The Future Of Work Is Transient
As I was sitting in traffic the other day, wondering why I had to drive 50 miles to sit at a desk for 8 hours, meet someone in person for 30 minutes, then drive back 50 miles, in traffic in both directions, I didn’t have a revelation. I’d already spent 100 minutes in traffic on the way to work and was in the middle of spending 130 minutes in traffic on the way back from work. You see, I didn’t have a revelation because I already knew that I was wasting time. And time is not something that you can get back. But I digress.
Even though Marissa Meyer just banned “working from home” at Yahoo! (a place I worked at for a few years a while back) I think that any trend towards less working from home is simply regressive. If you think about it, we no longer need to travel to work – work travels to us. At least most work, that is. We used to have to “commute” to go to a place where our colleagues worked, spent a chunk of time working together, maybe some kibitzing, maybe some goofing around, a little lunch, more work, then we went home. Now, no matter where we are in the world, our work can easily come to us. And it is coming to us more and more rapidly. This is the future of work.
Unfortunately, both corporate and government cultures need to change to take the fullest advantage of this new world (Although it’s been here for a while, people still seem to think that telecommuting is a new idea). For corporations, face time is still significant, although it often drags down productivity, forcing employees to waste time traveling when they could be working. On the government side, they still answer the clamor for more foreign skilled worker visas, even though these companies can easily set up the prospective employee in their home country as a productive worker from here.
If I were to start a company today, no matter how huge I would want it to grow, I would never want it to be anything more than virtual. No matter what the company does, even if it works in creating physical goods, does it truly need a centralized location for most of its staff. Those are ideas from the past, IMHO. If I ran any major corporate right now, I would immediately begin deconstructing any physical space that I occupied. Anyone who could work from home would be sent home to work from there, and if I rented space, I would shut those offices down. If I owned space, I would rent it to other, less progressive companies.
People ask: what about collaboration? What about team building? How can I make sure that they are doing their jobs and not goofing off? If you’ve hired right, you will never need to ask yourself those questions. I think we can safely say that we’ve progressed to the point where a team can meet and work together well, even virtually. In many cases, teams are dispersed globally, making it fairly dumb for an employee to travel to an office, merely have conference calls with people halfway around the world, and then travel back. By now, most employees already have state-of-the-art (sometimes even more state-of-the-art facilities than their employers) in their own homes. The future of work can now be found at home.
Additionally, fairly soon, with the advent and widespread use of 3D printing, even physical goods can be created where they need to be, instead of made halfway around the world and shipped.
A lot of problems that cities are caught up in are because we still have a commuting culture: roads, public transit, offices, services, pollution, gridlock, environmental – so many issues can be directly related to the “commute culture” – if we dispense with the commuting culture, then we solve a lot of issues in one sweep.
Yet, we still cling to the physical. We still enjoy the camaraderie of being with others with who we work. But if we make it optional instead of mandatory, we truly ratchet up the productivity and make the physical connection one that we look forward to instead of one of obligation. Plus, this future of work will bring us even more serendipity.
All work, eventually, in most cases, will come to you instead of the other way around. Will you and your employer be ready for it?