The nature of work as we know it has dramatically changed since the middle ages. Work had no regulation, no limitation, no protection and consumed every waking hour of humans’ lives. In the farming era the whole family would physically work from dawn to dusk. In the industrial era children and adults would work long hours with little to no breaks in terrible conditions.
Thanks to the labor movement and to “Das Kapital”, we now have regulations in place to have a balance between our work lives and our personal lives.
However, a bigger change is happening while we breathe: work-the way we work now-is becoming less and less physical and more pleasurable. How can work become more pleasurable? Simple: menial and repetitive tasks are increasingly being taken over by machines-automation and computers, so we even while at work, people have more time to chat with co-workers, go online or just sit back and relax-we are becoming more and more supervisors of our own work.
You may be thinking: how come cooks and servers are still working so hard? Yes, they do, and the nature of their work might also improve with time-it has certainly gotten easier with microwave ovens, electronic kitchenware and computers that calculate the bill.
Working from home and teleworking are also two big trends that improve our quality of life. We can do the same we do in an office cubicle and be more present for our families, friends and communities. Computers have made many administrative tasks completely viable of being performed from anywhere in the world. Doctors can more easily make diagnosis and see patients less. Robotics will improve and eliminate dangerous and risky jobs. War will use less human effort. I foresee “work becoming play” to be more and more pronounced over the decades.
This is from my friend Craig Fine:
1) Take the average amount of tips that are given each week, and pay that wage to your employees.
2) Eliminate tips.
3) See what happens…
I hate having to tip a waiter, it’s always felt wrong to me and a bit unfair too. I mean, basically you have wait staff that begin to get addicted to the (promised) windfall of tips they will get during their shift if and when they get really busy. It’s like an addiction to gambling.
Do away with tips altogether. I would live this…and I would frequent an establishment that did this too. I think the benefits outweigh any possible downside to this genius plan. :-)”
This recession may last longer than we all thought, according to analysts everywhere. Some say economic recovery may take decades. What does that mean to the late bloomers, those folks anywhere between 40-60? It means that we will be the Lost Generation. The generation on which this dark period may have the most negative impact of all.
Life used to be a progressive route to financial stability. You went to school, you found your first job, you bought your first house, you saved money for the future, and you got better paid jobs or career promotions in every phase of your professional life. In your 20’s you went to College and took your first professional steps, in your 30’s and 40’s you worked hard and raised your children, in your 50’s you started reaping the benefits of those decades of hard work. And in your late 60’s, you could retire comfortably enough and your home was paid for. Sometimes you even had a vacation home as well. That was the American dream.
For those who are middle aged now, this dream came to a sudden halt. The house you thought you would have a lot of equity in and that perhaps would even be paid for in your 60’s, is now lost to the bank. The job you had for years or decades is suddenly gone. Finding another job that pays the same is almost impossible. Few people want to hire you because of your age. The small to medium sized business you worked so hard to build is struggling, and bankruptcy looms ahead. Your parents are too old and fragile to help you financially, and your children still need your help with College and other necessities. Banks don’t want to loan you money. Health insurance costs get higher with age. There’s no one to help.
In the good times, a couple would downsize only when they became too old to take care of a bigger home or when they retired to Florida. Now, couples in their 40’s and 50’s are being forced to downsize, not because they want to, but because they no longer can afford their mortgages. What used to be the family home, a comfortable house where you’re grown children could come and bring their spouses and grandchildren, is becoming a small apartment or townhome in a lesser neighborhood. Your pension plans are compromised, your 401k may be used to survive when one or both partners lose their jobs. Small businesses are closing everywhere. Jobs lost in the private sector, manufacturing, and finance world.
The younger generations are having a hard time to make their entry in the job market, but they are young enough to be able to wait for recovery. Middle aged folks however, have little neither time nor job opportunities that can lead them to a more stable life. Unless the United States comes up with innovative technologies that can generate more jobs, this generation will be the new one called the “Lost Generation”.
The Federal Government, under Barack Obama’s auspice, is pushing for an increase in teleworking. Teleworking has many benefits (and some downside as well). Let’s count the reasons why teleworking is being actively promoted:
1) The Federal Government is largely located in the DC/MD/VA triangle. The DC Beltway has the second worse traffic in the country (after LA). Having civil and military personnel working from home one or two days a week may increase traffic by 25% during rush hours;
2) Less cars on the road, less pollution in the air;
3) Less office space required in the government (people can even share offices in different days);
4) Less personal expenses when you work from home;
5) Better quality of life.
With 99% of work done in computers nowadays, it makes sense that if you have a work laptop at home you can do basically the same you do in the office. With video-conferencing capabilities having improved greatly in the last 5 years, you can also attend “meetings” while seeing presentations. When it comes to the downside of working from home we can cite:
1) Lack of productivity. Counter argument: supervisors now look more for results than micromanaging what every employee is doing every minute of his day. If there work is done well and on time, the fact the person is working from home will not make a difference.
2) Lack of social interaction. That can be resolved by making teleworking not daily, and by promoting events and meetings where people can interact.
3) Privacy at home: people with small children or pets have to find a space at home where they can work undisturbed.
4) 24/7 work. Some people feel that if they have work blackberries or smart phones they will be forever accountable and plugged in. What is needed is self control that you will not check work messages or respond to them in your off hours.
Besides telework, and maybe because of the mobility it offers, the future may hold a different work life for most of us. I think people will not have only one job, one occupation, where they will dedicate 100% of their day. People will be more inclined to work in temporary or seasonal assignments, mix activism and special interests with paid work, still be productive while “on vacation”, and have different professions at the same time. One can work as an accountant, write a book, do volunteer work and dedicate oneself to a special hobby-all because their time will not be imprisoned in an office or cubicle all day long.
What prompted me to bring this up is a conversation I had with a European friend. It’s normal for foreigners in the USA to get together and exchange impressions of life in America. It’s not meant for Americans to hear, as most would be offended, but it’s inevitable. For an American, just imagine if you ran into another American in, let’s say, Singapore, you would also make comments about the advantages and disadvantages of living there.
Which brings me back to the point my friend and I discussed: when Americans at work smile and say “how are you doing”, are they really interested? Do they really want to know how you are doing? The answer is no. They really don’t give a damn. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. See, most of us have to spend the whole day at work. Everybody has problems in their personal lives once and awhile. We cannot be in a good mood every day. But what happens when people bring their personal problems to work too often? The work day can become unbearable. Do we really want to see sourpuss faces for 8 or more hours a day? Do we really want to carry the heavy burden of hearing that Cindy’s grandma has cancer or that Saed can’t make his mortgage? Do we want Allen barking at his subordinates because his wife refused sex last night? Do we want to hear Lakisha complaining about how many bills she has? Or Doris constantly complaining about her arthritis? I don’t think so. We want work to be a civil, neutral and peaceful place where we can concentrate in work. We want to have friendly conversations and even get a few laughs during our work day. We should use our spouses, close friends and therapists to discuss our personal troubles.
To illustrate this, my friend mentioned his experience working in a lab in Europe where he said people were always complaining, always in a bad mood. Once he came to work in America, he noticed how everybody smiled and had a positive attitude, as if no one had problems outside work. He said that made his work day smoother and more productive.
I also have learned to leave my personal problems outside work. I have learned to smile at everyone no matter how awful I am feeling inside. I have learned to never release anger or frustration on strangers or co-workers. Do I tell my co-workers personal things? Sure, as long as they don’t compromise my image. Do I joke and talk about general things? Sure. Do I sometimes complain? Yes I do, but carefully. We are not robots devoid of emotion. We cannot be fun and nice all the time. But we can learn to be more often. We can train ourselves to make the workplace a pleasant place instead of a war zone. We can be considerate without burdening others and not letting others burden us.
Brazilians usually aspire to attend College. Federal Universities are free, which is attractive for those who do not have the means to pay for a private school. However, to win a vacancy in a chosen field of study, one must pass a very difficult university entrance exam, where thousands of students compete for the same spot. That usually means that middle and upper middle class students, whose parents were capable of paying for the best private elementary, middle and high schools, often have an advantage. Kids who attended public schools often have to work their way to a private College, earning their degrees at night and therefore not having the same results. The notion that everyone needs a College degree however, is based on the perceived status that a College degree gives you. In the United States, electricians, plumbers, mechanics and carpenters have more respect from society. They still are looked down as “working class” folks, but their skills are more valued and their compensation is sometimes comparable or even higher than their white collar fellowmen. In Brazil unfortunately, these professions are underpaid and get little respect.
In reality, not everyone has the need or the skills necessary to go to College. Some people are more practical than academic. They don’t like to read, but they like to fix things, build things, make things. Some people have exceptional interpersonal skills, and do well working with people. A 4 year College degree is a huge investment, both financial and timewise. You need to focus on your studies and read and write a lot. You develop your analytical thinking and you deepen your understanding of the world, but some people do not have the interest or the capacity to dedicate themselves to so much theory.
There are many professions out there than can provide a good living and are useful to society. These skills are very much needed. Usually many local Colleges provide certificates and Associate’s degrees which teach these professions. Optometrists, dental hygienists, mechanics, computer professionals, etc. These trades should be considered for those who don’t want to make the commitment a 4 year undergraduate degree requires, and want to have a useful and stable profession. Coincidentally, the Huffingtonpost had an article on it today: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/13/college-for-all-experts-s_n_575396.html
One of the trends that I predict we will see growing in the near future is the proliferation of teleworking centers. The word teleworking brings to mind working from home, which is the most common, especially amongst government workers.
The current administration has been making a push towards teleworking, which now involves about 20 percent of the workforce. Typically, people telework only one or two days a week. There is resistance in allowing workers to telecommute every day of the week, because middle management particularly have the “out of sight, out of control” mentality. There is a lack of trust on how their employees will use their time, and visions of them lying on their sofas watching Oprah and eating popcorn come to mind. However, the nature of work has changed considerably. The majority of office work is computer based. Results can be measured by productivity, and not by physical presence in an office.
The advantages of telework are already well known. Less cars in the road, less traffic and pollution. Less dependance on foreign oil, less expenses, less stress. Workers can be close to their children’s schools and participate more actively in their communities.
With the suburbanization of America, people are living further and further away from work. For employers, teleworkers can mean less office space, cutting rent costs. Unfortunately, workers in the service, construction, security, medical and educational fields will not be able to take advantage of teleworking.
With the advancements on technology, such as wide band internet access and high definition flat screens for teleconferencing, you can really do almost everything from a remote location. However, not everyone has the equipment and the appropriate environment at home to work comfortably and in privacy, like those with small children, dogs and no office space except a kitchen table. Add to that the fact that being home alone 5 days a week can be very isolating and boring.
That is when the new concept of teleworking centers comes into play. Teleworking centers are offices located in specific neighborhoods, to cater to office worker within a 5 mile radius. Workers can quickly drive or walk to these centers, where they will find a fully equipped office space. Not only that, they will be able to interact with other workers in a common space such a lounge or a break room. They will have available IT help with their computers. They can be visited by a telework coordinator from time to time.
I think telework centers will change the face of America. You can see the trend starting with the town centers in the Washington DC area. New town centers, replicating the old city centers of the 1900’s, with plenty of walking space, started popping up. Reston Town Center in the Northern Virginia suburb and the Kentlands in Montgomery County, MD, are successful examples. With telework centers in every American suburb, we will improve the quality of life of many people.
My dream teleworking center would have:
1) A private office space with state of the art computers
2) A gym
3) A coffee shop close by
4) A lounge area to socialize
5) A kitchen
6) Secure entrance
7) Restaurants and food services nearby
8) And, last but not least, a NAP room. Yes, you heard it right. A nap room with a timer where people could take a short nap to restore themselves. After all, office work can get boring…and make you sleepy. Quality of life after all!
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