SURVIVING PRODUCTIVITY: PART 2
The post-COVID-19 economy demands we create a more humane version of capitalism, and that means redefining productivity. And the first place to start is to abandon the noble yet impossibly naïve notion of the Work/Life Balance (caps optional).
Let’s put a muzzle on our internal Pollyanna and admit there is no such thing. Perfunctory, physically demanding jobs, slavishness to the clock and shareholder value, a porous U.S. social safety net and more make the work/life balance an unrealistic goal that’s as hard to achieve as World Peace. There is work you hate so much you pray for the weekend so that you can visit your life (if you still have one). There is work you love so much that weeks and weekends are one in the same and the time you take for loved ones (if you still have them) are those two weeks a year Americans are granted vacations.
If you lose work, your life suffers, no matter how much balancing you strived for. Over 100,000 homeless Angelenos can attest to that. We are a society that works so hard because our system is fragile, and productivity is geared to the brutalism of the factory and free markets. But the pandemic took us off the treadmill and showed us how much we hated running to nowhere. And as tragic as it has been, COVID-19 will change behavior and norms.
Society’s worst jobs are increasingly being done by machines. Currently, there is a worrisome exodus from unhealthy, unfulfilling, low-paying occupations. To pay these workers a real living wage ($26 an hour in LA) raises prices beyond the business model of the Walmart’s of the world. If filling orders is the measure of productivity, and your workforce is productive in filling orders, they can’t be more productive by filling orders that haven’t been placed yet. New types of better work will have to absorb these workers, as a fully automated warehouse needs only two warm bodies, and one of those is a watch dog.
The ability to work remotely will revitalize work and life in other occupations without the quest for the mythical work/life balance. Modeling the office after the uber-efficient factory made the office a lousy place to work. Interoffice rivalries, the commute, fluorescent lighting, co-workers who bring their sniffles and aches to work, and recently, the soul killing open office made pursuit of the work/life balance Quixotic. Then, COVID-19 and technology flushed these flaws out from their dank crawl spaces.
The truth is, if you like what you do, you bring your work home with you. It stays in your head. When you work remotely, work and life are fused; there is no commute, the lighting is better, and you’re not forced to listen to co-workers’ stories about their in-laws and pets. But today’s productivity must be measured in what is accomplished, not what is completed. “Don’t work longer! Work less and do more!” is the mantra, the new ROI. Working shorter hours, more intensely, is the new productivity. Focused collaboration increases productivity. Staying healthy increases productivity. Go ahead, take that mid-day walking, exercising, book reading, cake-baking moment. Managers should create an entry on their time sheet templates for ‘Quilting.’
Having work inform life and life inform work, without trying to balance them in separate silos, increases productivity. Embrace the remote office. Its benefits are not yet fully realized. Hopefully, a new definition of productivity will lead to a better society and a more humane 21st Century version of capitalism. Now, if we could only make the four-week vacation enjoyed by our European neighbors an American reality, we might actually achieve World Peace.
Written by Bruce Dundore, Creative Director – Fraser Communications