The Future of Work

I don’t know Jacob Morgan. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but I think he suffers from being too young. Or perhaps he is just too focused on technology.

He has just written a very good article called 8 Indisputable Reasons Why We Don’t Need Offices. He has a point. 8 in fact.

After all, why, in a world of global connectivity and collaboration (and endless branches of Starbucks) do we need physical offices, especially if the work that people are doing in offices is increasingly information work that can be done anywhere in the world?

He quotes a statistic from a survey by Regus that states that of 26,000 businesses across 90 countries, 48% work remotely for at least 50% of the week. But look at the motive here. What does Regus sell? Office space for people that don’t have or need a full-time office. It is in their interest to persuade companies to downsize, much as it is in the interest of certain technology forms to push teleconferencing.

Morgan points wisely to the fact that companies save money when offices become virtual and employees save time when they are not physically moving to and from a physical workplace. There’s even an argument, not totally screwy, that employees are more productive when they work from home.

This is all good. But who really benefits from all this and what is the ultimate end result? The answer, I’d argue, is that it’s companies that benefit the most from this. Companies save money, lots of it, not simply because they can reduce the size of their physical workspaces, but because once employees are out of sight it is easier to shift them towards towards freelance and ultimately zero hours status.

Morgan is spot in in his conclusion that organisations need to implement more flexible work environments (to which I’d add contracts), but the fact of the matter is that looking just at money or even time saving is only one side of a complex coin and he, like many others, confuses efficiency with effectiveness.

Work shouldn’t just be about money. Work is also about community and meaning.
Work provides a sense of friendship and community, a type of friendship and community that can be partly enhanced but not fully replicated digitally.

More fundamentally, physical offices provide a critical boundary and balance, which is important to our sense of identity. If everywhere becomes work then work is all that we will become.

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