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Do we really, really want the NWoW?

Digital isn’t new in organizations: it’s been an ongoing evolution over the past 50 years which have brought organizations to adopt information technology at first, to fully embrace the digital (and especially mobile) revolution today.

Digital isn’t new in society either: personal computing has become a natural part of our daily lives since the late 90’s, smartphones are omnipresent today, and many of us live in an always-on world…

FastTrack’s work with organizations is mostly focused on the internal perspective: How do we share and collaborate more efficiently between teams across the organization? How do we innovate work processes in order to facilitate new forms of collaboration, new services, etc? At best, our work extends beyond the traditional organizational boundaries to embrace clients, partners and suppliers, and maybe the larger ecosystem…

Admittedly, we’re not often pushed to ask ourselves questions on the impact of digital beyond our clients’ organizational structures. That is, the impact of digital on society at large. But the boundaries — between business and society, between professional and personal IT, between work and private life — are blurring: we bring our digital life to work as naturally as we brought work home in recent past, and the fact that we can access work anyplace, anytime, and with any device challenges the traditional notions of work organization, largely inherited from the 2nd industrial revolution (think control & command, hierarchies, specialization, etc).

Whilst the impact of digital on work is generally perceived as positive inside the organizational context (was it only because it increases work comfort and flexibility, allows working from home, solves mobility issues, etc), we should be aware that it is rather disrupting in society — and not always in good ways! This is partly because many a job doesn’t allow for a decent revenue on its own, and digital is being used to extend the 9-to-5 job with a 5-to-9 add-on, a phenomenon labeled ‘slashing’ (the term was apparently coined by Marci Alboher, author of One Person/Multiple Careers, to describe the ‘slash’ in the job title of someone who is a designer/webmaster/taxi driver, for example). Of course, not every add-on job is motivated financially, but when there is no main job, only add-on jobs, we’re clearly facing increased precariousness!

Unfortunately, some of our hailed digital technologies are really working in favor of precarious work. Think Amazon’s Mechanical Turk for example, where unknown workers get paid as low as $0.01/transaction for low value-added tasks such as translating snippets of text, transcribing short audio tracks, or tagging images… In times when even beggars have smartphones, how easy is it to distribute meaningless work to the poorest?

Or, closer to our western comfort, think of the many people checking their smartphone every morning for interim work, maybe a few hours, a full day at best, without any obligation on behalf of the employer! In the UK, the infamous zero-hour contracts have become commonplace in the hotel and catering sectors… This may be technology-driven work, but it is disrespectful, stressful, and uncertain!

Really, in times of happiness-at-work, is this how we want technology to ‘enable’ new ways of working? @cdn
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