As We Think About the “Future of Work…” Need to Add “and Life”

Around Labor Day, the commentary on the current state of the workplace increases. But this year, it seemed that the media focused more on what the future of work will look like. A couple of examples that I’ve seen over the past few days include:

  • A Jobs Plan for the Post-Cubicle Economy, part of The Future of Work—A Labor Day Special Report ( Advocates creating unions that bring together the increasing number of independent workers.
  • The Blended Workforce: The New Norm (Talent Management): Foretells of a future workplace made up of a combination of employees, consultants, independent contractors and contingent workers. Not unlike the Shamrock Organization that Charles Handy first predicted in his 1989 management classic, The Age of Unreason.
  • Are Jobs Obsolete? ( Challenges the relevance of the entire concept of a job.
  • The Future of Work ( Sees a workplace dominated by virtual teams and global nomads.

For all of their futuristic and forward thinking, these articles miss a very important point–the recognition and acknowledgment that work and life are now one and the same. You can no longer accurately predict the future of one, without also imaging the future of the other.

But, with the exception of the need to transform education, the articles barely mentioned how the predicted changes will affect our lives outside of work. It matters because the success of any transformation at work along the levels imagined, will depend on a number of corresponding changes happening off the job as well. For example, if an increasing percentage of workers are part of a contingent, on-demand, virtual, global workforce, then:

  • What does that mean for the type of houses we live in and how we finance them?
  • How do the roles of women and men as providers and caregivers need to adapt?
  • How will that affect our choices to partner with someone and have a family?
  • How do we have to restructure child care and eldercare, and who will provide it?
  • How will we need to manage our finances differently?
  • Not only how do we update the curriculum taught in elementary and secondary school, but how does the school day and school calendar need to change?
  • What does “retirement” look like?

If these questions, and others, aren’t considered then a contingent, global, on-demand virtual workforce will flounder under the weight of misaligned personal obligations and circumstances.

The omission of “life” from questions about “work” is very Industrial Age. Twenty years ago, work and life were two separate and distinct spheres, at least in theory. “Work” was 9-to-5, in the office, Monday-thru-Friday and the other parts of life happened around that framework. Thanks (or, no thanks) to technology, demographic shifts, and economic globalization that’s not the case anymore. Changes in the way we work will directly impact the way we live. And, changes in the way we live will directly impact the way we work.

It’s a Jetsons world, but we still talk and think like we live in an episode of Mad Men. So, whenever you encounter “What is the future of work…”, add two words to the question “What is the future of work…and life?” That’s reality.

Do you think we adequately consider the impact of the future of work on the way we live our life off the job?  What are some of the questions we should be asking about both work and life in the coming years that aren’t being adequately addressed?

(This post originally appeared in FastCompany)

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