The new world of work requires great personal discipline
What are we going to do in a world where people play where they used to work, and work where they used to play?
For the past two weeks I have explored this phenomenon here on this page: an era in which mobile computing and connectivity allow people to carry everything they need – the tools of productivity, as well as the means of entertainment – around with them in their pockets, increasingly in a single device.
How do we cope with this phenomenon, which is brand new? The boxes are gone, the walls have fallen. People don’t fit into neat categories, nor do they do what businesses want them to do, at specified times and in specified ways. People work and play their way now.
Employers must bite this bullet, hard. It won’t be comfortable to let go of long-cherished traditions and operating procedures, like working hours and standard places of work. But you simply have no chance of imposing rigid conditions on a world that has moved on. Particularly here in Africa, where we have the world’s largest proportion of young people. I see it every day with my clients: people are wrestling with dress codes, office protocols and rules around time – and failing.
For most employees, this change will be great. As thinkers like Lynda Gratton have pointed out, the relationship between boss and employee for too long has been like that between parent and child – the bosses make all the decisions, because they claim to know best. Your most talented employees just won’t stand for that now. This is a fundamental shift. Finally, the work contract becomes one between adults. Finally, the employee starts to have more say on how and where work is done.
But wait. Are employees ready for this responsibility? Looking around our armies of couldn’t-care-less disenchanted work-shirkers, one would have to conclude: mostly not. Most workers will not use this freedom well, at least not initially. And yet, that is only because they have never been in an employment contract where they are treated like grown-ups. If you treat people like children, don’t look surprised when they become sulky, moody, lazy and looking for every possibility to evade hard work.
As the nature of the work contract changes, employees will change to meet the new terms. Certainly, there will be abuses of the new freedoms – there always are, whenever anything new is attempted. But here’s the thing: if you’re given freedom, and you mess around with the privilege, what will happen to your own future?
The best employees will make full use of the freedoms to raise their own productivity, not lower it. This requires great personal discipline and an iron-clad sense of purpose. The best people have always been like that: they work hard and to a high standard not because their employer demands it – but because they demand it of themselves.
Soon, you will be an employee in this new world where you have the freedom to work at times and places that suit you (most of the time, anyway). You need to ask yourself an important question: will I fritter my time away on brainless Facebook and YouTube interactions; or will I use this wonderful connectivity to make myself more productive, more useful, more indispensable?
Top-notch performers, whether employed by others or by themselves, are already working like that: electronically with virtual teams across the globe; meeting up in person when face-to-face contact is needed; deploying the previously lost moments caught in traffic, or the quiet late and early hours of the day. In short, meshing work and play in fresh ways.
One thing’s for sure: “Thank God It’s Friday” won’t be a slogan many of us will use for much longer.