2017Eight essential GDA perspectives on design trends
Chiaki Hayashi
Director’s message

Tomorrow's heroes, supported by new work style


Who benefits from new work styles, and where these changes lead

Reforming the way we work may not initially seem very compelling. In the first place, it is not clear what should be accomplished through this reform. Do we want to reduce overtime? Or are we seeking freer working styles? The aims should be clear before we can even begin to discuss it.

Also undermining this enterprise is that these two objectives seem contradictory. Although moves to reduce overtime may seem limited in scope, they represent tighter control over the workplace. In contrast, those seeking freer working styles want to relax uniform controls or rules. These people—and here, it may be helpful to imagine startup workers or those in creative jobs—seem to be saying that they will decide their own working style, so please leave them alone. Tighter control over working hours is utterly outdated, according to them. If the objectives are viewed as being contradictory, like a kite flying this way and that, they seem to undermine the intent of reform by promoting unstable conditions.

But interestingly, viewed from the perspective of Hannah Arendt, these two aims are actually aligned, and both point in the same direction. One book by this German-born philosopher, The Human Condition, divides human activities into labor, work, and action. In her words, we might say that work today is in the process of changing from labor to work, and finally, to action. We take action not because we are forced to, or simply because it is useful. We take action as unique individuals among a plurality of others. Both in limiting working hours to improve labor and in somehow capitalizing on each person's abilities in diverse work, we see a respect for individuals, who are unlike any other individual. In both efforts, working is essentially viewed as our reason for being. From this conceptual basis, both goals seek the same future.

Trends toward divergent work styles, driven by technology

Surveying this year's award winners for examples of this trend toward different ways of working, we are reminded that many people today consider how they work to be a facet of their overall lifestyle. And as ways of working become increasingly diverse, surely these changes are enabled by technology. Some may fear that technology will steal jobs, but in fact, it takes over the jobs nobody wants, or the jobs people do not excel at. This ends up giving people a chance to do work that interests them and spend their time in more satisfying ways.

Meeting expectations in this regard is Send, a food distribution platform that links producers and consumers. This platform overcomes limitations such as inefficiency in current distribution between these parties, leveraging an enormous amount of data analysis to link those who produce and those who order fresh food and vegetables. As an advanced distribution system maintaining information on areas, times, and attributes of the agricultural and livestock products consumed, Send can match those who produce and consume specialty foods outside the scope of conventional distribution. In this way, the system supports diverse lifestyles among the discerning producers.

Even at larger corporations, some are questioning the routine of workers reporting to the same place at the same time to do their allotted tasks. In Mitsui Fudosan's Working Style Project, employees of contracted corporate clients can work at any of the real estate developer's shared offices across Japan, where IT helps prevent information leaks and keeps track of hours worked. This gives companies some options in their employees' working styles and locations.

Softbank's Short Working Hours Program is significant for promising a fuller role in society for those who may not easily fit within the regular framework of employment, such as disabled individuals. Here, work is analyzed from ergonomic perspectives and broken down to identify tasks that can be readily assigned to those with physical or mental disabilities who can only work for shorter periods. By taking a fresh look at the tasks that make up various work, companies can remain competitive while creating opportunities for those who would otherwise have limited employment prospects.

Free spirits, each one a hero

Still, broad social reform in the ways we work is currently in a period of transition. Arendt also reminds us that unlike the modern meaning of the word "hero," which applies only to exceptional people, this word once applied to all free men who became Trojan warriors. Heroes were once those who spoke and took action for themselves, and this self-determination marked the start of their own story. If so, surely we will need the kind of design in society that encourages this autonomous action by unique individuals and takes full advantage of it.

A human asset that technology will never replace is initiative. This ceaseless impulse has shaped the world we live in today, enabling seemingly impossible things that our ancestors would never have imagined. For each new way of working that emerges, the story of another hero begins.

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