Note: This was written 18 months before the word Covid entered the world lexicon. The events of the pandemic have accelerated mass adoption of The Future of Work.
Fast microprocessors, cheap data storage, and the wrapping of Earth in fiber optic cable has enabled instant, global communications for the masses. Processes that once required strict hierarchy (and something called a fax machine) to move information across and within teams are no longer necessary. But the way most companies organize remains unchanged.
Look up your favorite company of a certain size and you can most likely find their “org-chart.” That is, a graphic visualizing how information flows and who can make decisions.
Why hasn’t organizational design changed to meet technological change? There isn’t one answer. We hypothesize it’s a few of the below reasons:
- Outdated company governance bylaws
- Fear of rocking the boat (aka keep it safe)
- Managers/ executives lack of desire to give up “power”
- Lack of trust in an organization
- Misunderstandings of what Future of Work means
Why are we primed for a revolution in the Future of Work? Again, we can only hypothesize it’s a few of the below reasons:
- Rise of a new generation or workers ready to work in a digital world
- Understanding of the health and environmental destructiveness of commuting
- Need to quickly iterate products in response to quick iteration of competitors
- Growth of tools like Zoom, Slack, Sobol, Asana
- Realization that one might not do their best work during “business hours” while being confined to an office like a caged animal (under the interrogation of fluorescent lights).
Put another way: Given that we have the tools to work from where we want, when we want, and as members of a Team, highly-skilled workers will demand a certain way of working to meet their needs.
Actually, those reasons are only half the picture. The other half is based on the assumption that the current “faux” free-market system is finally being acknowledged as broken. The way we currently work might actually be a result of a fractured system that encourages working dumb.
Donnie illustrates this point with a story:
One idea that confused me in business school was this strangely held notion by otherwise bright individuals that “the market” could tell you anything you wanted to know about everything. But the more I learned about “the market,” the more I realized trusting in the market was inane. I’d ask the “zen hedge funders” why markets didn’t value externalities. For example, “If you burn an inordinate amount of carbon or seep petrochemicals into a public water system, shouldn’t that be considered in your valuation?” Put another way, “If you do shitty things for the sake of profit, ‘the market’ should give you a shitty valuation.”
“Nah, bro,” they’d say. “It’s all about the trade.”
“A company’s purpose is to make profit.”
“Says who? Moses? Jesus? Mohammed? The Laws of Physics? I’d argue everything on that list would argue the opposite.”
“Nah bro, Friedman, 40 years ago.”
[Sigh] “Okay, let me try this another way. If there isn’t a planet for a company to make profits, ‘the market’ will cease to exist.”
“Gotta be zen man, it’s all in your motivation, attitude, and perseverance. Gotta be principled like Ray Dalio bro.”
“What? That didn’t answer my question at all! Ray Dalio isn’t unbleaching the coral reefs!”
The debate would continue and we’d get nowhere. I realized their mind could only see markets as currently envisioned - as they presently exist. There was little acknowledgement of the markets as they were more than a few decades ago and as they could be a few decades ahead. They couldn’t grasp that legacy markets, created from the fiction-making minds of homo sapien, could be changed. If “people” decided to change how we measure and value everything we could change everything. For example, true cost accounting, a way to consider externalities in the balance equation, is just a group of like-minded individuals agreeing on it away from happening.
Still, there are many areas of life where we do allow new ways of being to exist. When I was a kid, I saw my father leave for work every day and imagined myself doing the same thing in the decades ahead. I wasn’t alone. My friends saw their fathers wear suits and carry briefcases and we all collectively pictured our future the same. That was our vision of what work “meant” - just men in suits with briefcases leaving nice, single-family homes on predictable work schedules.
It’s not a stretch to say this firm “mold” of how I saw work growing up has changed dramatically. I’m reminded of this thought every time I leave my apartment in shorts, sandals, t-shirt, and backpack. I’m reminded of this thought when I see how many non-men in not-suits I work with every day. I’m reminded of this when most of my work happens behind a computer screen, and where my “presence” is measured less by my time in a physical office and more by my time behind that screen. Clearly, aspects of the Future of Work have already taken hold in society.
Our point in all this is: we can change the way things are done if we want. Just about everything in “business” isn’t a real thing. We can decide to do things differently. We can make a team a Team. We can decide that an unstoppable growth mentality which taxes employees and teams can be eradicated.
People have written entire books on just this topic, so we will leave it at that. But remember this: When an unfettered, growth at all costs process appears in the human body, we call it cancer.