Rethinking Work Beyond the Factory

I recently completed a two- week creative
residence at almost perfect in Tokyo.

I split my time on the trip between
working on booklet and exploring Japan.

The almost perfect residence runs
continuously with two residents at a time.

Each residency concludes what they public
gallery showcasing the residents work.

Many residents are artists who present
visual works crafted during their stay.

For instance, my co-residents do
presented illustrations inspired

by his explorations of Tokyo.

I wasn't sure what kind of gallery to
host, because I was an odd technology,

creative with no drawing skills at all.

I considered ideas ranging from a wall
sized mind-map to a prototyping workshop.

I settled on presenting an
artist statements about my

work at contraption company.

The surrounding core, my neighborhood,
a historic home to craftspeople in

Japan inspired this presentation.

The tools crafts people make
for themselves can change the

world such as the printing press.

This presentation explored work's future
through the lens of software makers.

I give this talk on the 3rd of February,
2024 at almost perfect to a small

crowd of artists and technologists, the
original presentation wasn't recorded.

So this is a new one I made at home.

If you want to read the presentation
as an essay, you can see it on on the essays page.

I'm also going to link to it in the show
notes, along with a PDF of the slides.

If you want to follow along there.

This is rethinking work
beyond the factory.

In the era of the internet, people create
economic value by thinking this knowledge

work differs starkly from manual labor.

Yet the ways we organize digital
work, still resemble assembly lines.

Humans leveraged technology
to solve their problems.

As hunter gatherers humans had scarce food
farming, technology solve this problem,

making food supplies, more stable.

As farmers scarce land
resulted in fiefdoms and wars.

The steam engine started industrial
economies by enabling more efficient

production and transportation.

As factory workers, labor was scarce.

Making more cars required,
hiring more people, the internet

computers and robotics enabled
humans to automate processes.

Today we are in the information age,
cars drive themselves wherever we

want to go guided by satellites.

We grow food and robotic warehouses.

We can instantly communicate with
anybody anywhere in the world.

Work happens with our minds
instead of with our hands.

People that they generally
have food, shelter and jobs.

The new scarcity is attention.

Netflix YouTube tick tock and your job
compete for a limited number of waking

minutes, daily boredom is going extinct.

A standard job consists of commuting to
a workplace for eight hours, five days

a week as an employee of a corporation.

We hold the style of work as
sacrosanct today, yet it's relatively

new Henry Ford standardized this
model fewer than 100 years ago.

Before industrialization
work was different.

As farmers people mostly worked
from home, they didn't have the

technology to commute their work.

Wasn't on a strict schedule
and its tasks varied by season.

Computers and the internet
changed the nature of work

and transformed the economy.

Collaboration has become
globally real-time and instant

valid workers create value by
manipulating ideas and information.

Robots are replacing humans in
all manual labor from factories

to driving to war fighting.

However, our labor practices haven't
yet adapted for this information edge.

We still live like factory workers
commuting to a workplace for a

40 hour work week in nine to five
shifts with repetitive work as

an employee at a big corporation.

Before Ford crafts people filled
factories doing autonomous work workers.

Hated it.

When Henry Ford introduced his
assembly line and began quitting.

Ford had to double wages
to get people to stay.

Applying the factory model to knowledge
work today continues to make us miserable.

We hire based on abstracts, teamwork
qualities, enforce arbitrary working hours

and deal with management bureaucracy.

We cannot measure the productivity
of knowledge work the same way as

a factory technology automates.

So every Workday brings different
and new tasks, different people solve

the same problem in different ways.

The maker's personality
comes through in their work.

Today developers are rethinking their
trade to restore craft and autonomy.

Crafting autonomy enabled developers
to solve complex problems with

uncertain solutions along the way,
software engineers create tools

to make their work more efficient.

We will look at some of these
tools and workflows today.

My name is Philip and I am here at almost
perfect for a two week creative residency.

I am unusual among the residents
at almost perfect because

I am a technology creative.

I build software applications
that help people work online.

I studied systems engineering
at university and applied this

systems lens to my work today.

When considering a change, I
analyze its second and third order

effects on the overall system.

I draw inspiration from cities,
infrastructure, and food around the world.

This trip is my first time to Japan.

I spent the last two weeks exploring
the country keenly, interested in

work culture and urban planning.

I spent most of my time, wandering in
Tokyo with a brief excursion to Morioka.

I found it three internet companies
in the past, all focusing on

rethinking work for the internet age.

Staff Troy built scheduling
software for app.

Based delivery workers.

My senior project in university
applied math to increase flexibility

for hourly workers, staff, to a
commercialized to these algorithms.

The company raised venture capital, but
failed to achieve mainstream adoption.

Today it lives on as an open source
project, which we will discuss later.

Moonlight sprung from my
experiences, building staff joy.

It helps companies hire
remote software developers.

I built the company while traveling
full-time around the world.

The company became profitable, raised
venture capital and was acquired in 2020.

It continues to operate today.

Contraption company is
my current business.

I founded it almost two years ago.

The contraption company is a product
studio, developing tools for online

work there, I build three main products.

Booklet is an asynchronous community app.

That is an alternative to chat.

Postcard, lets anybody make a
personal website in five minutes

and fractional is a community
for part-time technology workers.

We will talk more about some
of these products later.

I'm building contraption company in a
different way than my past startups.

I structured the company in
pursuit of craft and autonomy.

I avoid time constraints
when developing products.

The company structure supports
operating multiple long-term products.

And it is a one person business me
with occasional help from contractors.

My day-to-day work consists of coding
and coffee shops around New York city.

I write the code for contraption
company products, myself.

This presentation will look at three
trends among software developers

that may become mainstream
first smaller remote companies.

Second less rigid workweeks and third
written asynchronous collaboration.

The first trend we will discuss
is smaller remote companies.

When I co-founded Moonlight
in 2017, I believe remote

work could help startups grow.

Remote work was a hard sell in 2017.

Most companies insisted on
only hiring on-site employees.

A handful of companies believed in
remote work and help to Moonlight grow.

But most companies told us they would
adopt remote work in a decade or two.

As COVID lockdowns began in 2020, these
companies adopted remote work overnights.

They already had the necessary tools.

So the transition was smooth.

As lockdown is lifted.

Few companies returns to their offices.

Momentum had been the only
thing preventing the adoption

of new, better practices.

After a change in norms momentum, again,
prevented a regression to offices.

The way companies work during
COVID remained primitive

by remote work standards.

People's routines stayed the same.

Sand's a commute.

Now companies are rethinking the first
principles of work for a remote team.

As a remote native team can
hire the best person for a job

regardless of where they live today.

Most remote companies have not achieved
this vision of transcending time zones.

Once they do it completely transforms the
business, enabling them to operate 24 7.

In the past companies based salaries
on the local cost of living an office

in New York city paid more than
one in Arkansas for the same work,

because living in New York costs more.

Remote work is changing compensation
from cost-based pay to value based pay.

Companies no longer pay a premium
to live in an expensive place.

Many workers increased the quality of
life by relocating to cheaper areas.

Remote work affects developing
economies dramatically.

They're one software salary
can create secondary jobs.

A high earning worker may
hire a cook cleaner and nanny.

But local startups now compete with
high paying American corporations for

employees which hurts local innovation.

Remote work creates flexibility
in location and local government.

I spent two years as a digital nomad
working in living around the world

with only a backpack and suitcase.

Governments are adapting to attract
higher earning remote workers.

Japan just announced a digital nomad visa.

Applicants must have almost twice the
salary of the average Japanese worker.

Many other countries have similar schemes.

Location flexibility among
workers is changing government.

In the past, people could
only change their government

with boats or revolutions.

Now governments compete
for residents in the USA.

Remote work triggered an Exodus
from San Francisco to Austin for

lower taxes and cheaper housing.

People may also choose a government
based on the policies they want.

Surrogacy laws, public transportation,
infrastructure, and welfare

programs become differentiators.

Remote work gets rid of boring
commutes, but it also flattens

the global labor market creating
competition between governments.

For an industrial era factory to make
twice as many cars, it had to hire twice.

As many people capital was
leveraged for the business.

When Elon Musk bought Twitter, he
decreased the size of the team by 90%.

While Twitter has problems,
the site generally still works.

Decreasing the team by 90% without
any significant outage is remarkable.

That would've never happened in a factory.

Elan's changes triggered other tech
companies to confront problems of

bureaucracy and over-hiring investors.

Now encourage companies to keep teams
small because efficiency drives profit.

Before my presentation, I talked
to Lewis about his favorite

illustration software procreate.

A lifetime license costs
only $9 and 99 cents.

Procreates model works because
software scales infinitely.

In developing the code, selling one
extra license costs the company, nothing.

Software is like a book.

The product work is all upfront.

Software scalability means that a small
team can have a disproportionate impact.

WhatsApp had 55 employees
when it sold for $19 billion.

Instagram had 13 employees
when it sold for 1 billion.

And people soon expect a one person
billion dollar company to emerge.

With software, you don't need to
hire a big team to be successful.

Small teams can serve infinite customers.

Industrial career paths involved, a
ladder from individual contributor

to manager to executive technological
advancements are reshaping this model.

Since Elan's downsizing trend,
many middle managers have returned

to individual contributor roles,
recruiting and hiring used to be

a core task of technology managers
with the trend towards smaller teams.

There's less recruiting work to do.

Improvements in communication, enable
executives to talk directly to employees

instead of relying on managers.

Technology advances continue to
make workers more productive.

A single individual can now manage tasks
that previously required a whole team.

Amazon web services enables a solo
developer to spin up a data center of

servers and databases in a few minutes.

Figma allows the designer to prototype a
clickable application and an afternoon.

MailChimp enables a marketer to contact
millions of customers in minutes.

And artificial intelligence is further
accelerating these productivity gains.

I talked with many people in
Japan about how AI could affect

their industry in the future.

For software developers, AI,
isn't a future trend though.

It's already a tool they use every day.

I include in the website, a video of
me using AI to build booklet features.

I do this every day.

I provide some natural language
directions and then open AI writes

code and it writes quality code.

In the past a senior engineer would
manage a team of junior developers.

Now that senior engineer can manage
AI instead and get as much done.

These AI enabled senior engineers
sometimes called centers are

wildly productive and efficient.

AI tools make me more productive, enabling
me to work alone instead of hiring a team.

AI is driving a new wave of creative
output by enabling solo creators.

With remote work and smaller
teams, new problems are emerging.

The decoupling of work and social results
in loneliness and isolation, offices

anchored many people's social lives.

They would see the same coworkers
daily have social lunches

and chat at the water cooler.

People met friends and
even spouses at work.

To make work from home.

Sustainable people need to
leave their homes, but many

people don't have a place to go.

Car culture and suburbanization
created sparse landscapes of isolation.

Remote work changed cities, business
districts feel empty and the

restaurants are suffering, but walkable
city neighborhoods are attracting

remote workers seeking connection.

I live in New York city, which used
to cater to commuters who drove

from suburbs to downtown offices.

Only a massive 23% of New York offices.

are vacant.

A low 1.4% of apartments remain empty.

New congestion charges, further discourage
commuter car traffic into the city.

Cities are not dying.

They're shifting to be more residential.

Finally, it's a weird time
to be entering the workforce.

Companies used to spend months
training new hires in anticipation

of a long career with work becoming
more transactional and efficient, new

hires have to produce immediate value.

Exam focused education.

IL prepares graduates for ambiguous
project based knowledge work.

Next we'll discuss the second
trend, less rigid work weeks.

Before the industrial revolution only
the wealthy had access to clocks.

Assembly lines required people to
be at their stations at the right

time for the factory to operate.

So workers had to start
caring about punctuality.

But in remote teams, nobody sees how long
you were sitting at your desk instead.

You're judged primarily
on your work output.

Performative acts of looking
busy no longer matter.

And a factory productivity was
generally a factor of time.


People had to stand on an assembly line
to manufacture cars, working twice.

As many hours could
produce twice as many cars.

We standardized pay on time.

With knowledge work, work output is
no longer a pure function of time,

but also the intensity of work.

This change means that the value somebody
creates per hour may be inconsistent.

In knowledge work, four hours of
intense focus produces more than

eight hours of moderate focus.

The ability to control attention and focus
is a rare skill among modern workers.

Companies have begun to adapt
to incentivize this focus.

New results.

Only work environments measure
only work output, not hours.

Working faster, lets you finish earlier.

One of the trends I'm interested
in right now is productional work.

Fractional work is a midway point
between freelance and employment.

It typically is a halftime job with
a company paid weekly or monthly.

This arrangement has more
stability than freelance and

more autonomy than employments.

Fractional roles allow experienced
workers to choose shorter

work days over higher pay.

In the age of scarce attention, they free
up valuable time for various pursuits.

Fractional roles enable raising children,
pursuing hobbies and starting companies.

Some even work multiple fractional
roles to diversify their income.

On a whim.

Last year, I started fractional
spelled F R C T N L as a community

for part-time technology workers.

Since then the community has been
doubling in size every month.

its members are technologists
pursuing part-time work.

Businesses say that a fractional senior
engineer costs less and produces more

than a full-time junior engineer.

New part-time work tools, rethink
the fundamentals of recruiting

and payroll for fractional work.

Today fractional feels
like a new frontier.

Fractional work signals a rethinking
of the traditional 40 hour work week.

But a move toward fewer working hours
comes with challenges we need to address.

A core Silicon valley innovation
was making every employee

a co-owner in the business.

A typical technology job includes a mix
of cash and stock sometimes half and half.

Stock incentives align everybody to
care about the company's success.

Fractional work typically includes
only cash compensation, not equity.

Removing equity compensation decreases
the alignments between workers

and the company and the longterm.

Cash compensation makes work
more transactional and it

gives the workers less upside.

Stock-based compensation
made many workers rich.

However, the recent downturn wiped
out the value of many workers stock

leading to resentment of the model.

A generational shift could replace
stock-based compensation with more time.

for personal side hustles.

In the United States social systems
do not support self-employment.

Corporations, mostly organized healthcare,
parental leave and retirement, not the

government navigating these systems as a
small business, it takes up a lot of work.

Finally fractional workers have to contend
with what to do with spare attention.

Many will spend new founds
time on low quality leisure,

such as Tik TOK, or YouTube.

Encouraging high quality leisure that
promotes creativity and happiness

will be a societal challenge.

The final trend we will discuss is
written asynchronous collaboration.

Technology has enabled
progressively easier communication.

From books to email, to SMS.

The reality is that the easier
we make communication, the more

people communicate when IBM first
switched from paper memos to email

within days, they saw communications
increase by five to six times.

As businesses, embrace chat
products, such as slack.

Communication volume, further increases.

The overhead of monitoring communications
now, overwhelms knowledge workers,

most knowledge workers now check,
chat, or email every six minutes.

Over-communication disrupts the work.

We're so busy talking about.

I am now.

The guy's business chat
apps to Facebook's newsfeed.

We know that social media
feeds presents a never ending

supply of low quality leisure.

Now chat's distracts workers with
a never-ending stream of new low

quality messages to read at work.

You're tired from physical work at the end
of a factory work day, but you're tired

from intense focus and context shifting
at the end of a knowledge Workday.

Over communication hurts,
concentration and productivity by

introducing constant context shifts.

A rule of thumb for online groups is
a single message gets read 100 times.

By making it easier to send we've burdened
readers with decoding sloppy messages.

This constant multitasking destroys work
intensity and leads to mental strain.

Over reliance on chats reveals a deeper
dysfunction in the structure of knowledge,

work workers, chat to seek consensus
on unclear work tasks and assignments.

Remote first work environments
need a more structured way

to organize and assign work.

To learn how software engineers
that self-organized their work.

I want to discuss open source software.

Open source is a culture of
software developers working

for free on free software.

Open-source software permeates
the world, powering every

device, application and business.

I-phones use an open source
operating system called free BSD.

Most web applications use
an open source SQL database.

Almost half of websites use WordPress,
which is an open-source software.

And almost every programming language
anybody learns to code on is itself.

Open source.

Open source software powers the
world, but it has no meetings, no

zoom calls and rarely has chat.

It's entirely asynchronous.

Next I want to highlight
two open source tools.

Engineers have collectively built.

The first tool is get an open
source collaboration tool for code

almost every software engineer uses.

Get through, get hub to
submit and review work.

Software work is typically
organized into issues.

Developers get assigned an issue
or pick up an unassigned one to

work on the developer, writes code
and then submit it for review.

Get hub assigned reviewers who
leave comments and either approve

or reject the code reviews often
include automated tests, which enforce

expected functionality and style.

Excepted code can get
merged and deployed marking.

The motivating issue was closed.

Get to maintain a log of
who did what work and when.

This workflow is explicit and unambiguous
after submitting code for review coders.

Don't wait for feedback.

They move on to the next issue.

Instead of constant contact shifts,
coders, batch their attention

to work on one thing at a time.

And every step has a clear owner
from tasks to reviews to revisions.

The second tool I want
to highlight is Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is an open source
software whose origins are in

enabling asynchronous payments.

I know that the cryptocurrency
industry has had drama, but the

underlying technology allows people
to move money without waiting.

Banks are a synchronous technology.

You can only withdraw money if they are
open Bitcoin addresses the limitations

and processes that slow down commerce.

Waiting on others is a leading
cause of systemic slowness.

Developers pursue asynchronous
non-blocking systems like Bitcoin

to make systems more efficient.

Get an Bitcoin's signal, the
future of collaboration with clear

ownership and no unnecessary waiting.

Structured processes enable
open source to build massive

projects with little coordination.

Communication is closely tied to
how organizations make decisions.

Airbnb is pioneering a shift towards
structured centralized decision

making in technology companies.

During the pandemic, Airbnb
almost died because nobody

was booking vacation rentals.

It's CEO, Brian Chesky use
the abrupt change as a time

to rethink core processes.

Airbnb used to work as a consensus
culture where Chesky set high level

goals and individual teams separately
generated plans to achieve them.

Now Chesky centrally decides
what the entire company does.

He calls it micromanaging,
but it's created agency for

the CEO to make changes.

He no longer fights against
momentum to get things done.

Historically knowledge workers had
freedom in what's to work on this

pled, to over-communication as
they sought consensus on decisions.

Airbnb's style shifted to
freedom of how to work with

clear objectives and decisions.

Teams can focus on implementation.

Top-down mandates shift the role
of managers from coordinators to

operators . Succeeding in this
environments requires a deep technical

understanding of the team's work.

Changing how Airbnb makes
decisions, helped the company

emerge stronger from the pandemic.

When you look at the communication
patterns within Airbnb chats, doesn't

suffice the CEO can't share a company
roadmap or product spec in a text message,

length, chat to the entire company chat
isn't built for long form communication.

The message could get missed or lost.

An instant message from the CEO
cuts at the whole company to

stop working and shift contexts.

Chat is a tool for urgent
real-time communication.

But non-urgent information
gets lost in it.

We need a new tool for
importance, communication,

announcements, decisions, reports.

These types of communications may take
30 minutes to read and understand.

Knowledge workers should plan
dedicated communication time every

day, instead of messaging constantly.

Booklet is the software I'm making
to make communication more calm.

It is an asynchronous community app.

That is an alternative to chats.

It looks like a modernized
email group software.

I launched it three months ago
and continue to work on it daily.

Slow long form communication
is the core of booklet.

It batches, all new posts
and conversations into

one email summary per day.

Booklet keeps everybody
informed without bothering them.

Booklets first customers started
hobbyist groups over time, more

professional organizations used it.

For instance, investment firms use
booklet to build founder networks.

Companies are using it to communicate
between offices in different time zones.

Every creative project starts with
an insight since launching booklet,

I've been building features,
responding to customer requests.

I used my residence at almost perfect
as a time to return to the original

insights behind booklet and build features
I wanted, I had a progressive web app

supports open AI powered search and more.

In conclusion today's work
practices are relatively new and

are undergoing a significant shift.

Industrialization introduced
the work practices.

We recognize today, commuting
to the office 40 hour work weeks

with shifts and repetitive work
as an employee of a corporation.

In this presentation, we looked at trends
in software engineering that signaled

a future of knowledge, work, smaller,
remote teams, less rigid workweeks and

written asynchronous collaboration.

But there are still new
problems to address.

These changes, create issues
such as loneliness and isolation.

More time on low quality, leisure,
and disorganized collaboration.

Thanks for joining this podcast.

Rethinking work beyond the
factory from contraption company.

Learn more about contraption
company and its products on its

They're subscribed to email updates to
keep up to date with what I'm working on.

You can also get future audio contents
in your podcast player by subscribing

at podcast dot the contraption dot C O.

Rethinking Work Beyond the Factory
Broadcast by