Imagine a scenario…
You are busy doing whatever it is that earns you your living. Your phone rings. It’s from someone who might need something so important that you need to interrupt your current activity. But it might be trivial enough that you don’t.
You answer the phone. It’s trivial. You haven’t got the time at the moment.
What do you say?
“I’m sorry, but I’m at work at the moment. Can I call you later?”
“I’m sorry, but I’m working at the moment. Can I call you later?”
(There is no other option. This is a thought experiment. Stop being clever.)
The subtlety of the language that we use to describe things belies underlying cultural believes and values. My hunch is that most people at the moment would answer the question above with the first response, “at work”.
Culturally, work today is still a place we go for a period of time to do some things.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the last week with a friend from Australia who is an airline pilot. His job is like that. His place of work is the cockpit (ironically a very mobile location). He’s at work or not at work. He is paid for his time, presence and attention.
But the world of work is becoming much more ambiguous. Whereas twenty years ago workplace was boundaried by the limitations of availability of equipment and people, information technology has broken those dependencies. When work was a place, charging by the hour made sense. The concept of “Compensation” (what a shit term that is) to reward you in return for your physical presence.
Today work can be anywhere for many of us. For many of us we are taking advantage of that. For many others they are being taken advantage of.
The nature of the work that organisations have to do is becoming increasingly ambiguous, complex and challenging because of the way in which technology and globalisation are interacting (amongst other factors). At the same time we are finding that the nature of work and working are changing as new modes of work and models of employment are enabled because of technology. These two phenomena are inter-related, but not the same thing. One is personal, one is organisational.
Making the transition from work as a place to work as an activity is hard. Mental separation of the two is challenging as we go from work/life to work/not work. Some will remain in the old model, with employment dependent on being somewhere for some time. For the rest of us, to get a bit X Factor, we have a personal journey on which to travel as well as the ones that the organisations that employ us will be taking.
They probably won’t go at the same pace, or necessarily end up in the same place.