Last week was one of those where I either seemed to be listening to someone talking about the changing workplace, or alternatively talking to others about it. One of the joys of people properly coming out of pandemic mode is the chance to get together with others and explore the themes and issues that we are seeing in our organisations and how we might navigate some of the future challenges.
I have a natural suspicion of anyone who projects too much certainty about the future, after all nobody in the world of work really predicted anything that we’ve been through in the last few years. And similar to my recollections of Tomorrow’s World from the 1970s, there is always a slight hint of entertainment and headline seeking, or perhaps the hope of a business book deal. But the one thing that strikes me about many of these proclamations, is they never talk about the losers.
For every fictitious future autonomous knowledge worker, who can pick and chose the projects they collaborate on and where they choose to work, there is almost definitely another worker who is in the modern equivalent of bonded labour, or low, insecure, temporary underpaid work. For every programme of virtual wellbeing for stressed out hybrid workers, there is a strata of workers running multiple jobs and excessive hours, in order to earn just less than enough.
Or let’s put it another way. For every holiday in the Dordogne, there is a ferry crew on changed terms. For every party dress, there’s a sweatshop in the industrial heart of the country, for every home delivery there’s an enforced zero hours contract. Indignation is one thing, but it doesn’t pay the bills or improve their quality of life.
I’m not a fantasist, I know there will always be winners and losers that we need different people to do different work, that not everyone will be paid or looked after the same. But I do think things can and should be better and that will only come about if we spend more time talking and considering their future as well as the one we want for ourselves. We can’t talk about the future workplace or the future of work without looking at the future for all. We ignore it the risk of further societal inequality and resultant instability.
What could, what would, what should a future look like that is better for all? Or is our best advice, ” whatever happens, just don’t be a loser”?