Thoughts on the Future of Work

Lately I’ve been following Penelope Trunk’s thoughts on the future of work, as well as Richard Florida’s thoughts on the future of cities  (See also All About Cities, an excellent blog on…cities!).  Add to that Jamais Cascio’s thoughts on the Metaverse, and it’s a lot of food for thought.

 

Here are Penelope’s predictions:

 

1.) The end of gender disparity
2.)
The end of the stay-at-home parent
3.)
The end of the grind
4.)
The end of “work friends”
5.)
The end of office life
6.)
The end of consulting
7.)
The end of hierarchy
 

I’m not so sure.  Coming as I do from Pittsburgh, a conservative town, most of this stuff is FAR from reality.  Even with Gen Y coming in to the workplace, very little has changed.  And most of the X’ers I know just adapt – indeed, are co-opted – into the conservative culture.  Five days in the cube, with extra hours when necessary.  No special perks or cool offices.  And everyone goes home at the end of the day and work and home are completely separate arenas, as far as friends, anyway.  Believe me, hierarchy is alive and well here.  Perhaps that’s part of the reason we have outmigration.

Perhaps in tech firms it’s different, but as far as I can see in the engineering industry and the banking industry nothing has changed here.

 

When it comes to parenting and work, most households I know have both parents working full time jobs.  A few, like mine, have one parent working while the other stays home.  We pay the price in that we can’t afford some of the things that others can – for example, we’re still in an apartment although we’re saving for a house.  It also leads to friction since the stay at home parent feels like they work more than a full time job and can’t understand why the wage-earning parent wants to relax in the evening since they don’t get a chance to relax.

 

I want to explore this more in the coming days.  Telecommuting is rare here (as a regular practice, anyway) since most employers are conservative Boomer types.  Gil Schwartz wrote an article in Men’s Health Best Life magazine where he demolishes the idea of telecommuting.  He questions why he would want an employee that doesn’t want to be in the office.  It’s a bit tongue in cheek, and totally opposed to Penelope and Ryan/Ryan’s Gen Y thoughts, but it rings true to me, at least here in Pittsburgh.

 

What are your thoughts?  Do you see a shift to more telecommuting?  Do you see a blending of work life and home life?  Are your friends at work and your friends at home the same or separate?  Is your organization flat or pretty hierarchical?  Let me know in the comments!

Scott

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Future of Work

  1. I don’t see a significant shift at all to full time telecommuting anywhere. I do, however, see a shift toward more flexible working conditions and hours. The big 4 accounting firms offer this flexibility as a means to attract and retain good people (especially family-oriented employees, particularly women). People can set their own schedules as long as the work gets done and key meetings are attended. This inherently allows for more work-life balance because people can choose to work on reports after the kids have gone to bed, for example, freeing up time to spend with the kids when they’re awake.

    Also, when given a choice, most people don’t choose full-time telecommuting. Here’s some evidence: I read a report recently about Capital One’s workplace program that allows a significant portion of workers to choose between 100% telecommuting, flex hours and work spaces without an office, or a dedicated office (but no flex options). If I remember right only about 8 % chose telecommuting as detailed in a recent report. The majority chose to be “mobile” with laptops, blackberries, iPods (for listening to key updates) — and no dedicated office. The mobile people just grabbed a space (usually in a shared lounge-like workspace) where they needed to be (and near whom) when at headquarters (some also might choose to telecommute one day per week). Bank of America has a similar program and similar results – few are telecommuting.

  2. Wendy:

    Thanks for the comment!

    I’ve noted the flex time in many companies tends to be very INflexible (e.g., core hours are 9 – 4, with leeway to come in early or stay late). If there’s an hour lunch, taking a half hour is frowned upon. And if you leave before 5, you’re considered to not be putting in the time, even if you come in at 6 AM.

    Mostly boomers, anyway. It’s going to take a change in generations – although many X’ers seem to adapt to the system instead of changing it…

  3. I absolutely think most of Penelope’s predictions will come to fruition. I think Xers have more power as to the direction the workforce is taking that we give them credit for. Boomers lack the tech skills and are really too busy talking about how they are revolutionizing everything (which they are not) and the Gen Y’s are just too young at this point. I think Xers want a new way to work and we’ll get it.

    The Xer adaptation is not so much a giving in to Boomers as much as a technique or strategy to dealing with them and functioning within organizations led by them.

    My boss, who is a Boomer, is VERY forward thinking. Ten years ago he sent home all his senior staff to telecommute. He says we have about four years to use telecommuting as a way to attract the best talent before it becomes the standard. He wrote a book about it called The Nine Shift (the first chapter is available at http://www.nineshift.com).

    Anyway, I know it’s hard to visualize a new way to work before it actually happens – but back when I was in college (early 90s) I NEVER would have been able to grasp that 10 years later EVERYONE would have a cell phone – and cell phones would be part of an integrated media. The same is true here.

  4. Scott,

    I agree with at least one of Penelope’s points, simply because the tax code, school system, and many other more subtle factors are directing us hence: the end of the stay-at-home parent. In only the last few years, half-day kindergarten has vanished, and the recent credit crunch / gas price double-whammy is only going to force more women — even those who would otherwise want to stay at home — into the work force. When that happens, it forces salaries down, including those of men, forcing their wives to work, etc., etc.

    Another, related prediction: the end of the more-than-two-kids family. As you also know my wife, I know better than to share these less pleasant predictions with her, but if you poke around on the web much, you’ll see many voices advocating changes in the tax code to make it extremely expensive to have more than 2 kids: e.g., tax deductions for the first two, then tax “penalties” for each one after that.

    Of course, when people say “end,” it means “endangered species,” not “extinction.” All this, and yet TV shows that narrate the lives of large families are quite popular: Jon and Kate + 8, the Duggars, etc. Then again, the cathedrals in Europe still serve as tourist attractions, if nothing else. Deep inside, people have a romantic nostalgia for large families, but generally don’t want such themselves.

    Cool blog!

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