Work in Progress

last updated 2021-08-29

Rethinking the future of work

Work in Progress is a name that has fittingly been with me for a long time. It was the name of my first radio show, during the coveted 7 to 9 PM slot on Vanderbilt's WRVU while I was in high school. It embodies a spirit of always giving something a go because hey, it's a work in progress. And it's fitting for an area of interest of mine: structures of work, collaboration, and equity.

Why is it that most organizations follow the same blueprint? I've been thinking about the bones of organizations and processes of collaboration recently and am stumped by the homogeneity that exists in the work world. For the most part, organizational power is centralized, an oligarchy comprised of the top leaders and those with the most substantial financial investments. Power, substantial power, is rarely distributed. Structure is hierarchical, resembling a military-like chain of command. Compensation is opaque, performance reviews are infrequent but pivotal, and promotions happen at a fixed-ish cadence -- often touted as meritocracy but in practice falling every one or two years. Remote work is starting to inject some variety, but helicopter managers just can't tell what you're doing all day and are eager to get folks back into the office.

There are of course counter-examples, and with a bit of digging it's possible to find organizations with transparent salaries and that embrace autonomy with no set working hours. But these (mostly tame) deviations from the norm are rare, often coming to our attention via a NYT piece that informs us that, woah, there's a hairbrained experiment going on over there - 4 day weeks, you'll never believe it - and we have no idea how it will play out long-term. A taste of optimism for a better work world tempered with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Is there more variety in organization structure and process than is immediately obvious? Are there as many schools of thought in corporate structure as there are power structures in governance? Why is it that so few deviate from the norm? Is it greed? A necessary outcome of risk involved with organizational genesis?

I'm going to discuss with others, find examples of organizations that challenge the norm with radical equitable structures, and examine potential structures and processes for a new age of progressive, remote, equitable organizations.

Compiled 2024-04-21