What driving in Kazakhstan taught me about the future of work.
From the second I got into my cab at Almatay airport last week, I knew I was in for an eye-opening experience, little did I know it might relate back to the future of work. I was told by a Kazakh friend to order the cab from a company called Yandeks who I was also informed was recently purchased by Uber, so was for all intensive purposes, the ‘Kazakh Uber.’ Now all I can say is, clearly somewhere along the line the rules and regulations that Uber upholds in every other country have been, well, overlooked. This taxi would have certainly failed its UK MOT (road safety certification), it had no rear-view mirror, a cracked windscreen, no seat belts, the driver’s seat looked like a rodent had been eating from its upholstery and he was smoking what smelt like a ‘tropical blend’ of tobacco.
Was it unconventional? Entirely. Was it comfortable? No, not really. Was I fearing for my life the majority of the journey? Most certainly. That said, was it the cheapest airport taxi run of my life? Absolutely! Was it somewhat entertaining? More than most Netflix series, and would I use this same service again that week? Many, many times!!
The bottom line is, I got to my desired destination according to the journey duration specified and for less expense than originally quoted, which is a lot more than most taxi providers can say. This got me thinking, we are taught not to judge books by their covers for a reason and the Kazakh automotive metaphor had only just begun.
It was when I hired a car and confronted the roads myself that things really got interesting. I have summarised the most shocking aspects of the Kazakh highway code I witnessed first hand:
1) Most roads are one way, so if you miss your turn you could be driving for many miles before an opportunity to exit the highway transpires. That is unless you take a U-turn in the middle of the road, drive backwards down a one way road back to your desired junction and then exit accordingly.
2) If you’re stopping to drop off the kids at school or fancy having a chat with a friend on the pavement as you drive down a busy rush hour dual carriageway, don’t pull over and park up. Simply stop your car, step out of the vehicle, go about your business and wait for everyone else to drive around you, even if you are two lanes from the curb.
3) If you turn on your indicator you officially have the right of way to turn as you please with no consideration for the proximity of other vehicles.
4) It is subjective as to whether you stop at a pedestrian crossing or not, regardless of the colour of the traffic lights.
5) Speed limits are optional.
6) As are mirrors, doors, number plates and fully pumped tyres.
In summary, one could say that much like the taxi, every aspect of road conduct adherence is overlooked in Kazakhstan. When you decide to travel the roads, you accept ownership of your situation and any consequences. Now yet again, whilst I may have been shocked, nay appalled by much of what I saw on the roads coming from the somewhat consistent and heavily policed roads of the UK, who is to say which is right and which is wrong? After all, I took many journeys last week and I was never in an accident, the traffic actually moves much quicker than in the UK, I always got to my destination as planned and found the whole transport experience significantly more entertaining than I am used to back home.
Okay, so how does this have any relevance to the future of work?!
Well, much in the same way roads can either be a sporadic free for all, or a heavily regulated and policed system, today we are confronted with a spectrum between two differentiated workplaces, the conventional office based 9-5 ‘clock-in clock-out’ system and the flexible, working from home, open plan free for all and everything in between.
There is no perfect solution in any case to the future of work, however, as our workplaces evolve toward being a more flexible and personalised environment in which people (on average) thrive the most, I believe this desired state can be captured in a phrase: “an open road.”
With an open road, there is a road, a loose set of parameters within which to operate but this space is open to interpretation and it’s up to the individual to determine his/her own destiny in the fashion they best see fit. You get out of life/work/the road what you put in. If you focus and play smart then you’ll achieve your goals and most likely enjoy the ride but if you take your eye off the ball and become complacent, well you may want to consider the eye watering road traffic mortality rate in Kazakhstan!
The real irony is that whereas our roads continue to evolve from the seeming chaos we still see in places like Kazakhstan, to the polished infrastructural systems we know in the western world, the future of work appears to be moving in the opposite direction. The confines of traditional office life just won’t cut it anymore, people want freedom in the way they work, they want spontaneity and they want their journey to be personal to them. In the future of work people want to take the wheel and work when they want, how they want and most importantly satisfying every aspect of what they want from it!