The Four-Hour Workweek Fantasy

Experience suggests employees want to matter more, not work less.

The Social Media Explorer blog had some interesting thoughts on the future of work and the desires of younger, digital native workers to shift to ideas like the 4-hour workweek.

“I think there is a whole new workforce that is coming to life that a lot of our ‘corporate’ employers simply aren’t prepared for,” writes Nichole Kelly, president of SME Digital. “This isn’t about whether you are a Gen Xer or Millenial. This trend is rising up as a result of advanced technologies that allow us to work from anywhere, shifting business and personal priorities and books like The 4-Hour Workweek (Crown Archetype, 2009) that tell us we can live differently.”

Kelly writes of a near future where employees are free to work from anywhere, going so far as saying that companies could allow employees to take months-long “workcations” in different countries to learn the cultures and become fluent in various languages. In addition, this culture will allow organizations to hire the best person for the job, regardless of their location.

Other traditional aspects of work culture -- such as the 9-to-5 schedule and meetings in conference rooms -- also will become relics of the past as organizations embrace a “new corporate America.”  

Still, while these proposals could bring positive changes for employees and organizations alike, there are still challenges, Kelly writes. For example, it will still be important for organizations to figure out how to facilitate those water cooler conversations in an online environment. Another challenge is determining how to effectively manage virtual teams, particularly if an organization or federal agency has hundreds or thousands of employees.

At the same time, I can’t help but question whether the changes Kelly describes are completely in line with the work culture that Millennials and Gen Xers want. Don’t get me wrong; as a mom and a military wife who has to follow my husband on a PCS move every few years, the ability to continue my work from anywhere and on my own schedule has been a blessing. But I’ll admit that I still miss the office culture and the ability to communicate and collaborate in-person with colleagues.

A recent visit to companies including Facebook and IDEO in Silicon Valley showed much of the same sentiment among Millennial and Gen X employees. While those employees noted that they wanted the flexibility to work where and when they wanted, most still commute into the office every day. What’s more important to them is having the ability to collaborate with other workers.

Still, a new corporate model is on its way, at least to some extent, and for federal agencies, this will represent a new way of working, collaborating and managing using technology. Is your agency ready?

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