Note: This post won the Grand Prize in the Elance “New Way to Work” contest.
I’ve hated almost every job I’ve ever had.
OK, “hate” is too strong of a word.
Let me put it this way: I have often felt deep frustrations and resentments toward every job I’ve ever had.
I haven’t hated the work itself or the people that I’ve worked with, or even the organizations that I’ve worked for. I’ve done really good work and had some great times with some really great people.
But what I’ve hated are the limitations and confinements and pointless restrictions of the “job” itself.
I don’t like having to work “standard hours.” I don’t like having to show up at 9 a.m. (or earlier) and work the same amount of time every day. I don’t like never getting to see daylight (my office has no windows). I don’t like the enforced idleness – I hate those days where even if there’s not enough work to do, you still have to sit there for three more hours, just to “put in your time” and keep up appearances. I don’t like having to get all my groceries and run all my errands at night and on weekends – what if I want to go to the store at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday? What if I want to play with my child in the park on Thursday at 3 p.m.? What if I want to go jogging on Wednesday at 1 p.m.? I can’t do any of that when I have a “job.”
Most of all, I hate having a cubicle.
Think about it. Do you know of anyone who truly likes their cubicle? Do you like your cubicle? If you had a choice, would you ever in a million years choose to work in a cubicle? Isn’t there something fundamentally pathetic about the way so many of us spend the majority of our waking hours, hunched inside these fabric-padded boxes, peering at computer screens, eating our sad little microwaved lunches off our desks?
This is America, right? “Land of the free, home of the brave” – but this “old” way of working in a cubicle – the isolation, the sensory deprivation, the bad lighting, the walling-off-of-oneself from the wider world – doesn’t feel very “free” to me, or very brave.
Fortunately, I believe that we are on the cusp of something better – much better – than life in a cubicle.
With Elance, I’ve discovered the start of a new way of work – and a better way of life.
Cubicles are the phone booths of the future.
Someday, people are going to look back at cubicles with the same sense of disbelief that today’s kids have when they look at phone booths.
When was the last time you used a phone booth? (When was the last time you even saw a phone booth?)
It sounds absurd, right? Who needs a phone booth in this day and age, when everyone carries phones in their pockets? Imagine, having to sit in one specific spot and use one specific phone just to make a call!
Well, someday – probably sooner than most of us expect – people will look at cubicles the same way.
(“Wow,” future visitors to the Cubicle Museum will say, “you had to sit in that thing all day, just to earn a living? You couldn’t go work at the park in the middle of the day, or sit with your laptop by a sunny window at the library, or work from your home office while your children are sleeping?”)
It’s true that there are some jobs where you need to be on-site and work set hours. If you’re a 911 dispatcher, you definitely need to be on call at set hours each day. If you’re an attorney or consultant who works on a billable hour basis, you need to put in a set amount of time to demonstrate your productivity (although the billable hour system is under pressure, as clients look to rein in costs). If you’re a retail store manager or a restaurateur, you need to be where your customers are. If you’re a waiter in a restaurant, serving food, or if you’re a nurse in a hospital helping patients, you need to be “there” in order to do your job.
But for most of us who sit in cubicles – those of us who are “knowledge workers,” who work with information and numbers and words and ideas – there is no “there” there anymore.
You’ve heard of this thing called the Internet, right? You’ve seen some of the smart phones that people are carrying around?
Questions for managers everywhere:
- Why is it so important to you to have your people sitting in their cubicles for an arbitrary length of time each day? Why is 8 hours so important? Why not 7.569 hours? Why not 3 hours? Who cares, as long as the work gets done?
- If the only way you have to measure your people’s productivity is the amount of hours they spend at work, shouldn’t you find some better metrics? (This is 2009 – we have the Internet – everything is measurable now. We are all effectively “on commission.”)
- If the only way you can be sure that your people are working is to force them to sit 10 feet away from you in a cubicle all day, why did you hire them in the first place? (If you’re hiring real professionals, they shouldn’t require such close supervision – don’t you trust your people? And if not, fire them and hire someone better – there’s plenty of great talent in the labor market right now.)
Now more than ever, it’s possible to be available – and highly productive, and totally engaged – while still having the freedom and flexibility to choose when and where and how we work.
With the New Way of Work on Elance, we can work for clients worldwide, and we can do the work from anywhere. Who needs a cubicle?
Elance has changed my life.
Ever since I started my freelance writing business on Elance, I’ve worked with clients in Australia, Tokyo, England, Canada and the Kingdom of Jordan. (As well as all corners of the U.S. – from Seattle to Cleveland to Orlando to Los Angeles.)
I hold conference calls via Skype – for free – with clients whose time zone is 15 hours ahead of mine.
I send draft documents to the client via e-mail before I go to bed at midnight, and I get feedback from the client when I wake up the next morning.
I make much more money (on an hourly basis) working for myself, from home, than I’ve ever made working in a cubicle for someone else. I can make more money in two or three hours than I make sitting in a cubicle for eight hours.
Best of all, I love the work. I should have started doing this five years ago. The work is fun, it’s creative, it’s full of variety and new challenges, and it’s for real customers who are grateful for the help.
Most big companies aren’t ready for the new way of work. (Best Buy is one exception – they’ve implemented a “Results Only Work Environment” at their corporate headquarters which allows employees to basically come and go as they please, as long as the work gets done.) But smaller companies, sole proprietors, and even some innovative larger organizations are going to realize some great benefits from hiring skilled professionals on a flexible, project-by-project basis.
It’s easier than ever before to use sites like Elance to find qualified, vetted, reliable professionals to help on almost any project. You can quickly and easily put a project out for bid and mobilize a talented team from all over the world – and it doesn’t matter that you aren’t all sitting in the same row of cubicles together.
Of course, not everyone wants to be self-employed. There are still going to be “cubicle jobs” for people who want the more traditional idea of job security, or who love working for a particular company. There are still going to be jobs that require a kind of group synergy that only results when everyone is on-site together, or that require a level of confidentiality that is hard to achieve via e-mail alone.
But for those of us with a certain kind of skills, energy and ambition – this is a new day, and the sky’s the limit. We can work for anyone, anywhere, all over the world. It doesn’t matter where you live – all that matters is your skills, your hustle, and your demonstrated reputation for delivering results.
Thank you, Elance for introducing me to the new way of work. I think we’re on to something big.
December 17 – UPDATE: Thanks to everyone for reading my post, and thanks for all the great comments and e-mails. The response to this post has been overwhelming, and I am grateful for everyone who took the time to reach out.
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All the best,
— “Cubicles are the phone booths of the future.”