Synopsis: As an increasing number of people are taking advantage of advances in technology and new ways of working, we’re seeing an emergence of a new digital work ethic. Access to information that if you wanted to learn more about, you can check out at this website for data related information, control over your work week, and finding meaning in your job are all key elements of being part of this Digital Renaissance of Work.
It is perhaps one of those quintessentially British traits that we struggle to react to good news with delight, tending instead to seek out the darker side to positive developments.
It is therefore no surprise that an intense debate broke out when it was announced this month that employment in the UK has reached its highest figure since records began in 1971: just over 30 million people are now in work, a figure that is 691,000 higher than a year ago.
The rise of the self-employed
A record number of people in work is good news. What is interesting though is that, of this 30 million plus, 4.5 million people are self-employed. This is a rise of 146,000 over the previous three months and the highest figure since records for self-employment began in 1992. If you’re currently employed in the business world, take a look at the top 10 backpacks for business professionals.
This surge in self-employment has been picked apart and pretty much universally condemned as evidence of a mass of desperate people without work seeking to gain some (i.e. any) work for themselves.
However, a deeper pattern was revealed in interviews such as that with a woman in her 40s who had become a dog-walker, and another with a man in his 30s who had gone into landscape gardening after retraining.
Both spoke passionately about the energy, liberation and sense of empowerment they were experiencing through being able to exert a new control over their work lives.
Their stories of self-employment reminded me of my own sense of escape from drudgery that I discovered back in 1985, when I left a stable job as a City Editor for a national news agency to “work freelance”. I awoke the day after I left my supposedly “good job” with a sense of liberation and excitement. Despite hard work and inevitable ups and downs, this overall sense has never left me.
A new digital work ethic
We can see that work is being transformed around us through technology, mobility and new services. However, at a more significant level, there is a revolution happening that deeply affects what work means for each of us.
We are shifting from a “Protestant” work ethic (work as obligation, duty and suffering) that has characterized the last 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, to a new digital work ethic (work as fulfilment, enjoyment and autonomy). This digital work ethic is the new working experience of the Digital Renaissance of Work.
Here’s an example of what I mean: I recently had a conversation with three young professionals, all of whom are in their first jobs in their respective fields of Digital Marketing, Event Management and Finance, and I asked them what they “expect from work”. Each of their answers demonstrated that they take it as natural that their work will be stimulating, meaningful and rewarding.
All three said that they work hard but, despite that, look forward to their working days, gaining both value and pleasure from what they do.
These three people in their early 20s are illustrations of the new digital work ethic that is at the heart of the Digital Renaissance of Work.
How do you know if you are a part of this new digital work ethic?
You are plugged into data, knowledge and networks easily
When talking about the “Digital Renaissance of Work”, I refer to the formerly “digitally disenfranchised”, who are now gaining access to knowledge and information for the first time. For example, street-sweepers are beginning to use their smart phones to connect with colleagues in their neighbourhood and track the performance of their “patch” against that of other sweepers. We are now seeing that being empowered through digital connection can make a whole multitude of jobs and tasks easier, more satisfying and ultimately more rewarding.
You have influence and some autonomy over where you work
This does not mean you can work anywhere you choose (although it might), but that you have some control over the design of your working week. For example, being able to have a day when you work from home or in a café; deciding to work from a different company location; or choosing to work in the evening so that you can attend your daughter’s school event in the afternoon.
You are judged based on outputs and results, not on input
Here at DWG, no one tracks when and where you work or how hard you work. But we do care passionately about what you deliver and the quality of your results. This is not about higher levels of trust, although trust is essential in successful companies. We are instead each judged based on what we produce – or fail to produce. We each remain accountable for our deliverables.
Your working culture has moved beyond the “gentrified slavery” of managers watching you work
So many managers remain wedded to seeing their team at their desks each day, “hard at work”. The mentality of chaining people to their desks so that you can watch them work is what I have called “gentrified slavery”. This is increasingly being replaced by ways of working that focus instead on delivery and results. In other words, the culture you work in will have moved beyond someone watching you work to new working patterns that flex based on what is needed in order to secure the desired outcomes.
You feel your work has meaning and value for you and those you serve
The concept of work being a rewarding experience has historically been restricted to those in the charity or caring sectors, or to artists. Now – as in the example of the three young people above – meaning and value can infect any role, from delivery driver to shop assistant to CEO. Digital connection and empowerment through access to information change the experience we all have of work. Even small changes can make big differences, such as the integration of software that can optimize your fleet of delivery drivers, reducing their workload and stress levels. Or, if you are a warehouse operator and can select your shifts for the month ahead to suit childcare or ageing parent needs, your work becomes more rewarding as you value the choices and control you are given.
Trust is based on the quality of networks and connection, not on face-time
We have always believed that trust is developed through meeting each other physically. However, in global teams and virtual projects, this becomes either impossible or at least rare. Meeting in person always helps, but creating trust digitally is far more essential today. If your ways of working enable this, then you are exhibiting yet another sign of the new digital work ethic.
Your life and work are blurring in a way that suits you and feels authentic
Work and life getting muddled up is an issue of our times: 24/7 access to email, the intranet, social media and so on can lead to work addiction in some cases. That said, being able to design and configure a healthy blurring between work and life in a way that suits us, on any given day, is a bonus. If we feel at home in our work, then this synergy can positively affect our entire daily experience of being alive.