Sunday, December 12, 2004

No Collar

I'm ill. I haven't finished reading. I feel like rolling over to die.

1. Does it seem to anyone else that the corporate culture of such organizations is to give employees what they think they want in order to elicit more productivity and thus more profit?

2. For all the talk about sellouts by the fish, aren't they, in their own way, elitists? And, as noted by Ms. Snyder, they seem oblivious to the power hierarchies under which they are employed. How can they both rail against the traditional models without knowing exactly how those models are structured? Does this ignorance/naivete leave them susceptible to corporate structure changes that would/will move them closer to older models?

3. The cult metaphors seem strong, but there is this similarity in the sense that work becomes one's life. Fellow employees are "family" and the head of the family, the corporation itself, is entity worth sacrificing oneself for. Do the images and the rhetoric these workplaces exude "trick" people into thinking that they aren't part of the machine while sacrificing their lives to it? How is this any different to the cold war business environment in which loyalty to the company was the thing?

I will try to be in class tomorrow, but right now I feel wretched.


Ross questions

1. How does HR fit into the No-collar workplace? Management appears to play the role of HR staff. At Razorfish, management appeared to be the HR-like motivational force, a seperation in a workplace without much hierarchy. Although this worked better when the company was doing well, it became another cause for restructuring, during hard times. Also causing these individuls extra emotional wear.

2. I thought it was interesting when Ross contrasted a few individual throughout the book who were successfully doing freelance work during a time when the rest of the industry was struggling. Does this suggest anything about the structuring of the no-collar workplace, the financialization of the dot-com industry or perhaps a desire to belong to a group doing poorly rather than risking self-employment? Ross does not offer any examples of individuals failing at this, so it is unclear if he is intentionally juxtaposition these two possiblities.

3. At Razorfish and 360hiphop, workers were very concerned about both who their clients were and also not wanting to "sell out" to the bigger corporate businesses or clients. Is this attitude distinctive to the no-collar workplace? In the end, Razorfish was forced to start catering to those bigger clients in order to survive and 360hiphop was bought out by a huge media conglamerate. Could this aforementioned attitude have been part of their failures or were the shortcomings merely a product of the dot-com crash?

Ross questions

I was happy to see that Ross intended "no collar" ironically rather than as a description of an ideal historical state or status, like "post-industrial" or "creative class."

1. On p. 252, Ross describes the "needy" organization, where no-collar workers suddenly found themselves as managers reasserted control during hard times, as an experience of managerial power in the absence of authority. What are some of the sources of authority in organizations, as opposed to power? What are legitimate sources of authority, if any? What kind of power is more hazardous to one's health, filtered or unfiltered?

2. After a series of massive layoffs, Razorfish managers were telling their employees that the 1/6th who remained represented the network of "Competents"; similarly, a manager claimed that he kept on some of the trouble-makers because they provided "useful energy" to the organization. How convincing are these statements in terms of the evidence?

3. The big question left at the end of the book is whether or not the vision of a "creative class" or "no-collar" workforce or class of knowledge workers is sustainable for the foreseeable future in the United States. Is it? How are knowledge workers going to negotiate with the new managerial regime? Is workplace reform likely to continue in this country at some point in the near future, or do we have to look to Finland or someplace else for models?

no collar questions

I don't know much about the stock market, so when I want to make reference to it, I'm just going to refer to 'Wall Street.' It's more faceless than I'd like, but I don't quite know where specifically to point fingers.

1. During the panel discussion "The Future of Silicon Alley," Michael Wolff makes the comment that Internet industry should never have been treated as a separate industry. If Wall Street is largely to blame for what happened to the dot com industry, this leads me to two questions:

a. If the dot coms had stayed smaller, more organic, and more attuned to the "Golden Age" ideals of the mid-90s, would they have fared better? To what extent did they have the choice to leave the market out of their kind of work, or was going public just inevitable?

b. How culpable and/or malevolent was Wall Street in the over-financialization of the New Economy? Were they just honestly trying to find a way to attach a value to companies that didn't produce goods and services in a way people found familiar? Or was it an excuse to restructure the economy to reward corporations and destabilize the labor force?

2. We discussed this some with the Florida book, but I'd like to talk more about the environmental impact of a Silicon Alley or any other concentration of information workers in cities. Ross mentions the working class populations and information sector support staff being driven out of formerly affordable communities in San Francisco and San Jose. Teachers in Silicon Valley live in subsidized housing (and they're supposed to be 'professionals!'). There's a tension between these information professionals as both unwitting victims and unintentional victimizers. What do we think about all of this?

3. Ross seems to leave us with the idea that maybe hating your job just a little bit is better for you in the long run. In what ways was Razorfish a humane workplace and in what ways was it ultimately not? This sounds like an obvious question, but I'm curious to see if there are differences of opinion in the class about management styles, organizational structure, work environment, company culture, etc. - where are we all coming from when we talk about a 'humane' workplace?

Questions, No-Collar

  1. I'm having trouble formulating this question coherently, but here goes: It seems to me that one of the holdovers from the Industrial Age is the notion that "the job" is one-size-fits-all for both business and the individual laborer. A lot of our readings this semester challenge that assumption from both directions; businesses can't afford or don't want to provide "jobs" to everyone whose labor they need (Temps, Granny, the unionism articles), and people don't always want the "jobs" that business can provide (Creative Class).

    The no-collar workplaces, for all their apparent job-structure and atmosphere innovations, strike me as falling into exactly the same trap; their world was just as narrowly-conceived and ill-tailored, just in completely different ways.

    So how do we conceive of a humanized workplace that acknowledges that different businesses and different people have different labor needs, without falling into exploitative labor relationships?

  2. Do we know what happened to the ex-dot-commers generally? Ross tries to provide an answer for his limited sample of people, but I'd be interested to hear a wider survey of what these people are doing and what they think of the dot-com experience now that it's behind them.

  3. Related to the previous question: A lot of our readings assume without question that the workplace will be and should be organized (physically as well as structurally) around the needs of whatever segment of the labor force is currently "hot." In No-Collar, this means the chaotic, noisy, all-with-all (as opposed to all-against-all) Razorfish floor. When do we get to a more inclusive vision of labor practices, such that all work and all workers have attention paid to their varying needs? (Because, I gotta say, an atmosphere like Razorfish's would drive me bats in extremely short order.)