Saturday, December 24, 2016

Losing 20 Hours a Week

The realization of how much lost time factors into my week came as a bitter revelation. It’s an inflection point that made me evaluate everything: my career, the location of my job, the job itself, trying to balance writing and publishing novels, maintaining blogs, managing a household, and somewhere in there, find time for family and friends. Since I moved a bit further away from downtown Boston in 2015, my commute has increased considerably. If things are going well with the MBTA, which isn’t often, my commute is 15 hours a week. It’s usually closer to 20. One horrendous night when the OrangeLine was on fire and the Red Line was experiencing severe delays, and every bus and Uber driver was overloaded, it took nearly 4 hours to get home, making for a total of 6 hours of commuting that day. The subway stop closest to home is three miles away, and the bus that takes me there runs sporadically after 7 p.m. Walking is a dicey idea in this not-so-pedestrian-friendly town.

We can consider ourselves fortunate that smartphone give us the ability to do many things while standing around and waiting for the next packed bus to pass us by without stopping. But do I really want to look back at the age of 70, no doubt with chronic neck problems, and wonder why I chose to spend my time like I did, hunched over my phone in an angry crowd, or can I make changes now to shift the latter half of my career into a more positive direction?

Progressive-minded companies understand this. Remote working and flex time are becoming more common. There’s an amazing array of technology out there that makes this easy. So why are so many others reluctant to catch on? Why are optics favored over productivity? Does it really matter if a desk jockey stuck in a grubby cube dyes their hair purple? Individuality shouldn’t be crushed by inane conformity. Numerous studies have shown the negative effects of open office spaces. More lost time, increased stress, and feeling like you’re in a micromanager’s peeping paradise serves no one well. Some executives cite “that one bad apple” who ruined the trust for everyone else, but is that the real story, or do some people simply have a hard time transitioning from a traditional mindset?

With today’s sky-high rents in places like downtown Boston, you’d think a key goal would be to reduce overhead costs. A smaller space with desk sharing would be far more economical, and time can be set aside for meetings requiring larger groups. People feeling like their time is valued and who are able to get more done are more likely to stick around.

A number of things have delayed my fourth novel: moving and renovations, family issues, transforming my career from editor to digital strategist by earning two certificates and studying relentlessly. It’s wonderful to find my calling, albeit at midlife, but it’s also given me time to reflect on what values I attach to my identity and what I need to do to nurture my career. It’s been an epiphany to conclude they’re not mutually exclusive. Yes, I need to pay my mortgage, but is sacrificing quality of life necessary? An essential aspect of digital strategy is digital transformation—the online world is our world, and everything is evolving. Businesses that are slow to adapt risk falling into obscurity as disruptors and innovators from all industries create replacements for what refuses to change.

We’ve crossed the threshold of a new era. It’s exciting and anxiety-inducing. What happens if our robot overlords push us into pod hives to serve as living batteries for the Matrix? Self-driving cars are on the horizon. Smart homes are going to do our shopping for us. Data analytics/business intelligence is a massive opportunity for growth. Schools must be better at preparing students for the future. In order to do that, new leaders have to guide the process. Old-school attitudes about education and employment must transform for us to remain in the game in terms of innovation in all areas of life. While there has been good reason to be really stressed out and angry lately, the badly bruised optimist within me believes there’s still hope. Let the creative spirit flourish, allow for a progressive work environment, and let’s all enjoy more time to pursue the ideas that can make the world a better place.