The Evolution of Work as Home

Evolutionary perspectives are all the rage at the moment. Carter Phipps in The Evolutionaries says “we are moving” – we can connect the dots from our prehistory through to our present and know that every certainty is about to change. I have been thinking about this evolutionary perspective in relation to work and home. I have a renewed interest in home these days, as I work at home more and combine work life with home life. I have been wondering how work and home have evolved over the past century or two. I see three themes: globalization, miniaturization and isolation.

Looking back several hundred years, communities were smaller and work and home life were interconnected. The store was at the front of the house, the blacksmith’s shop was adjacent, and the barn was in the yard. As industrialization grew, company towns became a feature of mines, mills and factories, separating men from their families during long workdays. The company provided the homes, schools, stores and recreation for their employees, using a portion of the men’s wages to pay off their expenses and frequently creating an indebtedness that bound them to the work and to the local community.

Fast forward to the last century where we see the rapid growth of urban centres and service industries. Employees now become harder to attract and organizations must create effective supports for both men and women in the workforce. Large corporations create campuses, often designed with multiple buildings to simulate collegial settings where services such as a cafeteria, drugstore, gym, cleaners, sundry shop and day care centre encourage commuters to leave the suburbs early and return home late. Many workers now have computers on their desks and many organizations now have a multi-national presence. Homes, however, have become isolated from work as a place to relax on weekends.

The next stage of evolution comes from the hi-tech sector where young innovative techies are enticed to bring their home to work, to team up in creative incubators for novel designs. Tech savvy companies foster a family environment at work, providing home cooked meals, gathering places, basketball courts and even cots or tents for sleeping between idea sessions. The workplace is now home – this is where your friends are, where you spend your time, where you get to create games and programs for fun. Often, these organizations are catering to a global audience of software users looking for games, puzzles and simulations. It is a young innovative playground, isolated from many of the realities of the adult world outside.

While we marveled at these evolutionary advances a few years ago, we now find ourselves carrying our work with us wherever we go. Work is the person, not the place. We are in constant communication with others through text and email and with the world through satellite programs, internet calling and online access to anything anywhere. Fewer of us are working inside organizations and many more are independent consultants, advisors and coaches. We are not geographically bound – we work around the world in global teams across borders and cultures. However, we may feel isolated from the physical community of colleagues of yesteryear as we sit in our homes and hotels alone.

And because we are moving, we know not long from now we will have our communications technology embedded in us, tiny and powerful – we will be the technology, allowing us access to continuous information, advice and direction for our lives. The challenge will not be hardware or software but the capacity to interpret it to our advantage – the work of the future. As Jason de Silva says, “We are already cyborgs.” Of course, these are just examples, all of which still exist in some parts of the globe and none of this forecasting is certain. The benefit of evolution is that we get to participate in setting our future course with our every thought and action. It’s a grave responsibility and a lofty freedom.

Evolutionary Phase Globalization Miniaturization Isolation
Home as Company Town Localized Big machinery From outside the boundary
Home as Urban Campus Multi-national Personal Computers From home in the suburbs
Home as Hi-tech Incubator Global audience Online software & interaction From the adult world
Home as Workplace Global travel Handheld communications technology From work colleagues
Home as Self Global and beyond Embedded technology From true self and others

So it seems we have come full circle – home and work becoming one again. This time, though, they center within the person. We are becoming globalized, miniaturized and isolated. We are developing a planetary consciousness rather than a local geographic one. We will soon have embedded technology that we carry everywhere rather than having to live and work where the technology is housed. And we will no longer need each other to create products and services; we will be able to do it on our own but may find we have lost something of our true selves as a result.

I would be very interested in how you see home and work as connected – you can leave your comments on our blog at www.integralathome.com. If you’re interested in contributing to my research, I would appreciate you completing the brief 10-question survey to participate in understanding this complex relationship better in the future.

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