I began consulting on flexible and remote work in 1986. As part of the pioneering San Francisco-based think tank New Ways to Work, we recognized that a seismic shift was under way in the workplace and the workforce. America was well on the way from an industrial to an information-based economy, It was also moving from a largely passive, modestly educated hourly workforce to a more broadly educated base of employees who were used to self-directed accomplishment marked by measurable outcomes.
Average workers in the industrial era completed 10th to 12th grade, largely rote education. Their thinking was done for them at work and they were scheduled by others as labor inputs. By contrast, the post-World War II generations typically finished high school and increasingly completed advanced degrees. They were expected to self-manage and control their own time.
These entrepreneurial sorts experienced a profound shock when they were hired into organizations and offices where they were suddenly scheduled and supervised like potentially errant kindergartners. The newly diverse workforce sought increasingly to balance excellence at work with strong personal commitments to family, continuing education, and voluntarism. They wanted respect and flexibility, but encountered rigid supervision with face time as a metric.
COVID drives change