Work-Life Strategies & Solutions

On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy

Nine Shift: Work, Life, and Education in the 21st Century

By William A. Draves and Julie Coates, Nine Shift: Work, Life, and Education in the 21st Century opens up with some historical overview about the transition from the Agrarian Age to the Industrial Age in the United States and compares this to the transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. The authors aptly noted cultural resistance to new technology and transitions in work systems both at the turn of the 1800s and at the time of the writing of their book. In doing so they present interesting and entertaining side stories such as L. Frank Baum‘s writing of The Wizard of Oz to convey pro-Agrarian values and resistance to encroaching Industrialization.

Draves’ and Coates’ anticipation that the transition from an Industrial Age work system to an Information Age work system would occur in a 20-year period similar to the transition from Agrarian Age to Industrial Age has not come to pass. However, their comprehensive and compelling list of arguments in favor of telework, an organizational structure that emphasizes fluid, flexible information networks instead of a hierarchical pyramid, and written over oral communication are, in my opinion, the most valuable information to consider in this book. They make a wonderful case, for the good of businesses (noting costs beyond the price of real estate) and employee productivity (allowing employees to choose the time and place for peak performance), to “stop building buildings.” The remainder of this book covers the ways in which the authors see the Information Age impacting other facets of societal life: motivating people to value their own time so that they come to prefer the use of trains over cars,  increasing consideration of whether or not space is well-utilized or not (using 18 hours per day as the threshold), and prevalence of online learning changing the roles of teachers and students.

For those unfamiliar with the topic of the Internet’s potential to change the way we work and live, this book is a great place to start. It is easy to understand and contains interesting, entertaining stories that underline their points. The book is also written from a personal perspective as the authors recount how they successfully reduced their commercial real estate expense and continued operating virtually.

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