The future of work is already here. It not only affects our work life, but is also increasingly taking hold of our private lives. But there are not only downsides to this.

The conflict between work input and work intensification, between autonomy and self-exploitation, or between physical workspaces and being a digital nomad with an unspecified, flexible workspace: these are the signposts of this development, which is no longer just limited to startups and creative workshops, after having now also reached large commercial enterprises.

On the state of things.

Why is the average working day so dull? Why do we still traipse over to the office every single day? Day in, day out, we waste eight or nine hours of our life (or more) putting up with the same old monotony, mismanagement and moody colleagues in depressing rooms. We all spend far too much time at our desks. Jobs are eating into our leisure time, although we are well aware that the best ideas often come to us when we are not at work. What with meetings, deadlines and simply hanging around waiting for the boss to head home, many people feel they could have done the same amount of work in four or five hours of efficient work on their own. And they’re right. Self-­employed individuals tend to work more efficiently and generally have more leisure time, more fun and often more money too. Anything but a traditional career; for that, a job at a com­pany is still essential. But this path immediately doubles back to the usual office annoyances mentioned at the start. Successful, but clearly dissatisfied friends and acquaintances back this up. There has to be a way to balance the two extremes.

The
nomad

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IPAD EDITION

We have been promised a new way of working since the turn of the millennium, back then in the heyday of the “new economy” and all those Internet-related technological innovations. From then onwards, we heard, we modern professionals would represent self-sufficient production units. In future, we heard, we would all be knowledge workers, mobile and connected. We would take our office with us anywhere we went, using our laptops and phones. We would be digital nomads, tapping into the global network anywhere we went to access our workflows.

Back in 1995, US academic Nicholas Negroponte wrote his visionary book, “Being Digital” (still highly relevant today) on a notebook computer in a isolated cabin on the Greek island of Patmos before returning to his research institute in the USA. I remember thinking that was how I wanted to work too.

Reality was quite different: even programmers working at startups had to endure 14-hour shifts and resort to unrolling sleeping-bags under their desks before their company could first go public, and then go bust. And anyone forced to grapple with a tangle of cables and a ridiculously slow dial-up modem every time they wanted to access the internet, only to watch as individual websites opened line by line, bit by snail-like bit on their tiny screen, immediately longed to be back in their office with its fast internet connection. In those days mobile phones were expensive and had few functions apart from making and receiving calls; to make matters worse, anyone caught using one would be branded a poser.

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