Technology will kill the 9-to-5 work week, says Richard Branson

The billionaire entrepreneur predicts the rise of technology will soon force society to rethink the modern work week.

Technology will kill the 9-to-5 work week, says Richard Branson
(Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
  • Branson made the argument in a recent blog post published on the Virgin website.
  • The 40-hour work week stems from labor laws created in the early 20th century, and many have said this model is becoming increasingly obsolete.
  • The average American currently works 47 hours per week, on average.

Have you ever had a 'case of the Mondays,' or remarked that you can't believe it's 'hump day' already, or said TGIF to a coworker at the end of a regular, 9-to-5 week? The chances are that, as A.I. continues to improve, you'll soon be able to retire these awful sayings because the work week is poised to undergo a major transformation.

That's the idea behind a recent blog post written by entrepreneur Richard Branson, who's established flexible work arrangements at his company Virgin Management.

"The idea of working five days a week with two day weekends and a few weeks of holiday each year has become ingrained in society. But it wasn't always the case, and it won't be in the future," Branson wrote.

"As Google's Larry Page and others have said, the amount of jobs available for people is going to decrease as technology progresses. New innovations will drive industries forward, but they will also reduce our reliance on people power," Branson wrote. "Ideas such as driverless cars and more advanced drones are becoming a reality, and machines will be used for more and more jobs in the future. Even pilot-less planes will be become the reality in the not too distant future."

Brief history of the modern work week

The 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday work week might sound tiring and overly regimented to us now. But establishing this relatively new labor model was considered a victory for workers in the 19th and 20th centuries who, in various movements worldwide, organized to demand better labor conditions and regulation. In the early 20th century, for instance, many Americans worked brutally long hours in terrible conditions before Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, which essentially created the modern American work week that we know today.

But recently some have questioned the utility of the model, citing how technology enables people to work remotely, jobs are different than they once were, and studies that suggest a shorter workday, even one that's just three hours long, actually increases productivity. (Some research suggests, by the way, that most workers are only productive for a few hours a day.)

​Inevitable changes

For better or worse, technology might soon force us to reshape modern conceptions of the work week. That's primarily because A.I. is poised to threaten many human jobs, not necessarily just the menial ones, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk suggested to the National Governors Association in 2017.

There certainly will be job disruption. Because what's going to happen is robots will be able to do everything better than us. . . I mean all of us.

In November, for instance, Lexus released the first TV commercial scripted by an A.I., suggesting that a fraction of the marketing industry could someday be replaced by algorithms that use vast amounts of consumer data to build advertisements. That might take a while. But robots are already replacing other human jobs, such as floor cleaners, and potentially burger flippers, at Walmart.

Still, it's worth noting that, for Musk at least, working less hours isn't necessarily a good thing, assuming you want to leave behind a legacy.

"There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week," Musk said, referring to his four companies, Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company, and Neuralink. Musk, who once said he was working 120 hours per week at Tesla, was asked on Twitter how many hours people should work if they want to change the world.

"Varies per person, but about 80 sustained, peaking above 100 at times," he said. "Pain level increases exponentially above 80."

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

Videos
  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
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