The existential questions come thick and fast.
They can be interesting and sometimes energising, but I am not always sure they help us. I think they mostly distract us. We end up, if we are not careful, daunted by a future we can hardly imagine, while we are stuck in a sub-optimal present that is all too familiar.
Take, for example the question “What is the future of work?”
I am not good at predicting the future, but I will have a stab at this one.
The future of work will still be full of imposed and often fatuous deadlines. Our work technology will always be mostly tired, utilitarian and more Trabant than Mercedes. Our priorities will often be determined by a desire to avoid conflict than the opportunity to make a difference.
Juxtapose this future, with all its familiar and muddily dysfunction, and then compare it with Linked-in which will reliably pop up several times a day with smiley exhortations for me to be TRANSFORMED by someone being implausibly energetic.
This is probably just me, but it is not the new ideas I object to and it is not that I am in a denial about how muddily and dysfunctional my present can be; it is the disconnect between the two that I cannot find a way to bridge. It means I do not see “transformation” as a good thing. I see it mostly as a threat, taking away the last hope I have of getting anything done at all. Like offering a drowning man lessons to learn the butterfly stroke while he is sinking. No, I do not want to learn a new swimming stroke, just throw me a bloody life belt or go away.
A breathless webinar may be wonderfully exciting to make, but please remember that you are now appearing in my home, with the full laundry basket just out of sight, the dog howling at the delivery man about to ring the doorbell, and not enough milk for my next cup of coffee.
I do not need your jazz-hands dashboard to help me understand how shit I am at getting through my to do list.
Then there is the most crushing line in all such webinars; the line when the host joyfully confirms that “if you have missed anything you can DOWNLOAD the content to watch it again”.
(If I may digress for a moment, is there a more unattractive sounding idea than that of the “DOWNLOAD”? To “Down” “Load” – it doesn’t exactly scream “Tiffany blue box” does it? Frankly short of calling something a “DUMPSPLASH”, it really is quite the most unappealing idea for receiving anything from anyone at any time.)
So, it is the noise I struggle with. The hype, the hyperventilating and the disconnect with today that I resist. I know that my tech indifference (phobia) is not something to be proud of, but apart from email and Wi-Fi, I am struggling to think of any “tech” that has truly “transformed”. The noise however does not abate, and so the future of work will be excitable combinations of agile, virtual, digital, atomised (fuck knows) and all manner of words which sooner or later will become another breathless webinar.
My concern therefore is not the tech, but with the fixation with the label and the hype. Legal Tech and Legal Ops is all very well, and I know is full of lovely people, but do we need them to be “TRANSFORMING”?
I would like them to be handy.
I would like them to be kind and valued; all of which would be great, and plenty.
I suspect these people are also mostly working on stuff that was not properly implemented by their predecessors. They are now living with the dawning realisation that the problem is not the idea, or the product, but the instances of everyday micro passive-aggressive resistance from everyone else who is just a little too busy, today, to listen, support or do anything even vaguely different.
It is, of course, hard to address such accumulated dysfunction, but for me it is not the answer for the evangelists to by-pass resistance with evermore hype. We are not far away now from legal tech being launched with sci-fi graphics, green screen animation and a whole cinematic backstory to play out on a dedicated You Tube channel presented by a teenage influencer with a billion followers because he once sucked porridge through a straw while setting fire to his eyebrows in his bedroom.
The future of work should not be hyped. Work is mostly useful, routine tasks that after a while bore the pants off us, spiced up with some Executive vanity initiative, plus buzzword bingo and the odd avoidable crisis to show we still have a functioning pulse between 9am and 6pm. The future of work is a boss who finds it hard to pretend anymore; an irritatingly aspirational junior who is unfeasibly happy to visit a supplier factory in Eastern Europe squished in the back of a 6am flight from Gatwick and who actually thinks it is developmental for their career. The future of work is also co-existing with several people who have seemingly retired from their roles but not yet persuaded HR to find a budget for them to leave the building. The future of work is, sadly, less about team building, and more about delaying the soul destroying. The future of work is now, and always will be, TOO MANY FUCKING EMAILS, jeesh!!!
The future of work is not meant to be designed, curated or innovative. It is meant to be A JOB where on a good day we rock up, are inoffensive, try to be kind, competent and present. We should care enough, but not too much; we should help where we can, but we should also realise that none of it really matters.
I do not mean to sound negative; I just want things to be in proportion. We can be more efficient by doing less, talking to each other more, and showing that we care more for the people than we do for the process.
Work tech does not make us happier; more often than not it is just better at counting how little difference we make to the pile of never-ending tasks our over-developed sense of duty encourages us to take on.
The future of work should be to ensure we have a better life outside of work. A place to love, laugh, cry, inspire, be inspired, run, sleep, walk, sit, drink tea, share, hug, touch, stare, smell, taste, rest and go again. Outside of work there is a future we should make time for and relish. Outside of work is where we should all want our best selves to be. The future of work is that it must do no harm.
Work is part of our lives. It should not matter more than that.
Take care. Paul xx