Is 'Hotel California' the future of work?

Story highlights

  • Author claims our work lives will shift from materialist to 'experientialist'
  • In an age of abundance, people demand purpose and pleasure as well as money
  • Tech firms experiment with new models that could become global

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(CNN)Our stuff has turned against us. Abundance rather than scarcity is the new horror of our age, and the more goods we acquire, the less satisfaction they provide. In fact, surplus possessions are increasingly responsible for anxiety, depression and even physical danger.

In his best-selling "Stuffocation," journalist and trend forecaster James Wallman argues that we are reaching the end of materialism, and posits 'experientialism' as a new dominant lifestyle. Pleasure would come from experiences such as bungee jumps and holidays, rather than cars and jewelry. "It feels better to do stuff than to have stuff," as he succinctly puts it.
James Wallman
With a new edition, the author goes beyond lifestyle to examine how this fundamental shift will affect our working lives.
"We experience material pressure at work too -- it can be worse than at home," says Wallman, pointing out the number of status symbols, from clothes to desk ornaments, which can make an office feel like an arms race.
"Stuffocation" is full of suggestions and examples of how to ease this pressure, beginning with ruthless de-cluttering. There are signs that this is a rising priority in business, visible in the growth of professional streamlining services, and even digital tidying.
For Wallman, de-cluttering lays the ground for the next step. It allows for an emphasis on experience, which suits a new breed of worker.
"In times of scarcity we were working just for the money, but more of us are becoming lucky enough to work for more than that," he says. "We want to enjoy ourselves, and we want to change how the world works...People in their twenties now are doing what they want to do rather than worry about the money."
Notwithstanding that the "age of abundance" has hardly eliminated subsistence labor yet, and that across the world such luxury of choice remains a rarity, the author foresees that three new models will come to define a radically different working experience.
The first is the "Hotel California" model:
"A workplace so good you'll never leave. The lights are on 24/7 because there is so much there that it's as much fun as life outside of work. The Google offices in California are a great example -- it has pool tables, bikes to get around the campus and the food is better than at home."
Wallman recalls the unique environment around watching a Super Bowl with the Google team.
"They were all friends -- work and play had become the same. Work was something they wanted to do."
A sense of mission is key to generating such close bonds and commitment. Wallman cites the work of leading business strategist Tammy Erickson, who emphasizes the need for companies to "capture the hearts and minds" of employees, and appealing to shared values, in order to recruit, keep and motivate a sophisticated workforce.
Wallman also points to the rise of B Corporations, which are dedicated to delivering social benefits in addition to profits, as examples of a changing landscape in which management must sell intrinsic value rather than just a living to a generation of employees that have come to expect more.
In addition to the Hotel California, Wallman has coined the "Martini model," defined by extreme flexibility, inspired by the classic TV ads which promised "anytime, anywhere."
"I know someone who trades from Mauritius, and another who runs a restaurant in Clapham (South London) from Bali," he says. They can also operate at their convenience rather than having to meet fixed hours.
Finally, there are third spaces, for people that enjoy the freedom of the Martini model but also appreciate regular human contact. Wallman points to the rise of relaxed co-working spaces for freelancers of all disciplines that combine games rooms with stable facilities, such the Fueled Collective site in New York City.
Looking even further ahead, Wallman is excited by the possibilities of automation to give workers even more freedom, including permanent disruption of the five-day week.
As with all social trends, the shift to experientialism must work its way through the early adopters, but Wallman believes it will rapidly become a universal touchstone, offering value for businesses and fulfillment for employees.
"It may seem like fantasy," he says. "But the standard of living changed incredibly in the 20th century, and the shift from materialism will experientialism will transform quality of life in the 21st century. When we go to work, it will be to enjoy ourselves."