Technology, real estate, or humanity?
Prior to COVID-19, many discussions about the Future of Work were focused solely on the future of technology. This has long been a trend—Karl Marx and many others across disciplines (such as sociology, economics, and philosophy) have called it ‘technological determinism’.
According to this viewpoint, technology determines our social and work structures. Imagine a one-way arrow pointing from ‘technology’ to ‘work/society’. This may seem like a simple statement, but it has widespread consequences. It removes responsibility for how technologies are used and the impacts they have by promoting the conviction that “if the technology exists, then it must be used.” This leads to all kinds of inequities, constrictions and limitations, and other issues that affect our lives, work, and society on both personal and widespread scales. People get lost in the technological fervor, wonder, and fallout.
For example, consider the complex issue of responsibility, use, and impact surrounding social networking and how this has reached into all corners of society (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more recently Snapchat, Tik Tok, and others).
Now, in COVID-19 times, another topic has emerged as a flashpoint of deterministic discussion: real estate. Take the National Post’s definitive announcement, as part of a new series on the pandemic and remote work, that “The office is over.” In these types of discussions, the Future of Work is being framed as a new real estate puzzle, in which lease agreements and space configurations will determine where and how work gets done. One key question that becomes amplified through this framing is whether or not “corporate value” can stay divorced from “corporate real estate” after stay-at-home restrictions are lifted.
Discussing technology—and now real estate—in the context of future outlooks, possibilities, and risks is both important and exciting. We need to understand the ways in which technologies like automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence are impacting how we work, where we work, and the skills that we need to be successful. Same goes for real estate and our changed perceptions of it in the wake of COVID-19. But it’s also essential to remember that this is different than discussing how human energy, effort, and creativity are shaping the Future of Work.
Failing to place humans at the heart of the Future of Work is deeply problematic. It is reductive, and leads to approaches and discussions that will inevitably see people left behind—relegated to the past in the name of technological progress or evolved office/home work models.
The Future of Work is human. It’s you, me, us, clients, customers, consumers, funders, policymakers, innovators, trailblazers, educators, learners, young people, older workers, leaders, managers, employees, early professionals, mid-career professionals, senior-career professionals, and everyone in between.
Technology and real estate have important parts to play, but our discussions, questions, and experiments need to start with humans, and return to humans. Imagine a web of arrows and connections spreading out from ‘me/us/humans’ at its centre. Instead of asking how technology or real estate is changing us, ask how we want to change technology and real estate. Ask how they can best be used to augment and support human productivity, career satisfaction and success, and work/personal life balance.
Place the value and meaning where it needs to be: with people—yourself, your colleagues, your clients, your communities, your society, your future.
Interested in initiating future-focused conversations with your team, right now, while career, team, and workplace development seems unclear? Check out the Career Development and the Future of Work: A Conversation Guide, currently available for PDF download for a short period of time.