di Nicolò Boggian

INTRODUCTION

In recent months and years, the world of Work has seen an acceleration of change with even more significant impacts.

One thinks, for example, of the shift of large shares of workers from agriculture to industry and services[1], of the difference between clerical work in the 1980s and that of today, and finally of the impact of Covid on office work.

There is a widespread conviction among the most attentive observers that change affects the very Nature of Work, not only where it is carried out, and that Technology, especially Digital Technology, will have a great impact on the organisation of Work, its structure and its main components, leading some to express very negative predictions, like the “End of Work”, and others to point out multiple problems[2].

In spite of these elements, the way in which we think, organise, contract and remunerate work is struggling to evolve in view of the new context, posing serious questions also on the socio-economic level[3].

I think it is therefore necessary to analyse the Nature of Work in the light of the new changes, in order to discuss and propose new ways of organising, contracting and remunerating work. 

Finally, I believe that in the light of this reflection many of the problems of Labour can be recomposed and society can grow, resume less controversial perspectives and successfully tackle the problems that afflict it.

 

DEFINITION OF 5 DOMAINS

The debate on the new Nature of Work[4], allows us to identify 5 “Domains” on which Work is articulated and on which the impact of Digitisation can be analysed[5].

Of course, like all conceptual architectures, these can be changed, expanded or revised, but I believe they serve to shed light on trends and dynamics that we all see and to suggest better responses at the individual, organisational and institutional level.

These categories are clearly interdependent on each other and somehow merge/overlap in people’s practice and lives, somehow maintaining a balance and coexistence:

 

  1. The first is what I would call Imagination.

 Every project, product, service, physical space is first of all imagined, and is the result of the culture of the individual and his experiences and knowledge, including ethics, values and a vision of the future. The ability to imagine in a free, innovative, detailed and unprejudiced way, with a solid basis, is a capacity that needs to be developed. The quality of responses to the needs of individuals and communities, as well as their concrete implementation, depends very much on the quality and extent of the solutions imagined (e.g. how to solve a global challenge or how to improve the life of a neighbourhood or how to cure a disease or how to foster the economic growth of a region etc).

 

2. The second is Knowledge

The interaction between people and reality, and between products/services and consumers, generates data and knowledge that are poured into Imagination as a new fuel for innovation and solutions. Observation and continuous learning make it possible to create models, concepts and limit cognitive distortions, so that reality can be analysed and managed. Characteristic of this area is the use of the scientific method.

 

 3. The third is that of Technique.

 Imagination requires the contribution of Technique for the realisation of projects and their implementation. In turn, Technique (finance, engineering, information technology, marketing, etc.) needs the Imagination in order to have a clear, long-term direction. Technology often tends to reproduce the past and set limits which new techniques will then replace, generating new opportunities. Technique in turn is the basis not only for the realisation of services and products but for the analysis of reality itself.

 

4. The fourth domain is that of Language or Communication[6].

There is the domain of Language in which metaphors, meanings, concepts and messages are generated and disseminated as the basis for defining reality and for the exchange of information between individuals. The social nature of man and his constructs makes the dimension of Communication and Language intrinsic to the very nature of reality, becoming a constitutive dimension of it. Every activity needs the use of language to be coordinated, disseminated and explained.

 

 5. Domain of Practical or Presence Work

Every creation and activity, however immaterial, is “objectified” and becomes concrete at some point in space, making the Work “evident”. This has its own execution in time and space, with control instruments in synchrony with purchase or consumption.  Today, this Work is in some cases carried out by machines and in others by people, but it represents the conclusion of the activities of a chain of subjects, scattered in time, carrying out activities in different Domains. This conclusion is often characterised by the registration on a physical and concrete support, located in time and space[7].

 

To visualise these phases we can imagine any activity, product or service we have around us. Let us think for example of the realisation of a design: first we imagine it, find the supports and methods to realise it, then we realise it concretely, disseminate it and finally record feedback from the environment. From these elements of knowledge, other individuals obtain new ‘fuel’ for their imagination and the circuit continues[8].

 

IMPACT OF DIGITAL AND TECHNOLOGY ON WORK[9]

We have all seen in recent months the potential ‘remotionalisation’ of large areas of Work[10], with overall positive effects on productivity, work/life balance and the environment.

Well, the impact of Technology, in particular with the progress of Machine Learning and AI, is likely to be even more profound, contributing to define the very structure and organisation of Work.

In fact, one of the dynamics of Technology is to allow a continuous evolution of Techniques and their efficiency, making it increasingly easy to create new products, services and ventures, provided that one knows how to imagine them and how to anticipate their impacts. This is also due to the possibility of supporting multidisciplinary collaboration between individuals with different skills and attitudes.

Market competition will therefore focus heavily on Imagination. In fact, the technical domain will allow fewer and fewer “monopolies” and the diffusion of collaborative practices will increase the degree of continuous evolution of techniques in the various specific fields.

Similarly, the diffusion of Knowledge, and the homogenisation of Language will allow for a widespread dissemination of culture, data and information, making knowledge and know-how increasingly transferable between different individuals.

It can be continued by discussing how the Presence Work phase is also continuously optimised by Technology that makes it faster and more efficient, eroding in some cases the need for human intervention or reshaping it over time.

Digital also has an impact by automatically and simultaneously recording the workflows of different actors in different domains, thus allowing for greater partitioning of individual activities, even asynchronously, abundant data collection and ultimately a new and more detailed division of labour.

 

GENERAL REMARKS

 It is important to note that in all five domains we are talking about Work, albeit with different characteristics. Each Domain therefore requires a specific organisation, contractualisation[11] and remuneration[12].

Analysing and getting to know the various domains is therefore fundamental to organising work in the right way, increasing productivity, innovation and the involvement of people.

It is therefore necessary to establish what skills, attitudes and organisations are needed to deal with each Domain effectively[13].

It is quite evident that up to now Imagination is a bit of a “Cinderella”, despite being probably the most scalable activity, dense in intellectual property and exposed to competition. Our future and the solution to our needs depend heavily on this domain.

It is interesting to note that traditional organisations, the domain of Technology, tend to stifle the space for Imagination, which is becoming increasingly important in the future.

Perhaps it is precisely an unclear definition of Work, in the light of the changes brought about by Technology, that is one of the causes of the low involvement of workers in organisations[14].

In the light of this analysis it is possible to reconsider the very negative predictions of the “End of Work” and instead contemplate a shift from the domain of Presence to the domains of Knowledge, Technology and Imagination.

ACTIONS AND FUTURE TRENDS

The understanding of the new nature of Work and the conscious use of Technology offer great opportunities to make people more autonomous and free to create/imagine/provide their own Work, with the support of Technology, thus enabling them to live a better life.

One can imagine a Future of Work in which people are increasingly independent of their past roles and experiences and organisations are much freer to successfully organise projects in different areas and sectors.

In general, institutions, through the use of Technology and the consequent new organisation of Work, should aim to move as many people as possible from routine tasks in the presence to tasks in which it is necessary to imagine, analyse data and use techniques.

Organisations will need to automate in-presence activities, structure themselves to allow continuous learning of Techniques and make the most of People’s Imagination capacity.

In this way, the physical presence of the person at the workplace can be reduced and optimised, and their remuneration can faithfully follow productivity as a function of their creativity, learning capacity and flexibility.

The evolution of our society and its sustainable growth will depend on the ability to imagine the future and to correctly remunerate work and activities in the various domains.

It will be possible to achieve greater social mobility and distribution of wealth according to the talent of each individual, without discrimination of gender, age or nationality.

A future in which everyone can imagine freely and be paid for it may already be on the horizon. For those who do not know or do not want to imagine the future, the end of work could be a scenario that gets closer every day.

 

[1] The share of workers employed in agriculture is now below 10% in almost all ‘western’ countries, while the majority of those employed work in the service sector. The situation was diametrically opposed at the beginning of the 20th century. https://www.statista.com/statistics/256563/share-of-economic-sectors-in-the-global-gross-domestic-product/

[2] Think, for example, of job losses in traditional sectors, the environmental crisis, the need to reskill large numbers of workers, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, or the difficulty of reconciling work and motherhood for women. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.SRV.EMPL.ZS?end=2019&start=1991

[3] Although there is an unprecedented wealth, quality of life and productive capacity in human history.

[4] stimulated also by a recent speech by Massimo Cacciari on the ‘Work of the Spirit’ at a conference organised by EY,

[5] The domains are simple conceptual constructs that arise in the reality of Work in a non-sequential and randomised way. they are not explored in depth from a philosophical point of view but are useful to support the theory of work indicated below.

[6] Be careful not to confuse the nature of communication with the technical tools of communication (e.g. social media, TV, video, etc.).

[7]  Think of the work of a developer when he writes the code that powers a platform, a delivery man who brings us a pizza, or an ATM or the barrier that registers a toll crossing.

[8] Be careful, however, not to necessarily see a rigid sequencing of this kind, which I propose only to facilitate understanding. The various elements can intersect in a more complex and continuous way.

[9] The impact of technology on the organisation and structure of the labour market deserves a separate chapter.

[10] At global level, the Wef report, Future of Jobs, speaks of 44% of activities that can be performed remotely

[11] I do not agree with the analyses that assert that social network users do work when they enter their data and therefore should be paid. The remuneration of Work depends on a client commissioning or deciding to buy the product and service.

[12]  Up to now the Presence/Concrete phase has been paid by exchanging the time of presence in the workplace for the work done to generate that value, to be able to practice it and make it “profitable”.

[13] Clearly, it should not be an expert in administrative law who imagines the future any more than it can be a philosopher who manages the construction of a bridge. It makes no sense to pay for Imagination, Knowledge or Technique ‘by the hour’, but for their topicality, updating, depth and detail.

[14] Gallup surveys indicate a share of actively hired company employees of under 20%