Welcome to the beginning of the end. For most people, you will become a relic. Market forces will savage you throughout the working world, leaving only a few areas untouched. “Work from home” is too juicy a selling point for employers with prospective hires. Enlightened managers will realize that face-to-face oversight doesn’t add as much value as they’d want to believe. The cost savings of a small or non-existent office will drive them further. On top of all that, your death will help alleviate crowded highways, pollution and gas dependency. While this will scare unions, the auto industry and of course, oil companies, the advantages are too high. Larger forces are at work, that of the global marketplace.
You claim two major advantages: 1) The walk-around/watercooler/meeting effect of casually talking through business issues. And 2) management keeping an eye on employees. But the rest of the time people are at their desk, which could be on the moon, getting work done. Nothing about these advantages can’t be solved with today’s tools. The walk-around effect? It’s already dying. I’ve had people instant message me from ten feet away. How often do people send a one sentence email to a person down the hall? More and more we’re shifting our communication onto the wires. Without you 9-5, we’ll just set up a standing video conference and pop our head into someone’s screen when we want to chat. Meetings? Same deal, and anyone can vouch that a significant percentage of company meetings shouldn’t happen anyway.
Management’s watchful eye? Sorry 9-5, every computer has smart ways of saying whether someone is “online” or not. In addition, it takes two seconds to equip them with screen sharing for a manager’s quick check in. Employees may grimace at the big brother effect, but they know this will happen in the office anyway.
The real point is this: most office jobs are driven by results, not office hours. The successful manager will still give his team smartly-assigned projects, success metrics, due dates and say, “Tell me how I can help.” And if the project needs collaboration, we’ll get on the phone, video chat, share our screens, set up dually-editable documents, whatever. Face to face contact will not outweigh the productivity disadvantage of commuting and being stuck in a cube under florescent lights all day. For instance, some people don’t work well until after lunch; others can’t form two smart sentences after lunch. Who cares if someone is working on a project at 1 PM or 1 AM, as long as it’s done by next Friday? If someone was up until midnight because their kid was sick, they shouldn’t have to trudge through your slog the next morning, nurse a coffee, star blankly at their screen, all while churning out poor-quality work. Let them sleep in. And get the work done on their hours. The quality will be better. That’s the goal, right?
One of the last arguments against your death, 9-5, is the alleged importance of a “company environment”. For firms getting off the ground: mostly true. For firms off the ground: bullllllshit. The days of “Yeah, Company!” are over. That crap just breeds closed-door cynicism. Sure, a recent grad may come into the office starry-eyed, but it takes about a month before they’re saying, “Okaaaay, so this is what it’s like.” People want to get paid to do work they (somewhat) enjoy, and go on with their lives. The days of being an IBM man with a crisp suit are over. These days, most college grads have had four different employers by the time they’re thirty. There are too many bright lights in the world to think that your company is one worth caring about.
So 9-5, let’s recognize exactly what you are: a condition of a business relationship. I want what’s best for me. My employer wants what’s best for it. If I can bring my talent and we both can save the time and money of managing and being in an office all day, then we’ll get it done. Like most seismic shifts, it will take some time and there will be fatalities. Managers who blur their want of control, with an actual need for control will fade alongside you. But those that acknowledge that an employee is a node on a grid of creation and adjust and shape their businesses accordingly will survive. They’ll get that deliverable by next Friday and won’t care if it was done by someone in their underwear.
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Caleb Garling lives in San Francisco and wrote The St George’s Angling Club, available at