Bet you didn’t see that coming.
While our optimistic CEO Rhonda writes about Green Day, what it takes to build great organisational culture and much more, this borderline Gen Y hits you with Dolly Parton (this time more directly, last article a little more indirectly). That’s probably my MO – if not a story of the everyday or the exploration of a dataset for its intersections and the psychology of people, then I’m going to get you with an awkward analogy.
Hear me out.
In the last few blogs – we’ve covered some very important ground
- Real change is a lot harder than rage
- The reality of many truths
- The key concepts to make work absolutely human in 2022 and beyond
Each of these articles from different authors brought perspective, balance, lived experience and reflection on topics that matter at work. Let’s continue that pattern today.
Visiting Coney Island
Recently, we visited the famous Coney Island – which to me as an Aussie isn’t nostalgic, but was fun and a people watchers dream. There were definitely a few moments to reminisce about ‘the demon’ rollercoaster at Wonderland in Sydney’s West.
But without direct nostalgia to Coney Island, with its lights and fanfare and understated grandeur – I was momentarily transported to the past. As humans living with a pandemic, we’re in this phase of learning from the past, thinking to the future, and often we look to the past where we could’ve and should’ve done better. Individually, collectively.
But is the past always ALL BAD?
Everyone seems happy to beat up ‘the way we used to work’. Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin’. That way to make a living, that pattern of work is a little inflexible in 2022, but can we just throw a blanket over it and let it gather dust?
In our visit to the landmark, trampling on the uneven timber boardwalk, we were surrounded by the young and the old, people of all backgrounds and nationalities. In line for the old Cyclone rollercoaster, the line had (at least) 2 Australians, 3 orthodox Jewish high schoolers, and a happy mix of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Dominican Republicans. Sorry for that last assumption – but from the flags held, music playing and our conversations – I’m confident that’s accurate as a display of their proud heritage and love of that part of their culture.
And it was awesome!
There was something about this rickety fairground, that got people together that wouldn’t naturally hang out. Yet, we fit together seamlessly as we got jammed into seats the width of 2 1927-sized people (but more like 1 and ½ these days…) – wide-eyed, broad smiles, and shared jokes of our impending doom on this old machine transcending all else.
We were brought together simply to have fun, with friends and family, to be proud of where we are from and who we are, and to eat a bit too much sugar and salt.
It got me thinking.
Is 9 to 5 really that tough a way to make a living, and is the very notion of the office, the same as that rickety Coney Island fairground? Is the office a place that gets different people together, for memories and nostalgia, and for new meaning, that can be magic?
Where people bring uniqueness and pride, and can display it openly, to achieve something valuable (which is probably even better than that Nathan’s Hotdog).
Is there something charming about what we used to do, that can still create magic?
I totally believe that.
Maybe in the future, we can keep some past
I’m sick of hearing ‘the future of work’, like everything in the present is rubbish and that that past of work was all bad. It wasn’t.
Actually, there’s a lot I miss in the past of work. And I don’t think I’m alone on this. That includes:
- Going beyond all-virtual meetings (too much of a ‘good thing’ becomes a ‘bad thing’ fast)
- It’s nice to see people in the flesh and connect organically rather than through little boxes of text or grainy video calls
- I get MORE done when I can do it together, because people give me energy
- I need to be CONNECTED (not in the technology way, although better internet in Australia would be good). I’m talking about the deeper form of connection: to be needed, to need, and to care deeply about something valuable together.
Yes – we’ve heard it all. COVID made extroverts depressed, and introverts rejoice.
And don’t get me wrong, I love some quiet time. In that quiet time, I’ve read it all, the views that these personality traits are stable and not situational, that all extroverts are the same and introverts the same and they are so different. Yet, all I got was this crappy t-shirt that calls bullshit (that no one can see on Zoom anyway…)
For nostalgia’s sake, without the 100-hour weeks
9 to 5 actually came from a desire to stop 100-hour weeks in manufacturing, and is credited to Henry Ford. What it shows to me, is that we should always be pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for humans and business. And that sustainability mattered then, as it does now.
In that context, 9 to 5 had significant merit from the alternative. It has restrictive boundaries – but the boundaries went both ways.
And the office had a place too (and so did – and do – other physical work spaces). If physical workplaces only got people building relationships, ones that meant they showed up for each other to create collective value, they’d be worth their weight in gold. Even if the people didn’t naturally go together in other contexts, just like the Cyclone rollercoaster line.
Acknowledging the 9 to 5 challenges
Sure, a lot has changed that challenges the 9-to-5 workday and the office: a thirst for flexibility, for reducing commute time, for buying a cheaper house rurally that’s enabled by it all.
But I say let people work in ways that are good for them. Don’t be too prescriptive. Rigidity breeds a lack of agency. And too much flexibility risks the loss of what was great already.
9 to 5 wasn’t that bad a way to make a living, but it’s true that we can always do things a little better.
The rickety old fairground, the office, is worth another go – at least sometimes.
Just like 365 days a year at Coney Island, doing the same thing every day is imperfect (the heart would race too much, the calorie intake would be too high).
But you’ll be surprised that the past is not ALL BAD, and that the future of work is not as mysterious as you’ve been led to believe.
People, purpose, connections and belonging
People, purpose, connections and belonging are at the heart of all meaningful work. And bringing those ingredients together will require a mix of old and new approaches.