The Memes 2019

The Seamless Life
And The End of Work Life Balance

“Work-life balance is a misguided metaphor for grasping the relationship between work and the rest of life; the image of the scale forces you to think in terms of trade-offs instead of the possibilities for harmony. Life is actually the intersection and interaction of the four domains of work, home, community, and the private self.”

- Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

In today’s age the idea of ‘work’ has shifted - from the physical, laborious, and task oriented to the more cognitive and sentient. Today organisations that are seen to be among the best places to work have deep levels of empathy. ‘Work’ is no longer a menial activity today. Increasingly, especially for millennials, it is a source of meaning. They believe that if they love what they do enough, then work won’t feel like ‘work’ and there will be no distinction between work and life.

Most high performance, high growth organisations today strive to create this sense of seamlessness. It is understood that if a sense of emotional and intellectual belonging is created then the chances of success, for both employer and employee, are higher. In addition technology is allowing us to ‘live’ in multiple spaces simultaneously.  Technology is also making us unlearn the habit of ending one task before moving on to another. This is changing how we work and how we live, and blurring the line between ‘work’ and ‘life’ to the point where the two are indistinguishable. Our homes are equipped with technology that allows us to work in our pyjamas while our workplaces are equipped to help us take care of domestic life.

Take multinational shared-office-space provider WeWork for example. In the words of Devin Vermulen, WeWork’s creative director - “We wanted to create a space with that same level of comfort that you get out of your living room, a place where you can kick your feet up on the sofa, and feel comfortable.” The company’s mission is to “create a world where people work to make a life, not just a living.” Meanwhile the German conglomerate Siemens is led by the mantra of the “seamless life”, where “consumers universally aspire towards a truly integrated lifestyle with intelligent technology at its heart.” Home integration devices like Google Home and Alexa are designed to pre-empt consumer needs before they are even felt. From the most complex to the most simple, all pain points in our day-to-day lives are being addressed by technology. The idea is that the time freed up from drudgery will make us more productive multi-taskers, though it is equally likely that various forms of entertainment will occupy the void created in our lives by technological efficiencies.

Freelancing or its new avatar – the gig economy – is now a parallel workforce and part of the mainstream job market. PayPal records around 1.5 crore freelancers in India working forclients based across the globe, making India the second largest freelance market in the world (after USA). 43% of these freelancers are millennials who are keen to live life on their own terms, detached from any previously followed system or structures.

The proliferation of startups across urban India and the influx of a new generation into the workforce is leading to a re-negotiation of the idea of what work is, and how it is to be conducted. While their parents might have viewed work as drudgery and labour, young Indians today want to not just earn a living, but also find mental stimulation and emotional contentment at work. From fashion to the sciences, from music to commerce, today’s youth seek validation beyond designations and hand-outs. The want their identity to be reflected in their work.

Meanwhile as a recent NY Times article elaborates, the time spent by parents on activities like reading to children, doing crafts, taking them to lessons, attending recitals and games, and helping with homework has increased from about 1 hour 45 minutes a week in 1975 to nearly five hours a week today. And parents worry it’s still not enough. Intensive, helicopter parenting is the norm today and while fathers have increased their time spent with children, mothers still spend significantly more.

The new age white-collar worker transitions seamlessly between her various avatars throughout the day - as a professional and a partner, a care giver and a project manager, a friend and a family member. It is a formidable challenge, but one that is increasingly the new ‘normal’ - as changing technology and cultural expectations make endless multi-tasking and intensive parenting all part of the daily routine.

From both supply and demand perspectives, the end of what we today call ‘work-life balance’ is imminent. The expectation of being able to ‘balance’ our lives will soon be redundant, as the connection between physical locations and specific tasks or activities is broken once and for all.