Pressure Point Beach
Newsweek magazine in 1959 anticipated that this scenario would be commonplace by 1979: “Waking to cool 1970-style music from a tiny phonograph built into her pillow, the housewife yawned, flicked a bedside switch to turn on the electronic recipe-maker, then rose and stepped into her electronic shower.”[i]
Author Bill Bryson observed that what he called “the lucky housewife,” would not be so lucky as to have an “electronic shower.” Indeed, by the suggested date she would in his words, be “an endangered species,” though probably few are lamenting the end of that particular nomenclature.
Clearly our lives have changed. It’s hard to find any “housewives” today, just as there are not many “secretaries.” There are no “electronic showers,” but there’s surely a lot of electronics in our homes, in our offices, and in our workplaces.
Some of us can remember when “electronic” was a term that immediately preceded “labour-saving device.” But for all the wiring and embedded chips, housework is as difficult and unpopular as ever. And in the office, well these same electronics and the gadgets they love to connect up were supposed to reduce if not eliminate paper. And if that weren’t enough, we were all going to enjoy the benefits of “electronic networking.” Nobody seemed to take these thoughts to their logical conclusion. Without something to physically carry or send, and with a connection to someone being just a key press away, there’d be no reason to actually get up out of one’s office chair, and go anywhere. And sadly, many of us don’t.
We have the electronics, and we have the networks, but the sad truth is we are more disconnected than ever. This age has brought the terms “stovepipe” and its cousin “silo” to the workplace, terms which mean simply that individuals, offices and whole organizations just never do seem to link up and collaborate. No, everyone is connected to their computers, transmitting non-paper product to people selected for reasons that we do not understand, nor apparently care to know. Some organizations actually compensate their employees on the basis of the amount of product transferred. They call this “knowledge sharing.” It is not clear how, or if these organizations reward those of its people who actually create knowledge.
The expression “labour-saving devices” has passed into history, having existed for only a few short years. Perhaps that because (a) working electronically did not reduce, but in fact added to the paper burden; and secondly, all these electronics have added cost, but as yet have produced no evident material benefit. We may be working faster, and we may be moving more information product, but to date these activities have not shown a significant contribution to either productivity or profit.
From the employee’s perspective the work world is a dizzying kaleidoscope of blurry screens, flashing indicator lights, reams of memorized passwords and wholly-filled trunks of information about methods, practices and protocols. Now, the average employee’s available cranium space is taken up with mechanical bits – the how-to things about survival in an electronic workplace, with precious little substance on the value-add side. Are stress levels up to the same degree that morale levels are down? Is disenchantment soaring – just as personal comfort and ambition become less and less graspable? Yes to all of that.
Our “knowledge workers” are burning out in a world of spam, e-trash and “information overload.”[ii] There’s so much moving around that it’s getting hard to grasp its existence, let alone sort out the e-wheat from the e-chaff. Amidst this clutter and confusion, the management gurus and technology developers are becoming more and more tightly focused on delivering ever better, smarter and faster tools to the desktop that will, once and for all, bring both liberation and interdependence, in one glorious oxymoronic juxtaposition.
Where are our workplace analysts? Where are our Organizational development (OD) experts? Where are the Human Resources professionals who should, we think, be not only up on these conditions, but on top of them? The most ubiquitous term today in business and economy is “global.” It is followed quite quickly by “knowledge.” Knowledge workers are global workers. Global workers are active in something called “the knowledge economy.” How then that we know so little about what these people do, how we can make what these people do better, while also being less stressful and more satisfying? I don’t know.
Without doubt, not everyone is e-disenfranchised. There are happy, competent wired workers out there who could not get through a day without e-mail. These workers would never think of blackberries or apples as fruit. They are essentially oblivious to time zones, can think of working no other way than “multi-tasking,” and have to have a very good reason indeed for an actual physical meeting. These people are creators of intellectual capital.
Juggling diverse (and not always complimentary) activities simultaneously as a normal way of working, they create value, profit and sustainability for their organizations. They know how to live in a wireless world but their world is also that of the ethernet. They are experts at unjamming photocopiers, installing modems, and can actually program their satellite dish to ensure they never miss a favourite program.
“Workplace” and “home” are not discrete entities to these people. They are comfortable working, living and enjoying their surroundings whatever or wherever they may be. These rare breed individuals do not understand the notice of “interruption” – as “being interrupted at work or at home by a different work activity, or a home or social responsibility. All are intertwined, homogeneous and con-existent. Not one of these life elements could exist today as an independent species. The organism has evolved. Wiring is as important as blood circulation as are family relations. Home is where one sleeps the most, and the workplace is where one happens to be at any particular time.
In the next 5-10 years these rare breed individuals will become the knowledge workplace norm. For them, actually “reporting to work” will be something they do a dozen times in their life. For vast numbers of intellectual workers their professional life will be on the basis of tasks and clients. Tasks will have defined requirements and deliverables. An ‘employee” may work for dozens of employers, while an “employer” may have no “employees.”
As for personal life, that will be relished and enjoyed as never before. Now free of the absurdity of the fixed work day and work week, our global knowledge workers (GKW) will be able to combine – without negative consequence – vacation with employment. Needless to say, his or her global employer will be pleased to know that customers ten time zones away from “head office” are being responded to as needed.
For a time, the high degree of blending between personal and professional life will lead to personal life crises. Not everyone is waiting with baited breath for a cranial implant. And perhaps everyone will need – for as long as we can imagine – a time of disconnect from all that is going on. But perhaps we will not have the foresight to anticipate and prepare for these problems. That being the case, we will see the extraordinary situation of absenteeism of employees who are never physically at work.
There will be other challenges faced in the years to come. Employees may, for a time, seek to obtain compensation for the (sometimes unwilling and sometimes unwitting) conversion of large parts of their homes, cottages and personal time into tools for the employer’s use. They will, in these demands, build on the tradition of personal vehicle allowances; while we can expect employers will step up demands to be compensated for personal use of the employer’s assets. We can expect a long hard fight on the issue of personal privacy and the laws around copyright.
Eventually both parties will discover that the physical assets are of minor value, and a meaningless issue in the development and management of intellectual capital. The better companies will shower their contractees with tools and toys, and the better GKW’s will more than cover those costs by sharing freebies from the global knowledge pool.
It goes without saying that existing accounting practices will not survive the transition. But there will be a new accounting – so flexible and situation responsive that it will be unrecognizable to today’s auditors and accountants. Corporate services such as HR, office accommodation and support services and public relations will not survive to any degree. Value leadership backed up by clear, articulate light speed communications will make for top performers while mediocrity in these areas will bring inflexible major players to their knees.
What of tomorrow’s middle managers? Well, the few that survive will not know, nor care where their “employees” are. But they will know a lot about expectations, product delivery and process. They will be decision-makers and change agents. Their power will be the power to connect – not the power to control. They will be intelligence miners – panning gold out of the gritty lands of Planet Earth. They’ll be strong on feel and intuition – and not afraid to pose possibilities and scenarios to eclectic audiences in rather pragmatic ways. These will be confident dudes. They’ll have to be. They will be losing lots of money as they make lots of money…….as they are working in a world that will forever move faster than the individuals – or even the electronics – that populate it.
It’s not so very far away to very different times. They are just around the corner……for most of us.
1200 GMT day six on third line spread. Not nearly there. <Yikes!> Got to satlink STAT to get securdoc -? go-no-go before 1800? pondr. Note: trend change Grnd Bnks fish. EC demand line wavers. Implkate Portugal? Weather bad. Trans strike delays showstop. Operative call is altstrat. Go hold. Poss subvention. Media lines crit. OK. Now. Med Assoc. expose double dip Min. Health impl. Cell lead Wpg get fcts. Dcde profl/non profl – find dvgenc. Gain 2 dze.
Over lunch. Vend 75 unts stndrd flatz TO to Arti34 Spore crdt Brln acct name Oz. Chnge adrs apt Picton and lsse “Ms. Brown”. Cncl sub Est Atl Dlyn Nooz.odr flrz mom 37th anvrsy. Recharz btrz palmputr. Phew! Quel challenge. La vie sociale avec la vie professionale. Et maintenant….. I’m here, on chaise lounge. In the heat. In January. Holding down three jobs and a personal life style that would scare most people. But hey!? How many chances do you get to be wired… and productive? Well, itz – lfe.
Oh. Near miss. Message to Shart Inc. CEO (mail bot) hgst prty: transfer 40% frst qtr gross paymt to Swiss acct 30285 name of “Hubert” identify “Sharp Prjct”. No witholding. Amend tx rtn to “nil” same prd.
Beep! Smith. Oxy HQ qurez contract $800K ovrlay TO a’port. Wl chck. Video mail: 83 since 1100! Info ovrld [sigh]. Nte>file. Ask Waltrz stop attach musak to memo. Most bumphf. Msg 34 <ouch>- $ drops .013. Lost $200K. Durn HK$ money markt. #76 call hme dntst sez Audry got gingzvitz. $$. Sav bst fer lst. #83. Belize PM wants qck oui/non bndry chng w/r/t nbrs on 3 sidz (!! Blze ptsh up 274 pts)[ask Belze whether willing sell nw territory to miners?] CMD: DB access/comment resource change west per above frcts. Advse 1500.
Strt DB anlz: Beijing export/import trnd anlyz perishbles asume stble yen/rise URO$/frost Flrda.
Zort! Implant wire. (Pun intd) frm BuyCan hd ofz. Chck prz grpfrut: C-ATLE. Psble chng. Shp asap via Ssktoon. Cpture rd rby dmd wpg smr fstvl. (PS nd sugr – chck rdpath).
Amusingly, telephone rings. First call in wk. Figgers. Wrng nmbr.
E-mail hgst prtry. XParT CEO (live) admonish flure appear last 8 staff mtngs. Reminded contrct requires only 3 apprnces anul. Coerced into (virtual) attend Sunday all-staff. Nte>file CEO aludz wrkfrc 2 dble for next qrt only – land gov cntrct Albania.
Hey, Angèle! Comment-ça-va? Vraiment? Whoe. J’espère que tu vas être très contente. Mais la raison de mon appel. L’histoire que je t’ai donné il ya a trente jours. Ton opinion? Ah? Mais la deuxième partie? Ah! D’accord. Énvoye-la au secrétaire du ministre. Oui, aujourd’hui. Avec ton nom (et le mien, svp). Salut chère! Je vais te voir à Paris demain.
Ikuyo. Go 2 lang convertr. Gtng txt corruption on SanFran teleport.
Ah! Hot sun and sand. Antigua. Quelle place! Moi, et famile. Et mes amis. Mais…nothing stopz. Allo. Real! Excellent. Trente-deux degrés. Oui. Mais le bifteck est comme le poisson. Eh!? Ça va coûter 36 mille. Impossible! Appelle-demain. Bout ths reprt. 200 pages and the sun shinz. TELNET SRV Bazil.8000.gtz RUN anlz rpt brdg crsng 5 alts chz bst uz/lst cst/fst dlvry. Advz 30 minz. + chck vlu mark Itly vs kop – sprd 30 yrz nil sig evntz.
At last. Focuz on prpse trip: Y/N retrmnt ctdzur 3 yrz/33% plcy advz ca/us/cn $chnl grnble: buzz “expnz” est annrev 250K (US). Computer: PROJECT: Asume Can$ USx4 Can$ EBP 40 bshs aplz January. Brng! End anlyz cmptr.
Vid-mail. “Yes? Fred, I’m still available. Yes, I can be in your office tomorrow morning for a 9 o’clock meeting. The analysis? I’m working on it as we speak. The weather? Well it’s about the same here as it is where you are.”
Now where did I set down my e-book?
[This essay appeared in a 1999 edition of the Journal of the Financial Management Institute of Canada]
David G. Jones B.A., M.A.
Principal – Shibumi Management Canada