A discourse on the value of work

Posted on August 26, 2020
By rita cincotta

A discourse on the value of work

It took us about eight weeks to get into a groove with widespread working from home.   Those that have worked from home more than in traditional workspaces have been feeling vindicated.   Working from home went from a nice to have, a benefit, something to generally be fought for and won, to being ubiquitous. 

It now seems it is taking us about eight minutes to get back to workplaces.  The push is on to have people return into more traditional workplaces, with all the social distancing rules being noted of course.

We are talking about hygiene, sanitiser, staggered start, break and end times, teams A and B or red and blue, commuting into work and how tight our pants will be when we finally come out of the active wear. 

I read a lot during this pandemic about being grateful for what COVID-19 gave us- time with loved ones, creative activities and a much simpler lifestyle.    We still worked during this time; however we didn’t have the rush associated with having to get to work.

In the rush (because we seem to love one) of hurrying back to attending traditional workplaces might we be missing the once in a hundred-year opportunity to increase people’s choices about how and where they work? Pre the corona virus pandemic, changing the system of work had been near impossible.   Globally, organisations had made a few dents in attacking the problem, with limited victories.  This essentially excluded a whole portion of the workforce from being able to work because they couldn’t fit the mould of fulfilling traditional physical work presence from 9-5pm in a workplace.  Even if they could, they didn’t want to because that system didn’t fit with their life and needs.  But they still had a lot to offer.  They were qualified and experienced to undertake the work.  However, the work was being offered to them in one shape only.  It has been largely take it or leave it.  And if you take it be prepared to rearrange almost every other aspect of your life to fit around the system of work.

Do we really want to still work in this way?

Over the last 8 weeks, globally, for millions of roles, what has been discovered is that work is still done.   In many industries, business whilst hampered has continued.  What we haven’t had is the scrutiny associated with the 9-5pm.  Perhaps we have been focusing more on the value of the work and deliverables, rather than the hours worked? This flexibility can’t apply to all roles; however it can apply to millions of them.

Imagine a world where I can work what ever hours I like.  My productivity and value is measured by my outputs.  I can choose to work 52 hours or 16 hours per week, as long as my job is complete.  My leaders would measure my value on the quality and completion of the work I am employed to do. 

Hours become irrelevant.   The location of my work becomes irrelevant. 

Relocation for roles is no longer required unless there is a preference to move.  I can work for an organisation that is 3000 kilometres away and only attend the “head office” a few times per year. Using all the digital resources available I can establish and maintain a close connection with my team.

The system we currently operate in was created at a time when visibility of employees was required.  Workers were supervised and monitored.  Work was transactional.  They type of work that many millions of employees now undertake doesn’t require this.  Employees are autonomous.  We can seek direction and guidance from leaders without them needing to be in close proximity to us.

There is a key ingredient that is required in moving to a model where we value productivity and results rather than hours.  If we provide employees with full autonomy, we need to trust that they will undertake the work that is being paid for.  That is all.  Trust.  If we trust, perhaps we would not need all the many layers of leadership that exist in organisations.  We would employ people to undertake work.  We would contract on the actual deliverables required and when those deliverables would be delivered.  Why is it relevant, how, when and where employees work?  It puts into question our thousands of industrial relations agreements and awards and all the millions of policies that are associated with maintaining our current systems of work.   Reducing this complexity would simplify the system of work.

Let’s not rush back to how it was.  What we had was broken, no longer fit for purpose and it met the needs of a very limited group of employees.  Let’s move to measure the actual work.  Not hours.  Hours doesn’t take into account individual productivity, motivation and ability.  It’s a lazy way to manage work.

It has taken a pandemic to realise that we can have a sustainable shift in the system of work. For the sake of us all, let’s not waste this opportunity to create lasting change.  

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