Everything about the world of work is changing. Practices, spaces, times and the very meaning of work must now be radically reconfigured and redesigned from the ground up in the light of a disruptive evolution, which is only partly to do with digitalisation, in which the pandemic has been an incredible accelerating force.
While interpreting the present and its complexity to define the near future is by no means an easy task, some main trends are gradually and strongly emerging. We need to take a holistic, long-term view beyond the emergency to understand what will happen: it is necessary to be able to draw possible, sharable and liveable scenarios. Otherwise, we run a great risk of leaving many behind in our rush to establish the work of the future.
In his PHYD talk ‘Ripartre dal lavoro‘ (Starting afresh from work), work and industrial innovation expert Marco Bentivogli talks to journalist Lidia Baratta about how to design a new inclusive, democratic and sustainable world of work capable of generating increasingly more opportunities.
A work architect is needed to deal with a context of profound change in the workplace, currently grappling with three transitions (digital, climate-environmental and demographic).
“It is imperative that these new work-architect figures emerge, to begin to understand the new work trends rather than the new professions, because we still have great difficulty in recognising them and integrating them correctly into our work context. Work architects will be crucial at times like these, which call not only for a definition of how the world of work will enhance its main strength, which is including people, but above all how to make people an indispensable resource in any project”.
In this new context, we cannot fail to reflect on the thawing of the physical space in which we carry out our profession. The workplace is, in fact, becoming progressively less identifiable: The office has turned into a diffuse environment. It can be someone’s home, a café or even a coworking hub.
“Workspaces should be reconsidered and redesigned so that the return to the company evokes, generates and encourages the sharing of strategies and critical issues. Space, in this context, is still absolutely relevant”
Redesigning our workplaces and their physical spaces, starting by overcoming an old architectural concept, what Bentivogli calls “boxy and scribe-centric“, typical of office buildings. This pyramid architecture, which mirrors the rigid hierarchical separation of people in a company, is not only inadmissible today, but above all no longer sustainable. Just as it is no longer sustainable to have a city that moves hundreds of thousands of people towards its centre every day, emptying and debasing the suburbs. Urban space and the resulting mobility must be deconstructed by imagining more resilient cities, where everything is really reachable in 15 minutes and where the driving force, not only economic, is the meeting between people.
Smart working, the real thing
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, smart working is among the most abused words. Everyone talks about it, but very few know exactly what it is. Bentivogli defines it from the outset, believing that “If we want to identify the essential elements needed for a fresh start in truly agile and intelligent working, we must first understand what smart working is: it isn’t simply restricted to digital tech applied to work. It is actually a new dimension of work and enterprise”.
It is a dimension that no longer contemplates the application of hierarchy modelled by the Ford-style factory, which is based on control and pre-established timetables, but rather embodies reciprocity between the parties, in the transversal exchange of skills and knowledge, in greater freedom, albeit greater responsibility, for workers in terms of times and modes of production, and in an act of trust by leadership.
“Smart working thus conceived completely shifts our reference organisational culture, by transforming it, interweaving and positively resolving some of the contradictions of face-to-face working”.
The extent to which the organisational culture is ready for this leap in autonomy in the workplace (and time) is another matter altogether, which, according to Bentivogli, requires a tailor-made approach, dedicated to the needs of the individual and the individual company. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
The (rediscovered) meaning of work
The Adecco Group whitepaper ‘Resetting Normal: defining the new era of work 2021” revealed that 2 out of every 5 people worldwide are changing or considering a career change; an equal number are switching or considering switching to jobs with more flexible work options. The ‘Great Resignation‘, as the media hastened to call this phenomenon, reveals an incipient desire by individuals to give new meaning to work. The pandemic has necessarily made people more autonomous, proactive and aware; it has given them a new lens through which to look at the future. “This is why”, says Bentivogli, author of a book published by San Paolo entitled Il lavoro che ci salverà. Cura, innovazione e riscatto: una visione prospettiva (The Work That Will Save Us. Care, innovation and redemption: a prospective vision), “today, people are looking for more people-oriented jobs, even if they are less well paid“. Flexibility, career opportunities and continuous training are more attractive than a high salary.
So what happens to the ones who cannot afford to change jobs? We can forestall market polarisation only by engagements with education and training systems, making them adaptive and promoting mechanisms that promote, not just defend, the individual. Vocational training, which does not currently enjoy any recognition or certification, is a right which, according to Bentivogli, should be recognised by law.
Liberation through technology
“Can industry set itself goals? Do they lie merely in the profit index?” Those questions were asked back in 1955 by enlightened entrepreneur Adriano Olivetti as he addressed the workers of the then new Pozzuoli plant. Those same questions, more than six decades later, continues to animate the debate on the meaning and role of work.
Today, the answer may lie in digital transformation, in that disruptive wave of technology, which on the one hand erases old tasks and old forms of work, but on the other paradoxically (but the paradox is only apparent!) re-humanises work, filling it with strong values, such as care, attention, planning and thought. In the words of Bentivogli:
“We need to invest in the most uncompromising element that human beings have over thinking machines, over algorithms: humanity. Machines are not capable of strategic, out-of-the-box thinking, a type of thinking that is critical and that laterally builds evolved patterns of innovation. Humanity that designs must be recognised in the work”.
Companies must, therefore, be able to design with human purpose and centrality in mind, becoming a place where relationships and individuals are valued, recognised, seen; a place in which to be free but not one from which we are freed at the end of the workday.
To watch the entire event, simply register on the PHYD.