An article in yesterday’s New York Times highlights the staff of Inc. magazine publishing an entire issue of their magazine virtually–that is, out of their office. Turns out that in today’s new media age, it’s pretty easy to do–the only thing really missing is the social component that an office adds.
This is no surprise to me. I started my own communications company three years ago and mostly work virtually with several associates who are sometimes in L.A., sometimes in Israel, and sometimes in New York; indeed, as long as we all have our time zones synchronized-there is no need to be in the same place at all. We show up in our office to have meetings and host clients (unless the clients are based overseas, which many of them are), but otherwise we can work from anywhere, as long as we have mobile phones, Internet, instant chat, and shared hard drives.
I am convinced that this is the way of the future, at least in the work areas that can be serviced like this (obviously, someone who works in a hospital or cleans a school has to work site-specific). But, this new workplace offers challenges to those of us who are social democrats and who have spent a lot of time imagining and fighting for a humane workforce.
After all, we are talking about a 24/7 workforce here that often increases individual alienation (it is possible to work with half a dozen clients this way and never once speak a word out loud) while at the same time increasing productivity (no wasted hours chatting with office mates you don’t want to chat up or even commuting time or water-cooler politeness), but it makes little allowance for social benefits like pensions, etc. since much of this work is part of a new flexible workforce, and certainly doesn’t teach social solidarity unless we are all signing on to an online petition or Facebook page.
But, this is the workplace of the future for so many, and it is also an especially attractive model for younger workers and for those in the creative and intellectual industries (you can even teach a class virtually if need be or desired). So, how are we going to respond to this new workplace? We need to find new language and new logic in this 24/7 wired world that goes way beyond the old left and even the new left rhetoric about social change and social good.