We've put men on the moon, beam live images into every home and talk to people in real time on the other side of the world without being tethered to anything. And yet the workplace hasn't changed since the Industrial Revolution.
I pontificated in a previous blog post about the UK's productivity issue being down to the fact that we are being ground down by the man for little reward. While I think this is part of the problem, it's definitely not the biggest factor.
Social mobility, easy access to money, plus huge steps forward in science and technology have all massively evolved since Victorian times. Still, our working patterns, championed by Victorian radicals, remain unchanged. We're married to "office hours" and have "the office" engrained into our routine. However, I think changing this could have enormous business, individual and societal benefits:
In many ways, thanks to zero hours contracts and the cost of living, we're still forced to work all hours for little pay and no protections. This is something that will never change, employers will always want cheap labour. However, while employers may still have the same objectives of milliners, society has moved on from sticking their children down mines.
The average 40 hours per week, Monday to Friday was designed to maximise production. The more time you spend at the loom, the more you'll produce. I'm a copywriter, I'm not measured by how many words I can write in a day. I'm measured on my ability to answer a brief by submitting good quality copy on time. Generally, my schedules are collaborative and I'm able to push-back or challenge. I am the manager of my own time.
So 8 hours a day is too long. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I procrastinate, and even actively avoid or delegate tasks. This is because if I don't do it right now, I can put it off till tomorrow, where I have a fresh 8 hours to make endless cups of tea and read the internet. And on the days I'm super efficient and diligent, my brain and body are so exhausted, I'm not performing to the best of my abilities because I've crammed too much in.
Imagine, if we cut the working day to begin at 10am and finish at 4pm - that's still 6 hours. And let's say the working week is 4 days, instead of 5. That's 24 hours a week. We'll have a lot less time to get things done, so we won't be wasting time eating breakfast, perusing H&M's new homeware collection, chatting to colleagues or killing time at the end of the day as there's no point starting anything meaty. All that wasted time will turn into productive time - and you'll get 16 hours of your life back.
I attended an event with Baroness Manningham-Buller, Director General of MI5 - she championed part-time working, saying if she could, she'd insist all her staffed worked part-time, as it made them more productive, as full-time staff procrastinate - so she found part-timers managed their time better. And she watches the watchers!
2. Work/life balance
Let's take my 24-hour week model, with the working day starting at 10am - you've got time to take the kids to school without it being a battle, maybe even enjoying a morning cuddle with your beloved. If you finished at 4, you'd pick the kids up from school, cook a meal (not eating convenience junk), spend quality time playing or chatting.
You're strengthening your relationship with your children and/or partner by spending more quality time with them. This might help reduce break-ups or children with behavioural problems, as they're getting more time with each other.
It's not just beneficial for families, but couples and singletons too. I would be a lot more chilled out. I would be able to indulge my hobbies and get so many chores done. It'll be nice to have time to go to places or socialise without having to worry about getting up early. And think of all the life admin that'll suddenly become easier to manage!
If we did reduce the working week to bring it on par with part time - there would be no need for a part-time/full-time disparity. Therefore not having an adverse effect on career progression and the gender pay-gap. So feminism might stand a chance of winning.
3. Mental and physical health
As mentioned above, the benefits of spending time with the people you love, in a non-fraught, non-shouty way will help your relationships. But think about how it will affect your frame of mind and your health.
As well as having time to cooking properly and perhaps those of us less dedicated gym bunnies having the time and energy to utilise that membership, you'll also have a lot more time to decompress.
Having time to reflect, to think, to appreciate what's around you could do wonders for your mental health. I need my medidative states to work through the clusterfuck in my head. Having the time to do this means I have to sacrifice seeing the people who matter or socialising.
I read somewhere that our natural waking time (taking away routine, hours dictated by your boss and the man-made construct of time) is between 8 and 9 o'clock. Yet, every morning we're ripped out of what should come naturally by the shrill of a box positioned right next to our lugholes. As if this wasn't bad enough, we're then faced with the work dread and forced to deal with other people, public transport, the school run, etc. No wonder we all have the rage or high blood pressure issues. We're forced into a bad place before we've even got to the office.
Our current lives are not in sync with our natural state of being and demands of our lives, so it's no wonder mental and physical health problems are on the increase.
4. The environment
I write words for a living. As long as I have a laptop and an internet connection, I can do my job. If I need to talk to a stakeholder(s) about a brief, I can Skype, IM or email them. So I don't need to be tethered to my desk - it makes no difference to my ability to do my job.
And I don't give a shit what Donald Trump says, he can barely read, climate change is real. While it's great companies are putting in recycle bins and motion sensor lights, but it's not enough. I worry about the amount of waste an office produces; through buying and delivering toilet rolls, tea, paper, stationery, etc. and the amount of energy they need to run fridges, photocopiers and computers on standby.
There are so many cars on the road, air pollution in our cities is a big problem. The demand and supply of public transport, coupled with its astronomical cost, isn't a viable alternative.
If we all worked remotely and used temporary office space for face to face working a couple of times a week, all of this can be resolved. It's a simple change to our working structure by using the power of technology that we already rely on, it'll make our lives easier and reduce the carbon footprint. Win, win
5. Fix society
This is ambitious, radical and bit out-there, but hear me out...
Modern life is tough. Since the 80s, single mothers, broken homes and broken Britain have been demonised by the government. The media pushes the perception that it’s just the working class or “chavs” who fall into this demographic. But in my parochial town, “chavs" are very much in the minority, I would say it’s probably 1 in every 70. And where I live isn’t unique.
In a time when 50% of marriages end in divorce, children are increasingly at risk and mental health problems are on the rise, is it really fair to say broken Britain is THEIR problem?
I think we would all be in a happier, healthier, more productive and creative space if we changed the way we worked. Yes, our ancestors didn't have it as good as us and we should be grateful, but it's called evolution and it's why the gig economy has taken off.
The workplace needs to keep up. Or not, as there's nothing we can do about it anyway.