Virtual Workplaces: Death of Corporate Society?


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By James Fraser-Abbott

LOOKING FURTHER afield from university life, one can hardly forget about the most troubling issue facing the future for any of us students,and that is trying to find our ideal career. Universities are renowned for their occupation positive rhetoric, that by studying for a degree, we put ourselves in good stead to pursue our passions and avoid instead the horror stories of low pay, long hours, dreary offices and solitary cubicles. Well, there’s no need to worry. In the case of technologically savvy Generation Z and millennials, more companies are looking to improve the welfare of their employees through the vice of techno-logical advancements and corporate structuring. What does this mean for the work place of the future? Is it really the worker that stands to gain from corporate social responsibility?

In the past 30 years, through the growth of services industries parallel to technological advancements, we have seen a radical dis-mantling of the “Madmen” corporate romanticism of work place comradery by burning the candle at both ends. Each year more firms have instead dedicated themselves to creating happier work places in order to boost productivity among British workers. This has become a high priority issue for companies as some statistics show that despite having of the longest working hours, British workers have some of the lowest productivity levels in Europe, trailing behind Germany and France (GDP per hour worked.)Many business commentators at-tribute this to work-related stress and anxiety, which takes its toll on people’s overall mental health and consequently reduces one’s enthusiasm for the work they do. It is said that last year, stress-related sick days numbered at 15.4 million.

Campaigners have sought to resolve this issue by suggesting that actions should be taken to reduce working hours. Frances O’Grady,the general secretary of the Trade Union Congress, has suggested that with the increase of automation and digitisation in the work-place, surely the productivity saved in its advancements can be used to ease pressure on human capitol? Suggestions have been made that four-day working weeks should be encouraged in large firms or at least the option to work from home given now that technology now allows employees to move more freely and are more flexible to balance personal matters alongside their work-life schedule. Firms such as Administrate in Edinburgh and Radioactive PR in Gloucestershire have been trailblazers in this growing demand for shorter working hours.

Through the guise of social responsibility, it can be argued that we have fallen into the trap of over virtualising the work place. This could mean the future of peoples working lives are not physically distinct. Due to the growth of network connections, the need for material working environments or forums for social interaction have gone. What does this mean for the future employee?Well, while this opens us up to range of opportunities to travel abroad for work, care for children, start a business or even bring people closer to the labour market, it can be seen to work largely in the interests of the employer. Although, as a result of virtualisation can keep on top of work–loads and balance personal lives, what is brought into question is the level of investment or personal stake an individual then has in the success of a company or organisation if there is little to no time to build personal relationships: also,looking at it from the view of a potential employer, if all workers are putting in the same hours and contribute to the standards expected of them, then there is little reason to promote people as they fail to stand out from the rest of the online crowd.

Looking at its current trajectory, we must ask ourselves what we prioritise as a society, the work centric ethos of being tied to a desk and commuting under the sweaty pits of central line travellers? Or to achieve complete liberty from the suffocation of corporate life, but have our achievements drowned out by the noise of greater piece-meal and part-time work which companies that exist only in name seek to benefit from. While access to communication technology arguably brings people closer to employment, we can’t forget that this has immense social ramifications.What then happens to the millions of working class service providers and high street workers? Do we then condemn them to occupational purgatory in the pursuit of an exclusive but efficiently interconnected society