On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy
Images of Industrial Age Office Work: Clock Watcher
A couple of months ago, I mentioned that Nathan Myhre would be contributing art that represents the life of the average Industrial Age knowledge worker. I say “Industrial Age” even when it comes to post-Industrial parts of the world because we’re still bidding a long and difficult farewell to the Industrial Age work-style with most knowledge workers coming, going, and working essentially the same work-shift (9-to-5). What’s the alternative? Harness and utilize today’s technology to give workers more control over where and when they work as well as to work more productively.
Although artistic, and often romanticized, representations of farming during the Agricultural Era are readily available, this is not the case when it comes to office work. It didn’t take long before Nathan conveyed what an uninspiring and boring idea it is to paint an office environment. I wasn’t surprised to hear this of course. As an artist also, I’ve often done a lot of landscape pieces but never thought to make office environments a subject matter. Nevertheless, I thought that maybe the result of his interest in people as a subject matter and his disinterest in painting the office background might result in an interesting, contrasting juxtaposition (or maybe just some expletives).
So what’s a clock watcher? Basically, this is a worker who demonstrates disengagement by watching the time and waiting for the work-shift to be over. I’m guessing most of us have encountered this. However, I’m hoping that, by nixing the idea of judging workers’ contributions by the time they spend working and instead judging contributions by the quality of the results, there will come a day when this behavior will be less prevalent prompting me to explain (maybe to the youngest members of Generation Z or post-Millennials) what the woman in the painting is doing and why. “This type of behavior occurred back when people believed that cramming everyone into a single building for 8 hours a day optimized productivity,” the explanation would go.
How does moving from rigid, uniform time and location dependent work arrangements to one that grants greater freedom and flexibility result in greater productivity? I think most people can be counted on to work when and where they are most productive (as opposed to when and where they’d be least productive!). When people are allowed to do this, they can accomplish more in less time. Take for example, as this seems to be so well known, why so many writers seem to enjoy writing at night (as I’m doing now). The conditions, with fewer distractions, less noise, and less going on, make for more productive writing. Of course it is often argued that not everyone is accountable and motivated enough to be trusted. However, as explained in this post, this is a non-issue with successful implementation of ROWE (results-only work environment).
The way we work has always changed alongside the tools we develop and, with today’s online collaboration tools, this time is not regarded as an exception. There’s a general consensus that the future of work will be as I’ve been describing. Take the following for example:
- The Future of Work: A New Approach to Productivity and Competitive Advantage
- The New World of Work: What Does the Workplace of the Future Look Like?
Finally, to quote John M. Richardson, “When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.” So visit http://www.bettercollaboration.org/ to see how we can assist organizations looking to maximize productivity and efficiency through the use of visual collaboration tools.