The implications of this are a lot more profound than you might think at first glance.
The very meaning of work is deeply linked to the idea that we go somewhere to work.
Is my friends expectation that we may never really have those water-cooler conversations, let alone the deeper and more confronting conversations, in the same way again correct?
I reckon the best place to look for those kinds of projections is to ask the people whose businesses are most affected by COVID lockdowns etc. Which business sector has the motivation and resources to do sophisticated analysis like this? Big airlines do.
Airline executives and CEO’s are saying that they are not expecting international flights to really start again until 2023. Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas is hoping to start travel in mid-2021, but he’s still mothballing their big planes until at least 2023.
The second is critical because I suspect that:
'Normal' will never come back and, more importantly, I don’t think many people really want it to!
Why is this? What's the bundle of threads that we call work? To answer that you have to look at where the idea came from...
What is work? The rise of 'corporate effort'.
When I was at university it was pretty common currency to argue that globalisation meant that corporations would end-up governing the planet, that the days of national governance were essentially over. No-one argues that anymore (thank God) but it does show just how massively important this way of organising ourselves to work together has become.
The corporation (both publicly and privately owned) has become the preeminent method through which we organise ourselves to interact with the material world.
The assumptions that underpin the corporation also underpin how we work together. So, what’s the etymology of ‘work’?
Medieval Guilds were the first 'employers'. Chartered by Kings or Cities, they served to exclude and suppress free labour and turn time into the key commodity for sale (rather than products).
The Birth of 'Employment'
3. Risk is shared
There has been increasing push-back on the last of these features as the implications of exploitative practices has come home to roost. We’ve come to realise that while risk can be shared, accountability can’t. As any parent or manager knows, you are either 100% accountable, or you’re not… so no-one is.
Now, with extended lockdowns, we’re starting to see cracks appear in the first of these features. It might not look like much, but this goes to the heart os what work actually means, if for no other reason than it acts as the foundation-stone for the other two!
As I wrote at the beginning of this pandemic, COVID, like all pandemics, is accelerating change not catalysing it (whereas wars do the opposite). COVID is forcing us to re-examine the control and efficiency DNA of corporations from global supply chains to the climate change.  For example, bureaucracy is the precondition for genocide not only because it takes massive organisational capacity to execute, but because it is essential that no one person feels they are the progenitors. The most famous example of this is Eichmann, commandant of Auschwitz. He explained to Hannah Arendt that, though he personally disagreed with the Nazi policy to exterminate Jewry, his obligation to play his role in the state was more important and policy decisions were made elsewhere.
Do you want to have a say?
- Probable and
- Preferable (potentially falling somewhere across all the other two)
I share the futures cone because, as I have learnt again and again in my work, if you don’t do the work to get clear on your preferred future, then you lose all ability to consciously craft it.
“I want them to want this… I don’t want to force my vision on them, I want them to create their own.”
To get others to buy in, the first step is getting really clear on what your preferred future looks like and then asking a very different question – the leader’s question:
Do you want to play?
The risk of creating your preferred vision for the future lies not in blocking theirs. Clarity and inspiration serves only to breed more clarity and inspiration. No, the risk is that you get so excited by yours you stop listening for theirs and the moment of inspiration is crushed.
What is the future of working in your business?
Almost everything we have designed to facilitate collective action (what we call work) since the 1400’s is now being questioned. This is not a blip, this is a profound shift with profound implications.
Joseph Voros used to say that it was the people who looked for the weak signals from the future who were best prepared. Those who waited until they could see the Tsunami on the horizon waited too long. Those who noticed the water recede a few meters in the hours beforehand got to the hills in time.