More than a job: Make
your career dreams a reality
How to Unplug from the Anytime-Anywhere Office Without Disconnecting
By Gil Gordon
1: How Did We Become So Attached to Our Offices?
Granted, many companies came into the 1990s having become somewhat
bloated, the result of previous decades when competitive pressures
and scrutiny from Wall Street analysts weren't quite as relentless.
However, if the people went away but the same tasks, to be done the
same way, remained, the result was a mad dash to cram more work into
fewer people. If six people are doing the work that ten used to do,
and at the same time are expected to meet or exceed previous budget
and productivity targets, something has to give. Staffing levels might
have been a bit generous in years past, but that doesn't mean everyone
was sitting around filing their nails and working a 35-hour workweek.
To this pressure-cooker environment in which everyone was supposed
to "do more with less", we can add the globalization trend
that swept through corporate boardrooms. It was as if CEOs awoke from
a deep sleep and realized their competitors and customers were not
only down the street or across the country, but just as likely to
be across an ocean or two. To the extent that those competitors had
a lower cost structure which many did because their labor costs
were so much lower U.S. and European firms had yet another
reason to keep budgets and headcounts lower.
The final ingredient in this stew of workplace turmoil was fierce
competition, which resulted in the pressure to do everything faster.
"Time to market" became the rallying cry: product development
time lines were compressed, and it became trendy to take a "ready,
fire, aim" approach. One way that corporate leaders justified
this quest for speed was to point to the multibillion-dollar investments
in IT equipment and services that were made in the 1990s. The new
PCs and corporate networks were supposed to boost productivity and
profits, and would, in fact, allow their companies to "do more
This was true. But another truth got buried under the technology sales
pitches. Achieving those gains would happen only after a significant
initial investment in training and in "system integration"
to make sure that all the pieces meshed well with each other. This
goal was made more difficult to achieve due to the problem referred
to by many as "paving over the cowpaths".
Trying to modernize a city by paving the dirt roads with blacktop
doesn't help much if all you do is pave the existing twisted maze
of narrow paths suitable for horses and cattle but not for cars and
buses. Similarly, pouring thousands of PCs and miles of cables into
a corporation was a great way to waste money unless the systems and
processes that technology was meant to automate were overhauled
in other words, the corporate "cowpaths" were straightened
and widened before being paved over with all those chip-laden
wonders. Unfortunately, this all became somewhat irrelevant. The expectation
was that more technology meant more speed and more output per employee
and when those results didn't always magically occur, the
only way to produce them was to require people to work longer hours.
Oddly, the same thing happened even when the technology delivered
as promised. Consider the case of presentation software such as Microsoft's
PowerPoint, which has become a corporate staple. Before PowerPoint,
a graphics presentation would have to be created by a graphic artist
using highly complex software or even something less sophisticated
and more manual in nature. With PowerPoint and its software cousins,
just about anyone could sit down at a PC and, without much training
or practice, produce an on-screen presentation or a slick set
of slides, handouts, or transparencies that looked fully professional.
On one hand, this software actually was a productivity tool
it took only hours to do what might have taken days previously, and
the result was just as good, if not better. But it didn't stop
there. Once everyone saw how easy it was to use these programs, they
were used more and more. Thus, a senior manager who wouldn't have
considered asking an analyst to spend a couple of days working up
a slide presentation using Stone Age technology didn't hesitate
to direct the same analyst to prepare that presentation using the
desktop PC and PowerPoint. The goal was for this analyst to save time
by using the software; the likely outcome was that he or she spent
more time on presentations and had less time available for other aspects
of the job.
The Employer Bottom Line
These three forces downsizing, globalization, and the need
for speed combined to change the work environment from being
comfortably busy to being a nonstop workshop in which most people
felt they could never get caught up and could never stop to take a
My point is not that employers should have ignored these forces; those
who did flirted with disaster. Like it or not, the pace and pressures
in organizations did heat up in the last decade and especially in
the late 1990s. We are still seeing the effects of those changes on
the everyday schedules of most office workers.
Where Do We Go Next and Is the Grass Greener Elsewhere?
Now you have the "big picture" background about why so many
people seem to be working for so long in so many places. The three
contributing factors were shown in a triangle earlier because they
are inseparable; we can't affect one without affecting at least
one of the other two. That's why we'll focus on all three
as the rest of the book gives you methods for redrawing some boundaries
in your life.
Maybe you're starting to think that the most expedient way to
deal with these issues is to move beyond them, instead of working
on a plan to cope with and improve them where you are now. You might
be especially tempted to look elsewhere if you're in a situation
with your employer or your clients that simply breeds pressure, tight
deadlines, and nonstop work. If you're thinking that things might
be better elsewhere, and that it's time to polish up your resume
so you can find a job where it doesn't seem you're working
23 hours out of every 24, I'm afraid I have some bad news. The
grass really isn't much greener anywhere else or at least,
not a whole lot greener.