Presenteeism and technology - understanding an uneasy relationship

We live in a time where we can order pretty much anything online to arrive on our front step the very next day, swipe left/right on potential suitors from our sofas and even experience a self-driving car if we want to.

We talk excitedly about 3D printing, AI and wearables. We scoff at the idea of ever using dial-up, Nokia 3210s or playing Snake for fun. And yet: on the whole, we still work in a way that hasn’t changed that much since the Victorian era. The eight-hour work day was first proposed by socialist Robert Owen in 1810. In 1908, the first five-day workweek in the United States was introduced. And in the UK a little later, Henry Ford was one of the first people who gave workers a five day week, believing it would make them more productive.

All of these 'rules' around work were invented way before the invention of any sort of modern day technology. The system was based on factors such as: working with very physical machinery, needing daylight and face-to-face contact because there were no phones (let alone Skype). Nowadays, we have all of these apps and tools that have the ability to improve our lives, and yet, most companies still cling on to the old working structures of the past. Flexibility is still seen as a massive perk and if we ask for it, we still fear being called 'entitled'. Face-to-face contact is still so important, but surely things don’t need as rigid as they once were in order for modern businesses to thrive?

Read: What roles will AI actually replace?

We have the tools to collaborate remotely, to work less and create more, but on the whole we’re still not necessarily allowed to work in different ways or experiment outside of the parameters of the eight-hour desk day. In a world of useful ever-evolving tech, there technically shouldn’t be a thing such as morning "rush-hour" on the tube - we should be encouraged to work in ways that suit our body clocks, tag-teaming, job-sharing, working remotely when we aren’t needed in meetings, and working in energetic bursts. The idea of presenteeism (the practice of being present at one's place of work for more hours than is required) is sadly still rife. There is still a culture of feeling like we should stay late in the office (even if that means watching YouTube videos to pass the time) so our bosses can see us and our work feels visible.

Arguably, most good work is seemingly invisible. If we send emails on the way into work on the train, it still counts as work. When we check our phones at home, it’s still work. Using our initiative in pro-active ways in our own time is not always visible to others. It feels like tech isn’t doing enough for us - it’s allowing us to ‘blend’ our lives, but we’re still being made to show up in an office and sit through unproductive meetings too. I fear that our work culture is burning us out. I hope that the next few years sees us embrace our tech, flexible working and using technology to work smarter. It will not only increase productivity but retain talent and allow us to be more creative. My new book The Multi-Hyphen Method is all about working in new ways across multiple disciplines with multiple income streams and designing your own career.

In this age of automation, there is no shying away from the fact that many jobs will be computerised in the future. But, there are three things that can't be automated, and that’s creativity, intuition and common sense. It's time for employers to focus on the humans behind the jobs and embrace technology in ways that create more opportunities, not less.

The Multi-Hyphen Method: Work less, create more, and design a career that works for you is available to buy now.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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