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What Is The Future Of Work?

Let me point out – again – that the answer to the question is useless – because the question is badly framed. I have written about this before here, here and here and a whole host of other places aswell.

The Conclusion

There is no future of work. There is only a future of income.

Fast forward to a LinkedIn graphic that was presented to me last week.

It appeared in Brett King‘s LinkedIn stream. Brett and I are connected on LinkedIn, and have a couple of very good mutual friends in common. Brett, like another ‘futurist’ Gerd Leonhard is doing a great job in ‘getting the word out’, but I worry that the word being got out is not just oversimplified but actually harmful because people are being lulled into a false sense of security.

This Is One Such Example

First, I assume that ‘Aritificial’ is a typo and not some new technological development …

… but the lack of proofreading of a single sentence might be a clue to how substantial the thinking is that underpins the idea.

Important: Please do not take this post as my taking an anti position on Brett. I don’t know him, but do follow and pay attention. He is not wrong on a number of issues. Like these two ..

The Original Post on LinkedIn (sorry – I wanted to embed it here – but LinkedIn is the only site that seems to fail with a WordPress embeds) … go figure.

The crux of my issue is the flip approach to what is happening in the world of business today.

I limited my response to a few lines … hoping that a reader would be able to ‘read between them’, Brett read the lines, but not between them.

Brett duly responded …

Readers of this blog will know that this is something I understand.

BUT

The point I was trying to make is not about the future of work – we know is being redefined through outsourcing, offshoring, automation, AI, the gig economy, zero hour contracts … and it is clear those jobs aren’t going to come back.

My point is (and always has been) more ‘People Firsty’ … that is as all of this comes to be – how will people make income to live their lives in the future?

Example 1

In the comments in Brett’s thread people referenced the four day week – and everyone is talking about how it is already happening. The assumption seems to be that a staff member will no longer work 5 days and instead work 4 days.

This is quite brilliant and lovely and utopian and – all those things we want to have in and around our lives and existence. Who doesn’t want to work less …

If their salary is not affected.

But let’s just take a couple of seconds to do a pretty shallow dive … if people are working 4 days, not 5, then they are working 20% less. To let them work less and not pay them less is the equivalent of companies giving each of those people a 20% salary increase.

Are companies going to do that?

The answer is in plain sight because we have a stalking horse in the race. Thanks to COVID we have proof points all over the world that people don’t want to ‘go back to the office’ and in turn, some companies have responded with

That’s ok – work wherever you want!

Spectacular – until you read the small print …

This isn’t the only article out there, do a search and you will find hundreds, if not thousands of articles debating the merits of paying your staff based on what locals earn.

Case in point – move 200 miles up the I80 from San Francisco to Reno, salaries are nothing like that of the Bay Area. On top of that since Reno is in Nevada – there is no state tax. In California – well like most places, it varies, but here is one slice …

$115,648 – $590,7469.30%
Source : HR Block

– so moving your life 200 miles reduces your cost of living substantially just based on tax savings. But there’s more …

Beyond the tax break, the Reno cost of living index is just 116.2, compared to San Francisco’s at a whopping 244and that does not include the tax break just described.

So if you can do your job remotely, why wouldn’t you want to move to a cheaper place – and collect the same income. (Putting the comparison of living in Reno versus San Francisco aside.)

It does seem to be a perfect idea – except your employer is not generally going to allow that – because they do – and will – pay you based on where you live – not where you work!

I get the argument, I really do – but that’s my point. If companies aren’t going to pay people for value delivered, but based on where they live, then why are they suddenly going to pay you a higher daily rate because you want to work less?

To me, the 4 day week is an experiment to cut salaries – legally. It won’t happen suddenly – just over time. They might well leave your salary in place, but everyone’s? … and when you leave will they continue to pay your premium rate to the next person?

Example 2

As more and more people leave their cubes to follow their dreams and passions – which is what everyone is telling you to do – right? Follow your dreams – it will all work out.

What dream and passion are you going to follow?

Look around today and you will find little societal support for artists, musicians, writers, poets et al. Imagine if the number of such people suddenly doubled, grew fivefold or even tenfold as we all follow our dreams … are all those people suddenly going to be earning a lot more? (it’s a rhetorical question.)

We are also told that there is so much opportunity in the professions of care-giving, social services, teachers, hospital workers, elderly care. They are right. Lots of opportunities. They are all on the ‘hot professions’ list, but before you get too excited, go talk to the people who work in those areas now. Ask them why Teachers are resigning en masse? Why do nurses get trained and don’t go into health services?

There are countless examples of how society (that’s you and me), value these professions. We don’t.

Back to musicians – we pay Spotify 10 bucks a month to stream an ‘all you can eat’ flow of music to your ears. The artists are generally not well rewarded. But it’s not as if Spotify aren’t making good money. How else do they afford to $100 million to sign up a single podcast – or buy company after company as they seek to lock up the world of podcasting. (BTW – they are doing it because the more you listen to that – the less they have to pay out.)

To conclude, as wonderful as it is for all of us to follow our dreams and passions – so we can all live fulfilled lives – we also need to earn an income. And we are barely doing that today, so how is that going to get better?

I said something better change
I said something better change
I said something better change
I said something better change

The Stranglers

Or maybe we will all move into social services, hospitals, caring for the elderly – since they are all on the ‘hot professions’ list. That said, the last two years have clearly demonstrated that while ‘society’ might value the people in those roles, it is clear that the paymasters do not.

In short, as we replace jobs with automation – and people don’t have a way to replace that income, something is not adding up.

Bottom line – as organizations remove people from their vendor supply chain and automate sales to improve business efficiency, more and more people will be left out of the workforce – and no matter how many Norman Tebbits (Sorry old English reference), how about Kim Kardashian’s words of ‘motivation’.

I have a way of looking at the issue. I call it …

The Business Equation

At the simplest level, the business equation recognizes that every commercial entity has an input – where it creates something using people, money and/or assets to create a product or service that is sold – the output. The ‘black box’ in the middle is the business. Your business. Any business.

To maximize shareholder value, the business seeks to reduce the cost of what it produces or increase the price of what it sells. Yes there all kinds of techniques that are used – but reduce it all down and you are left with

It is a simplification, but the logic holds.

This is an early simplification of the model. The whole enchilada will become a post unto itself.

It is also true that on the left-hand side of the equation the fixed costs of ‘people’ is really high – which is why over the years, companies have sought to cut those costs by ‘getting people off the books’. That’s where outsourcing and offshoring got their start. Automation through Robotics is now turning into AI and then at contractual levels, the gig economy / zero-hour contracts all play into the needs of corporations who keep on pushing the boundaries of ‘just in time’ ‘people’.

And you thought the days of people being cogs in the corporate engine was a thing of the past!

Now imagine every company big and small working to remove people from the equation in this way. Where does it leave people? Every mini Business Equation on the left of that diagram is doing its bit to outsource, offshore, automate …. and where do people fit in that equation?

To quote my friend Geoffrey Moore …

That’s What I Think – What Do You Think?

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‘Outsourcing’ and its sibling ‘Offshoring’ often suffer from ‘abdication syndrome’ as the company focuses on cutting its costs to virtualize their supply chain.

BUT

If you don’t have people inside the company who understand what the outsourcing company is up to …. how do you manage the relationship, contracts and work done?

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Why Do You Work?

Photo by AR on Unsplash

I promise, Manton, Daniel and I did not coordinate this – I think sometimes synchronicity just happens.

In last weeks newsletter I asked the question

Why Do You Work?

A reply post will be available this Saturday.

There have been some great answers, but that is not the reason for this post.

Manton Reece – the brain behind Micro Blog 1 and Daniel Jalkut – the brain behind Red Sweater 2 have a weekly podcast called Core Intuition. This week I learned that they have been running their podcast for twelve years. A remarkable feat even of itself. Both of them are independent developers and this week the conversation turned to employment. A really nice discussion between two professionals that wrestle with following their dreams and passions, while balancing the need to put bread on the table.

Have a listen – you won’t regret it and very pertinent to the discussion ‘Why Do You Work’.

Footnotes

1] If you want to see MicroBlog working in the real world, my web site – John.Philpin.Com is powered by MicroBlog.

2] If you want to see Red Sweater working in the real world, that’s a little harder – but Daniel has a superb product called Mars Edit that I am using to write and post this article. Seriously. If you are a Mac user that writes a blog – you should be using Mars Edit.

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Slack Solves The Wrong Problem Really Well

Or as Cal puts it …

“Slack is the Right Tool for the Wrong Way to Work.”

”The future of office work won’t be found in continuing to reduce the friction involved in messaging but, instead, in figuring out how to avoid the need to send so many messages in the first place.”

Cal Newport

Cal nails the problem I have with Slack that I have never managed to nail down.

Read the article in The New Yorker

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Where Do You Work

A response to a recent newsletter. Specifically one where I explored Work Location. (You might want to click in and have a read to get the context.)

Sometimes people have a lot to say, but they don’t join into the dialogue – nor even make comments. I get it. I really do. Another post from an anonymous reader, this time answering something I wrote in a newsletter and again – reproduced with permission from the original writer.

Photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash

Now, this is a subject that really gets to me!!

I have long argued that the biggest conflict in the world today is that between global and tribal politics. I have met anthropologists who maintain that the human-animal is basically tribal – pre-programmed by history, if not genetics, ‘to want to belong’. They argue that this is at the root of all sorts of things we see today – including racism/xenophobia at the most serious level and, more prosaically, things like fashion fads, football fans, pop group mania, etc., at the daily level. However, there is, in my eyes at least, clear evidence of emerging subsets of humans who want to throw all that away in favour of seeing the world, and our species, holistically.

One rather crude indicator of this – a frequent topic in my Operations and Supply Chain Management consultancy and teaching – is the tension between global companies (not of all which are the spawn of the devil, planet-destroying, secret cabal members, but simply businesses whose raw materials, skill-base and customers cannot be defined by random, historical, “lines on the ground”) and national Governments, most obviously over issues like differing tax regimes (and where it’s paid) and customs (import/export) processes.

Extend this to the individual with the option of working at very long distance from ‘the office’, and we see similar issues. Some 6 years ago, I did a piece of work for a Greek client, itself funded by the EU, whose direct customers were mainly from the new Eastern EU member states. HMRC was out of the traps like a top greyhound: within days I was in receipt of paperwork explaining what I needed to do to make sure that my work was taxed (and subject to National Insurance) ‘here in the UK’ (despite me NOT actually being in the UK), rather than in Greece. I presume the argument would be that we are a UK-registered company, I am a UK citizen and the education/experience that enabled me to win the contract were gained in the UK, some of it at University, at the taxpayer’s expense. That’s fair enough. However, many of the people who would say “quite right too” are EXACTLY the same people who complain when a US company, say, elects not to be taxed in the UK on earnings made here. Yet, those companies are employing UK people, who pay (quiet a lot) of tax, when you take NI, VAT, duty etc., into account as well as direct PAYE, they are renting or buying UK property, and paying local tax on it, they are consuming UK products and services that create more jobs and tax, etc. If they moved all their operations out of the UK, would we win or lose? It’s not such an easy calculation as the ‘red top fury’ suggests.

So, back to your individual, living where (s)he wants to live but working for a company ‘back home’, or, in the extreme, in the economy that places the highest monetary value on her/his skills. Would (s)he pay tax in the country of residence, the country of origin, the country employment, or several of these? Would the value of the residence (shopping local tax, etc.) be offset against the value of direct employment taxation in deciding policy?

Or is this another nail in the coffin of nationalistic division?

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Message From A Musician

As a reader of this blog and newsletter or as a listener of my podcast – you know that I am a keen supporter of the broad category of ‘creative professional’ – and specifically ‘musician’. What follows are not my words, but those of a musician that wrote to me recently. Reproduced with their permission and names and venues changed/anonymized to ‘protect the vulnerable’.


I just got my first real paying gig since March 17 for Saturday December 26th. Meanwhile, due to an uptick in local COVID cases the county has announced that restaurants are to remain open, but no one allowed at the bar for the next 2 weeks.

By my calculation from today (Dec. 10), that takes us to December 25th. So, December 26th we will be back to normal?

Photo by Marscella Ling on Unsplash

After 9 months of ‘COVID communications with the owners of a local ‘hostelry’ – and having played there every Friday for over fourteen years, I have now experienced a full u-turn, so instead of returning to my Friday Afternoon slot – which they said “would be there for me whenever I was ready to return”, they have instead told me I will be “on call”, if they need a last minute substitute as ‘their schedule is booked full’.

I told them actually no …. no I won’t.

Beyond that, they are no longer paying what they used to – and that was never a lot to begin with!

The business (music AND the hostelry) has never been stacked with integrity, but this has to be a new low. Maybe to match the pay rates of the stand-ins?

Meanwhile on the other side of town, my Tuesday night gig (again over 14 years) has been taken over by a guy playing bass with a karaoke backing machine … in return for ‘a burger and a beer’ !!

The musician said “he did not want to steal my night” … funny – because he did. He could have said no. I guess the burger temptation was too great.

He was offered the gig by the owner because his belief was that I wouldn’t work for free. (Correct!).

I grew up in a Union town. I remember what those kinds of people were called.

I get it. I really do. I know the venues are struggling with finance like us all – musicians included – but if they can’t afford musicians – why bring them on at all?

If your business model is to offer live music – shouldn’t you pay for it?

And sure – I can hear the gallery calling down – you’ll make it up in tips.

With luck – but in reality – no.

So take a share of the profits of extra beer sold …. yeah – good luck with that! When THEY are doing well, YOU are on a fixed (low) fee – “make it up in tips”. But now they are down … well, you know how it goes.

As you know I’ve made my living as a full time musician and creative all of my life, so sad to reflect on COVID lessons;

  • loyalty – out of the window
  • promises – not worth the paper they are written on
  • dogs – they will eat dogs

Don’t get me wrong, the competition is just getting ramped up. The number of musicians – in this area seems to be growing by the day – and I am pretty sure that the number of hostelries are reducing. (One of the biggest just 10 miles away has announced that it is closing for GOOD. )

Not sure how this is going to play out – but I stand with my belief that a business should only offer what it can afford – and the race to the bottom of price is not a race I am going to join in.

When I order Lobster, I don’t expect to eat it and then renegotiate the price – but that seems to be the life of the live performer.

Still – one door closes, another opens – I wonder what happens when two doors close!

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Employee Surveys

Why employee surveys, like political polls, are misleading.

They should have called me!

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Digital Nomads

The War For Digital Nomads Heats Up As Greece Passes New Tax Law

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Don’t Fear The Future Of Work

The Future of Work

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is the source of this piece on The Future of Work. I don’t disagree with the headline, but the article itself falls short of providing solace. In fact it falls short of being an article – but that’s another story.

An altogether disappointing piece that ends …

“I really come away from this concerned about the direction [of work], but optimistic about our ability to change it.”

David Autor, Co-chair, MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future and MIT Professor of Economics

On what grounds? Their was nothing of substance in the piece. Just opinion.

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