Can a 10-hour work week eventually become our new normal?
In this excerpt from his new book, entrepreneur Sam Pitroda makes a case for the need to redesign our working lives in a hyperconnected world
Covid-19 has put many of us in self-quarantine at home for the last several months. In the process, we have learnt to work from home more effectively and efficiently. I feel I am busier than ever before on Zoom calls and get more done than I did in the office. Do I need an office? Many companies have decided to allow people to work from home. I find this is a significant new trend. Most office jobs related to management and executives and supervision of banking, insurance, accounting, legal matters, consulting and advisory services, etc., can be done from home equally well. Some jobs may require going to the office once in a while.
I feel that meetings on Zoom are more productive than in person. They avoid having to get up early to go to the airport, parking difficulties, long flights, taxi expenses, and often save about twelve hours in all—all this for a thirty-minute conversation. What we need is a mindset change. I have four cars, but I have not driven one in the last twelve months. Do I need four vehicles? All office workers use about 150 square feet of office space for eight hours a day. What a waste of resources! Once robots get entrenched on factory floors and loading docks, many manufacturing jobs will also move home.
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Let us take the example of self-driven vehicles. When these are introduced in the next five to ten years, no one would prefer to own a car. Why would we want to own a car when we can have one delivered at our door in five minutes, just by ordering it on the phone? It would eliminate the need for a garage, car insurance, driver’s licence, car plates, fuel and parking spot. All the public parking lots in the heart of the city or at airports, train stations, hotels and conference centres, schools and colleges or hospitals and public places would become empty. What will we do with all the vacant land? Ultimately, we will not even need millions of traffic lights because these vehicles will have built-in intelligence to know when and where to stop. Simultaneously, they will eliminate millions of drivers’ jobs for trucks, limos, cars and other vehicles. What would these people do? Where would they find alternate jobs?
Today, we produce around 50 million cars a year. Most vehicles are parked 90 per cent of the time and are in use only for the remaining 10 per cent. Once self-driven vehicles are being used, why would we need to produce 50 million vehicles a year? Maybe only 5 million cars should be manufactured in a year. What will that do to manufacturing plants? It will reduce the requirement of steel and other raw materials. What will be the impact of producing only 5 million cars a year on urban traffic jams and busy roads? Just this one invention of a self-driven car will reduce millions of jobs, hundreds of factories, millions of parking lots, millions of traffic lights, eliminate urban traffic jams and reduce the need for steel and other raw materials. It means that future innovations will allow us to do a lot more for a lot less. It will free up people, resources, raw materials and space. It will also help us optimize our resources, reduce clutter, and give us more time to rest and relax.
In the future, we will begin to demonetize essential services related to food, water, transport, telecom and energy because of our ability to produce more for less. Telecom services are almost free. In the future, transportation will also be free; it could be a part of the city tax. Once an inexpensive, distributed DC energy source is available, energy will be demonetized. Meanwhile, education is about to be demonetized. If the population stabilizes at 10 or 11 billion people who continue to work from home, there will be enough housing available at a reasonable price to live comfortably. If flying cars are introduced, we will not have to build rural roads. I feel in the next twenty-five years, there will be adequate physical infrastructure. The challenge will be to build soft infrastructure to deal with human development and increase human potential.
If jobs are eliminated, and everything is demonetized, who will pay tax, and how will the economy work? This is where we need innovations. Perhaps robots will pay tax, and we will all get a minimum income to live comfortably. Maybe there will be new jobs that we cannot imagine now. There are no answers to these questions in traditional terms. We need a whole new form of thinking. We need a paradigm shift. How do we decide on a market for something that does not exist today? If we had told people in the year 1800 about hyperconnectivity, how would they have reacted? Maybe we can spend time discovering our diversity and travelling to experience life.
Today, we all work forty hours a week so that we can make a living. In the future, we will perhaps work for only ten hours a week, and this would be sufficient to earn and survive. Maybe we will need multiple skills to do various things and find suitable work for ten hours a week.
Hyperconnectivity and related innovations will empower people to take on more things to do through the democratization of knowledge and the decentralization of activities. In the process, it will free them from routine and manual jobs. On the one hand, more jobs will be performed by machines and robots, even as big data, analytics and machine learning will fine-tune processes to enhance productivity and optimize resources. On the other hand, people will be free from mundane jobs to do other exciting things. However, they would still need to work to make a living. This is going to be the fundamental challenge of the hyperconnected world.
Excerpted with permission from Penguin Random House India.
FIRST PUBLISHED03.05.2021 | 07:00 AM IST