Looking Back on Looking Back

We’re playing the nostalgia game again. This time looking back to the last look back.

Life is full of repeating moments, isn’t it? This morning I got up at the usual (weekday) time. I went to the station, tapped-in and got on a train. Pretty much the same as every other working day this year. But somethings repeat themselves on a lesser frequency. Say, once a decade.

I wrote these words on Christmas Eve 2009:

It’s not unknown for me to state the obvious, so here goes. Today is the last working day before Christmas. And for many, including me, it was the last working day of the year. It has also dawned on me that it’s the last working day of the decade.

curnow.org, 24 December 2009

As I haven’t written very much on this site in 2019, I thought I’d look back at my comments from the end of the last decade and see if they still ring true to me and my experience working in the last ten years. And, next week, I want to see if I can come up with any new observations on workplace trends that may see us through until 2029.

First, out with the old …

Internet Access Is Ubiquitous In The Workplace

The first one is not really worth discussing: almost every job has been impacted by the internet and not just those who work in offices. Is there an industry in 2019 that is not, somehow, connected? And who would have predicted that I’d be walking around with access to 25GB of mobile data every month. Also, how do I end up using most of it?

Digital Connectivity Hasn’t Cut Travel

I stand by the comments that travel has not been cut; I probably travelled more for work in the second half of the decade than I did in the first. The planes were marginally more energy efficient – but not that much more comfortable – but that ubiquitous connectivity I mentioned isn’t ubiquitous in the sky, thankfully. Nobody really needs to answer emails 35,000 feet up in the air, but when you do it is kind-of fun.

Business Travel Still Sucks

Even when I wrote those words ten years ago, I had a disclaimer: “But, as long as you know it sucks, then it’s still a great deal of fun”. And, as I travelled more for work I really did enjoy it more. My general travel mood was improved by my self-imposed rule that 4am starts should be avoided at all costs and – at the very least – travel to arrive the evening before you need to start rather than on the day itself, even for short distances. For work, this decade, I travelled further than I ever had done before for a business meeting (11,400 miles) to Auckland, New Zealand where I really did have to avoid traveling all that way for just one meeting.

Constant Connections Means No Off Time

We have even less downtime that we did. Who’s answering Slack messages at 10pm? Now, that is a sentence that would not have been written ten years ago but the development of more of these productivity tools has meant we can answer questions everywhere. If you’re in the right job that can be empowering but, anecdotally, I know people who feel their employers abuse it. So, nothing changes here and maybe improved connectivity has made it worse. Still, it’s acceptable to use emojis in work messages now.

Companies Haven’t Embraced Remote Working Opportunities

Of all the items on my 2009 list, this is probably the one that had changed the most. I think many more companies are embracing some kind of flexible working even if it’s not totally remote. I did spend about 18 months working from home in the last decade and I thought I would enjoy it but, in the end, I didn’t. I found it isolating and – at times – quite lonely. When the staff of my local Starbucks started to become my only connection to other people during the working day I knew it was time to find an office again. In doing so, I ended up working in some incredible offices spaces for people who were less concerned about the 9-to-5 than getting the job done (although they all adored instant messages and so my previous point stands). I think many workplaces have improved over the past ten years: I learned that stand-up desks are one of the most productivity-enhancing improvements for office-based workers but I also learned that almost no companies want to pay for them. A desk that could be raised really did work for me when I access to one. Maybe I should talk to my current boss (but maybe a raise of the pay type is a better first ask in a new decade).

So, I think my big five from ten years ago have more-or-less continued and have become workplace norms. Perhaps they were already quite well embedded in the way we had been working by the time I wrote that piece. I didn’t talk about the rise of the social platforms in our personal lives and the impact they would have on our professional lives but they did impact working life and I think there’s a lot more to come on that.

I’m going to save my thoughts on trends of the last ten years until after Christmas. I won’t be working on Friday but it is, officially, a working day so I’ll aim for then. They say you should always tease your audience, don’t they?

In the meantime, Happy Christmas.

Author: jon

Jon Curnow writes on curnow.org about things that interest him. The site has been around for many years in various forms and he always wants to write much more here than he does.

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