goal that your team have long ago lost sight of.  Believe me. When you are doing something that really matters – particularly if it’s for the common good, you’ll be on fire!

Who is Alex Butler

Hello, I'm Alex Butler and I founded the KindredHQ community and blog back in 2011 after I re-started a freelance career. I LOVE freelancing and I wouldn't swop the freedom, control and joy of working for myself for anything. But I realised how much I missed the company and energy of other people - of having a team around me. So, I got a few people together one day with our laptops, a jar of coffee and some jelly babies and we sat and worked together one afternoon. We've been doing that every week in London, UK since then! I am still 100% freelance and I like to share the everyday highs and lows of being a freelancer here on the blog.

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