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New working paradigm = new possibilities

This is the extended post of a my guest article published in Nature Coast‘s newsletter in April.

The term ‘lifestyle working’ has been bandied around a fair bit over the last few years, but has made fairly minimal impacts on the day-to-day environment in which we work, in general.  Sure, perhaps we’re able to leave the office with an iPhone and connect with calls and emails on the move, allowing greater freedom, but generally we still go about business in a similar way.

Paekakariki Beach

Lifestyle working in Paekakariki

Having done a fair bit of personal research in this area, I’m now finding a radical shift in this model is beginning to arise – true Lifestyle working is emerging and is something we should consider as a wonderful opportunity for the place I live – Kapiti Coast – as well as New Zealand at large. It’s also an opportunity, for business people such as myself, to explore something more interesting – “what is this lifestyle we are working for?”

Taking a jump back a little, I think it’s good to set this in context; if there’s one element to the equation of lifestyle working which outweighs any other, it is most definitely the advent and revolution of the Internet in the last 20 years.

The landscape in which we do business has radically changed with this new paradigm; we are beginning to realise that the Internet is not just a hub for information and communication – it is a tool to enable so much more.

Image courtesy of Hank Grebe

I believe the Internet has shifted the manner and possibilities in the ways we organise and interact; Social Media has enabled our understanding of network effects and clustering around topics and values which interest us (often quickly and then disbanding); driving innovation, acceptance, and widespread viral communication.  So, if the landscape has changed – have we?

As mentioned previously – I would suggest, perhaps not.  Our structures of business are so ingrained in hierarchy and its congenital inefficiencies, that we are slow to change.  However, within this, I think the Kapiti Coast & New Zealand has a great opportunity as we have many small-medium enterprises which have the potential to scale up, but not necessarily the resources to do so. If we recognise the potential of the Internet, and new ways of organising, then we have the potential to do more, with less resource.

So how do we go about this? Well, perhaps the ideas are rooted in Lifestyle working’s philosophy – flexibility, motivation and choice.

Flexibility

Image courtesy of ambuj.wordpress.com

The internet truly enables us to work from anywhere these days; when we consider the wave of web-based software solutions (SaaS) which can enable us to access our information and communication tools from anywhere; Google Apps (e-mail, calendar, document creation and storage, website analytics, pay-per-click advertising campaigns), Xero (accounting), Minutedock (time tracking), Capsule (CRM), MailChimp (Email Marketing) to name but a few.  Add to that Skype as a free communication tool, increasing numbers of Wifi hotspots and cheaper mobile broadband (2degrees) and perhaps you don’t need an office of your own any more?  We could consider co-working spaces are an option, where you can retain the benefits of an office environment at a fraction of the cost, and opens us to all kinds of new opportunities to collaborate with other people/companies in the area.

When we realise that we can work anywhere, then the only constraints are those we impose on ourselves – expectations of customers, family arrangements, and office overheads for example.  It can be quite freeing to work elsewhere than in the office. We often associate ‘the office’ with being called into meetings, being interrupted in the flow of writing or thinking, or simply distracted by other issues. Studies show every time we’re interrupted, it take 15 minutes to get back into the full flow of what we were doing before – so how can we be expected to be truly productive at the office?

When you ask most people ‘where do you go when you need to get work done?’, very few of them will answer that the office is their preferred place. [There's a great TED.com talk on this here.]  So why do we cling to this idea? Perhaps it’s control. Perhaps it’s wanting to know that people are working, and that they’re able to connect together when they need to – but we’ve already discussed that the landscape has changed, and that’s now possible in different, more efficient ways.

Motivation

Screenshot from RSA Animate

What motivates us as humans, is not just money. There’s been a lot of research into this area, as many organisations are trying to work out how they can get the most out of their staff – but largely, and the most persuasive research in my mind – shows that extrinsic inducements such as money are in fact, de-motivating for anything beyond the most simplistic of tasks. Whereas when intrinsic values are nurtured through autonomy, mastery & purpose – motivation skyrockets. This is our opportunity with a new working paradigm – encourage these intrinsic motivations and see the results. If you’re interested in hearing more about this – check out Dan Pink’s talk with RSA Animate here.

Choice
The freedom to choose means we can make decisions which we see value in, rather than because they simply have to be that way. We now have this choice – so what are we going to do with it? What can we envisage for the future?

If we consider flexibility, motivation & choice together, we can see that there is an opportunity to go about doing things differently than have been done before; make better use of the resources we have, make better calls on what we need and what is a luxury that perhaps we don’t, and go beyond trappings which motivate only very superficially. We have the opportunity to bring a uniquely Kiwi take on what this means, not simply follow how Europe, America, or Asia are adopting these principles – after all, we have a unique land in which we live, and one of the few countries with a minimal population density which doesn’t match our land’s abundant lifestyle opportunities.

If you take Enspiral’s view on lifestyle working, you can take individual’s within the group as an example.  We’re encouraging diversity, but take the example of 3 people:

  • Myself: I use the freedom this paradigm gives me to live & work somewhere I feel more relaxed & motivated – the Kapiti Coast – but also to work 1 day a week with an organisation called Conservation Volunteers.
  • Will: Take a week off between projects to make some music and further his skills.
  • Joshua: Set out on a roadtrip with Regeneration to research and inspire youth leadership for 5 months around New Zealand while still working a 25 hr week.

We see this as a great opportunity to keep people who do not necessarily fit the 9-5 office working model (think new mum’s & dad’s, people who want to work remotely, people who want to work 5 hours at odd times), but keep their skills & minds engaged in the community, economy and enrich their lives with intrinsic & extrinsic motivations too.

The question of ‘what is this lifestyle we are working for?’ is a very broad one which I will be exploring in a future blog.  Stay tuned.

In summary, the opportunity presents itself in many forms. Possibilities now exist for new ways of communicating & organising, the Internet is enabling a dramatic shift in the ways we interact with work, and the future is in our hands to decide how we use this new paradigm to our advantage.

Comments

  1. Julie says:

    This is really fascinating and so clearly an area which is developing. I like your point about control and the desire to be able to check that workers are in fact working. The key really is in businesses accepting that you can check if people are actually working by their ‘output’, and that just being able to physically see an employee is at work does not mean they are being any more efficient or productive.

  2. James says:

    I how feasible such a lifestyle would be for those in the general workforce who don’t have the luxury of a skillset that has yet to experience the deskilling and mechanisation of appropriated productive techniques suffered by skilled workmen since the industrial revolution. As far back as 1835, Andrew Ure the predecessor of Taylor and Ford, argued that, the more skilled the worker, “the more self-willed and… the less fit a component of a mechanical system”

    And if not how fair and just such a state of affairs is. Do you imagine its realistic to contemplate a reform of New Zealand’s workplaces from the inside or would it be more feasible to establish new workplaces on the lines of worker self-management?

    Theres a substantial body of literature to show how worker improvements in self-management within corporate workplaces significantly increases workers’ productivity, yet such programmes have been terminated because they threatened the perojatives of management and didn’t wish to surrender their power within the workplace.

  3. Sarah Edgehill says:

    Kia ora greets from Berlin
    I just heard about you today from a friend here.
    Maybe someone is interested in this project which is full of wild projects/inventions/actions here…
    Because so many people don´t really need offices anymore, some freax have got together and created 1 big open office//workspace etc
    http://odc.betahaus.de/

    pretty cool idea if i think of my kids tomorrow and what kind of spaced out ideas they are going to be inventing…

    This is like the yin of the yang of remote workplaces.

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  3. [...] I talked about ‘lifestyle working‘ and ‘pursuing purpose‘ awhile back, I was not quite expecting to find myself [...]

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