Something you do

Work is something you do, not a place you go. So the cliché goes.

It takes me back to my very first work experience, way back in the late eighties. My fresh face pitched up at a local IT firm (I’m not sure we had the term IT back then though) for my induction in to the world of nine-to-five, suits and ties and office politics. I was horrified. It was the most uncomfortable, nonsensical and generally unpleasant environment I could imagine. Turns out I had a point. Why did grown-ups behave this way?

We are creatures of convention. Which is probably why we persist with the idea of work being somewhere you go rather than something you do (if we didn’t we wouldn’t need the cliché to remind us we’re doing it all wrong…still).

If an employee does what they are paid to do within the time frame set and given parameters, does it matter what hours they keep, where they work and what they wear? Of course, if you are a receptionist you must be in the physical space in to which you are receiving. Likewise, if you are a security guard, you probably can’t guard a location without actually being there to wallop the bad guys over the head. But unless your role ties you to a specific location in this way, the answer to the question is no, it doesn’t matter where you work.

I can speak with authority about the South East of England, but I am sure the same applies to most of the developed world. Rush hour is an impossible scramble to get to work. Overcrowdedness on public transport grinds it to a standstill. Highways are clogged with stationary motor vehicles spewing toxic emissions. Tempers fray and accidents happen. Workers arrive late, flustered and stressed, or exhausted from rising at the crack of dawn to avoid the throngs. They are forced to spend thousands of dollars they can little afford in travel and eating expenses for this privilege. So that when they eventually arrive at their station, they can be distracted all day long by over-burdened colleagues, over used communications technology, irrelevant meetings and unnatural attire.

Now, if work really were something we actually did in practice as well as theory, it would probably look more like this…

Employees would work in a place that’s easy to get to and comfortable, probably their homes. They would feel relaxed, energized and grateful, and would be able to manage (read reduce) distractions so they can do more (and better) work. As such they would be more motivated, more creative and more productive. Communications technology would give them all the connectivity they need and managers would step up their game to task and assess them based on output delivered, rather than hours slogged, so that employers would get what they actually need instead of just a bum in a seat. Employers would slash the eye-wateringly high costs of providing office space, such as rent, utilities and equipment. And the boss could also enjoy the added bonus of knowing she has done her bit to relieve the burden on the nation’s transport infrastructure and the environment thanks her for it (ooh, some PR mileage too!).

We’ll see this become the norm in a couple of decades, and that spotty teenager with a Simon Le Bon haircut and not a day’s business experience in his life will have turned out to have been half a century ahead of his time. Well, that’s how I like to see it.

Imagine a world where work really is something you do, rather than a place you go. It’s easy if you try.

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