Post pandemic future of work

What if work did not feel like work! What if hard work did not feel like work load! Is such an experience possible for everyone of us within the framework of the employer employee relationships that exist today? In this article I propose that such a future is possible if the relationship between the employer and employee goes through a fundamental shift. The future of work will need to be co-imagined and co-created by focusing on a new framework of societal change.

The pandemic has created psychological conditions conducive to re-examination of the very idea of the future of work.

A discussion about the future of work is often triggered by two phenomenon- “The great resignation” and “reluctance of younger generation of workers to return to in-person work”. While these two behaviors indicate a problem faced by the employers, just focusing on these problems will not help define the future of work. We must understand fundamentally what types of engagements people find meaningful and worth committing their energies passions and imagination to. I want to share a personal experience.

During 2008 recession our business suffered severe losses. Giving up was not an option for us because we had a mortgage on the building and were continuing to draw on the credit line. Keeping hopes alive and continuing to nurture long term relationships with clients seemed to be the best way forward. A friend said to me, “I am jealous that in the midst of the hardships, you continue to enjoy working”. I replied, “I don’t enjoy working. In fact, I have never worked in my life. I wander; I play, I build relationships, I learn, I explore and I seek purposeful, meaningful and productive interactions with people”. Money is only one of the motivations for me. Finding flow in whatever I do is equally important.

In his book, Flow, Psychology of optimal experience Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as

“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” (source: Finding Flow)

Csikszentmihalyi’s inferences were an outcome of a global study on happiness. During the recession I was able to feel motivation to keep going by focusing on flow more than on generating profits. The suffering the world has gone through during pandemic has been worse than the suffering of the 2008. This time pandemic has had a more profound impact on all of us. We found the time and space to discover how to use our precious time purposefully and seek to live better. Many of us have changed our jobs, others have moved to the places that bring them happiness.

Unlike many of my friends who have chosen to work remotely, I started going to my office on July 1st 2020 and have not missed a single day unless I was traveling or unwell.

I have been spending time alone in my office. The first change I made to my environment was to instal translucent blinds on the huge windows to turn the harsh glare of light into a soothing ambiance. I also converted my conference room into a relaxation and meditation space- adding a Japanese mattress, essential oil dispenser, a device to project sky on the ceiling and a google home to play relaxing music. I spend one hour every day in this room to unwind and disengage from my thoughts. During this period I bought and read more books than all the books I have purchased during my work life. During lunch I make it a point to eat at neighborhood restaurants that are hurting. On my way back I pack half my food and share it with any random person I meet. This behavior was prompted by something my mother told me when I was a kid. She said, “even if you have one cookie, share it with someone. You will find that splitting your cookie in half and sharing it with someone with double your joy. You can have more with less.”

While a lot of people I have met over the past two years have found in these times an opportunity to seek work life balance- to me it was not so. It was an opportunity to slow down, play, learn, and expand my consciousness and imagination. A friend recently told me “what you do is- create magic by helping yourself and your people expand their consciousness”.

This time has been a period of spiritual calming. It has made me more mindful in the choices I make, and more authentic in my relationships with people around me including strangers I meet serendipitously. I self published two books- a book of poems and another an illustrated book about our inner child written to generate a dialogue between parents and children. My communication with clients has became more open and driven by our collective curiosity for doing the right thing.

While a lot of companies and corporate real estate brokers, believe people need work life balance, I have a different perspective. Our real opportunity is to imagine “How we might help people live meaningfully, purposefully and grow”. Even the concept of hybrid work sounds like a compromise between the employers and the employees. The work spaces need to be redesigned as spaces for learning and growing, spaces for experimenting, tinkering, discovering and building relationships. Companies will need to i commit more resources to nurturing the well being of their people and the communities they belong to. Companies must understand that people do not want to just work from home- they want to live better- by mitigating stress and maximizing a sense of purpose in what they do . That may mean decentralizing corporate ivory towers and creating spaces for learning, playing and being creative/ productive closer to where people live.

I envision a future where what we called a third place in the past would in fact become a space of choice for bringing magic and meaning into people’s lives. Third place was seen as a place to escape. In the future the third place will become a destination where people find experiences that bring self improvement, guidance, and feedback for becoming productive members of the society.

I have hope that a new generation of inspired , purposeful, creative and productive communities will emerge from the current shifts in mindset’s and priorities.

In his book Tools for conviviality Ivan Illich presents an alternate vision for the future: he addresses the problem of

“the institutionalization of specialized knowledge, the dominant role of technocratic elites in industrial society, and the need to develop new instruments for the reconquest of practical knowledge by the average citizen. He writes, “lite professional groups … have come to exert a ‘radical monopoly’ on such basic human activities as health, agriculture, home-building, and learning, leading to a ‘war on subsistence’ that robs peasant societies of their vital skills and know-how. The result of much economic development is very often not human flourishing but ‘modernized poverty’, dependency, and an out-of-control system in which the humans become worn-down mechanical parts.” Illich proposed that we should “invert the present deep structure of tools” in order to “give people tools that guarantee their right to work with independent efficiency.” (Source: Wikipedia)

I believe the pandemic has created a once in a life opportunity to co-create a convivial society where people can live with purpose, dedication and dignity.

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