I remember what it was like to work in the early 90s. Back then, before email and the mobile phone had become ubiquitous, we had to go to the office to get our mail (It was carefully folded inside something called an ‘envelope’). We had to be in the office to get our phone calls because there were no affordable mobile phones for everyone and it was unheard of to give out our private numbers. We had to have face to face meetings because conference calls were not available to the masses. And if something was urgent we used a ‘fax machine’, but we still had to send the original in the post. Back then it was easy to create a life with hard edges between work and play.
Every week day, millions of people got into busses, trains and cars and travelled to their offices and arrived at 9:00AM, ran in to the meeting rooms for the early morning status meeting and then to the company’s canteen to make their coffee before sitting down at their desks to open their mail and begin their day. The first hour of their day was spent opening mail and quickly scanning it to decide whether they had to do something or whether it could be filed in the filing cabinet. For many, life really was simpler then. But as is inevitable, the world moved on, paper mail became digital mail. Face to face status meetings started to become early morning conference calls with people joining from other locations and countries, and calls and messages started appearing from all over the world on your mobile phone at 11PM. Those hard edges became softer and softer until it has now become difficult to distinguish between the edges.
And that is fantastic! Because now, instead of our companies telling us where we have to be and when, now we can be anywhere at any time and work when we feel like it. Well, it can be if we embrace the new way of working instead of fighting it, working with it to create a lifestyle we want for ourselves. Back in the 1990s there was no choice. We had to go to our place of work. That was the only way we could communicate and work with our partners and colleagues. That was why it was important to have a standard time for working. The vast majority of people worked domestically, so all the people we needed to work with were on the same time zone (or nearly on the same time zone). Today, however, Many of us communicate with our partners across the seas, people working in different time zones and with different languages and cultures. Technology enables us to work on our terms and allows us to work from anywhere we have a WIFI signal.
But there are a number of problems. The first is old-fashioned management who see time based working as the best indicator of an employee’s work ethic. These managers are more concerned that you work your regulated 8 hours a day and take no longer than your allocated 60 minutes for lunch, than they about the quality of your work. They equate 9AM to 6PM as work, and consider quality of work alien. Fear not, these dinosaurs will soon be forced out of your company and will be replaced by managers who understand that performance should be measured by results, not how long an employee spends in an office.
And then there are the governments, running around desperately trying to find ways of creating new laws to protect old-fashioned working practices. Killing off Uber and Lyft in an effort to protect archaic taxi services who had ample opportunity to adapt to the new technologies available, but didn’t. Bringing in laws to prevent companies contacting their staff after 6PM in an effort to be seen to be trying to do something to protect workers rights, instead hindering companies operating in a genuine global business environment.
Factories around the world are becoming more and more automated, resulting in less work for manual workers. These workers would have the opportunity to work for these new companies like Uber, Lyft and AirBnB, but sadly governments are creating entry barriers that are beyond these workers. More and more companies are moving towards a remote based working environment. Governments need to start thinking in a completely different way and instead of creating new laws that make adopting new technologies and working practices difficult, should adopt more progressive laws that empower people everywhere to create a lifestyle of their own choosing so they can work when they want to work and be assessed on their results and not the time they spend working in a fixed location. Empowering companies and workforces to adopt new technologies and new ways of working will alleviate the need for more and more worker protections instead existing laws can be streamlined and updated for the modern world.
I would love to see a world where if I feel like spending a Tuesday afternoon with my family in the park, I can without having to complete a holiday request form — two weeks in advance. A world where if I need to call my colleague in Paris, I don’t have to worry about whether it is after 6PM in Paris. A world where if I feel like working in a coffee shop on a Monday morning, I can without having to explain myself. And when the year end evaluation comes around, my boss will look at my results, the work I have done though the year, and not how many hours I have spent slaving away in an unproductive office environment.
So, I ask all governments and senior executives around the world to let go of their ancient work practice ideas and allow their staff freedom. Stop focussing on the Monday to Friday 9 to 5 system and embrace a work culture that rewards results and achievement, that promotes people based on what they achieve, and let workers decide for themselves when and where they work. Doing so will result in a happier, more committed and productive workforce and will set your company and country up to attract the most talented workers in the world. Surely the wouldn’t be a bad thing?
End of rant :-)
Carl Pullein is the author of Your Digital Life: Everything you need to know to get your life organised and put technology to work for you, a book about how to get yourself organised in the twenty-first century