Industrial revolution upended the world. Along with straight cut identical models from the assembly lines came out the mass-manufactured identically dressed, repressed, deadpan and exhausted human beings. The boundaries thinned and it became difficult to know who worked for whose convenience? Machine for ours or us for machines? Were we building machines or machines were building us?
The 1800s was the time when insidious looking 9-5 schedule, a concept birthed by the American labor unions, began its subtle under the covers reason-and-will slaughter. And before we knew it, we were slaves. Slaves to a system we didn’t question for centuries. It seeped into our subconscious and the only way right was the way that had always existed. It became a habit. We switched on at 6 am and we switched ourselves off at 10 pm. Cities rose up together and died around the same time. Like a clockwork. Standardized jobs became the square holes in which employees had to fit themselves. We weren’t left with any other choice.
The model was simple, easy to implement so was picked swiftly by our schools, universities, administrations, banks and wherever else it could be implemented. To the extent that they used the same recess bells for food breaks and dismissals. One single same command to gear us all up. Everything else our shops, eateries, social life, entertainment aligned themselves around it. We were getting habituated to instructions: to dress, walk, work, talk, sleep, wake in set standards. The way machines did. Those who refused to adapt were reprimanded, socially and economically. Layers after layers of discipline and structure ensured that none passed it unaffected.
But of course we are imperfect humans and we continued to be and we paid heavily for sitting and staring at screens all day:
Harvest of The Hated Mondays:
Though our conscious mind was forced into obedience, our body and subconscious revolted. Diseases that never existed mushroomed: stress, burn-out, high cholesterol, blood pressure, insomnia, back and vision issues, inadequate vitamins, obesity, digestion problems to name a few. These effects won desk jobs a top space in the “hazardous jobs” list. But it was not just our body that was protesting, our mind was devising its escape routes too. It steered into non-creative energies and we began creating imaginary threats to our survival, now that most natural threats had ceased to exist. Our next seat colleague became the biggest risk and we willfully indulged in futile office politics. We projected our insecurities and invented wars of minds. In the mundane mornings, we dressed our bodies with office attires and, bolstered our brains for another battle of water-cooler sarcasm, subtle ridicule, secret-credit taking, and pretense. Sometimes we won but mostly we created poison in and around. But our insecurities were rewarded and so we continued.
But that was yesterday!
Shaken and Stirred: The Advent of the Gig Economy Renaissance:
Change has slapped us out of our slumber. Disruptive technologies have shaken the nature of jobs and now once again we find ourselves insisting upon innovation and agility. We are rethinking our 9-5 model. What has never existed, does now. Anything is possible. Businesses are no more a big-ticket affair. Entities are pooling in resources rather than building them from scratch. Entrepreneurs are blooming in basements. The biggest car rental companies own no cars; the biggest retailers own no shops, no stuff, no storage; the biggest room rental services own no space. Welcome to the new world, a world of constantly blurring lines between fiction and reality, a world of overnight unbelievable successes.
In this world, skills take precedence over established methods and job descriptions become ductile. The skills that were earlier thought low and useless aka creative thinking, problem-solving, arts, and behavioral traits are once again gaining prominence. Arts are appreciated again. Being and acting human is valued more than ever before.
Days of working for paychecks are well past us. Now we expect to find self-identity through our work. A Gallup survey says “workplaces are increasingly project-based, and employees today are attracted to interesting problems and meaningful work -- not just a job title.” AI has relieved us of routine jobs and we are now focusing on new and creative tasks. The economist Robert Gordon says that between 1970 to 2009 “highly cognitive and non-routine jobs” grew by 60%. US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that more than 20 million Americans are now choosing flexible work. Out of these 6 million people are choosing this option to follow their passion.
Technology has come to our aid. It has made collaboration possible. Geographical boundaries are waning and employers want to engage the best talent from any part in the world. People are working in different time zones and an 8-hour shift is not suitable for all. Habitual 9-5 could be tossed out of the work window at any time. Our communication has gone beyond four walls of meeting rooms and we are using unbounded video conferences, time tracking, and screen sharing to communicate at our convenience. Teams are redefined. They are no more a bunch of physically present but mentally absent yawning co-workers in the meeting halls. Contractors, freelancers, gig workers, and consultants can work together without seeing each other face-to-face. People who are present because they opted to be present. To be human is to have a choice.
Breaking Out of The Time Prison:
There is a rainbow on the horizon. We are freeing our mind space of this psychological time prison and investing it for bigger purposes.
Yesterday work and job were interchangeable words, not anymore. In our new dictionary and math, work does not equal jobs. We are stripping ourselves off this old cloak of repetitive, imposed and boredom routine. Stats show it. By 2020, 40% of the US workforce will have some alternative work arrangement.
Somewhere during our journey, we had given up on our dream of leisure society in which all mundane works will be taken over by machines; Where we will be respected and trusted enough to organize our own time, development and productivity. Thanks to AI, this dream seems more than possible now. We can almost see it manifest, unveil itself layer by layer. And we are stunned by the brilliance of it. Welcome to the new world of evolved workplaces where humans are given the freedom to flourish at their will and at their pace. Where they are allowed to be human again. Is this the utopia we have been dreaming about?