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article imageOp-Ed: The end of white collar jobs, consumerization and slow thinking

By Paul Wallis     Feb 8, 2013 in Business
Sydney - For years now, the end of the office job has been on the cards. The only reason it still exists is because businesses appear to like spending a fortune on expensive offices and lack imagination.
The story is about “consumerization” driving the changes in business. Consumers pick up new ways of doing business, which forces business to change. The joke is that the new economic realities are taking so long to percolate through to slow thinking businesses.
Sydney Morning Herald
Paradoxically, the cause of the boom in white-collar jobs – technology – is also what the doomsayers are forecasting will cause their abolishment.
Technology has already facilitated globalisation and, subsequently, offshoring. It has made millions of jobs redundant, with computers taking over what humans once performed. And, in the future, there’s every possibility that robots will do to white-collar jobs what they’ve done in the blue-collar world.
This trend prompted researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011 to release Race Against the Machine, an e-book that warns of the ways in which technology is transforming workplaces everywhere. Even though they’re supportive of technology’s role in business, they nonetheless warn about its potential effect on employment.
Groan. This technology frees people up to do productive things, and apparently the idea of matching employment to productivity still hasn’t penetrated the bottomless depths of business job design. The effect of technology on employment should be to drive movement into more effective uses of people’s time, but the only vision is technology putting people out of “work”?
Let’s look at “work” for a moment. What is it? Routines, procedures and drudgery, to a very large, expensive, extent. It’s mindless meetings to tell people things they already know or things they don’t need to know. It’s playing office. What’s so bad about losing that culture?
Actual productive work and hanging around in an office watching the years go by have never been the same thing.
Even the Sydney Morning Herald article is a bit behind the times:
One such push is via BYOD – otherwise known as ‘bring your own device’ – that enables employees to bring their own technologies to work rather than using company-owned devices that might be slow and outdated.
Some companies are hesitant to go along with it, citing fears of security breaches and the illegal downloading of sensitive business data. That’s why an entire industry has formed to help employers overcome those dangers while still providing workers with the opportunity to use their own tools.
Er… BYOD? Who goes into an office any more? I’ve got a custom made computer to do the work, never go anywhere near any of the offices of the businesses I work with, and I do thousands of articles a year. Works fine. I don’t have, or want, access to “sensitive business data” because I for the “office” work I do Cloud work and have access to the things I need, not just anything that happens to be lying around. No security issues at all.
As for doing a job with pads and phones, who needs it? Why accumulate peripheral technology when all I need is a point of access to the work? I could work like that, but I don’t need to.
Jobs, job roles and real costs
Ironically the new “white collar” jobs aren’t really white collar jobs, but roles. Businesses need to make the equation between jobs and roles. The white collar office job is now a museum piece. It’s the caveman role. It’s also expensive.
Consider this range of costs to employers for putting one person in an office doing any job:
 Payroll costs
 Admin costs
 Building costs
 Utilities costs
 HR costs
 Super/401k
 OHS costs
 Workplace disputes costs
 Supervisory costs
 Hiring and firing costs and rituals
 Plant and equipment
 Computers
 Onsite amenities
 Wages
Bear in mind this applies to every job and every role. Now consider the costs of a contractor doing the same work:
 Wages
 Phone calls
 Standard contract setup costs
If that’s not a no-brainer for employers, I don’t know what is. The “white collar job” is a ridiculous fossil from a time when both work and technology were totally different. Modern work and jobs have nothing in common with the days of the great commuter herds, yet people are being forced to commute and businesses still mindlessly pay out billions a year for office space.
The other myth is the color of the collar. “Blue collar jobs” are also being replaced, very rapidly, by much more diversified, far more skills-based jobs. The old blue collar jobs are now effectively white collar jobs.
The truly funny, if dangerously stupid, issue at the moment is that businesses blame wage costs for cutting jobs, when they never cut any other expenses. The big list at the start of this section describes costs they could easily cut while retaining skills and improving both productivity and cost efficiency easily.
Paying a fortune for a useless, expensive building is OK, but paying a crappy $20 an hour is a big deal? Come off it.
Moral of the story- Make it your business to become aware of modern best practice, not modern best excuses, and you’ll do much better business.
I’ve been writing about the New Economy and better job design for years. I’ve also watch the same, hopelessly outdated arguments resurface endlessly when so many businesses have long since adapted to the benefits of technology. In just about every market on Earth, the new businesses are ripping out market share from the dinosaurs. They do new business every day, where the old style businesses just stagger along in a routine.
Maybe MIT should start looking at publishing actual examples, so the plodders in business can see the proof and get a crayon sketch of how future business has to work. The alternative is more waste, particularly of time, trying to “manage” the inevitable.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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