Article 3

2020-04-21 Simona Cuomo

Why It's Necessary to Reflect on Identity, Especially Now

In this and the next blog posts, we will discuss some comments that were left by the participants in our streaming event last April 1, "Smart Working: Are We Really Working Smartly?" Taking our cues from those comments, we will address some important social and managerial themes.

Today we will talk about transformation of identity. We will then deal with living conditions, the impact of smart working, and "possible new leadership models."

"The backgrounds behind the colleagues (or the speakers) during smart working are phenomenal, and we could even create links between colleagues that were previously unimaginable… the ABB manager's little room was beautiful!"

The organization of time and space are the main worries in our lives, because space and time are two categories that are ethologically and socially founded on individuals and societies.
As long as work times and spaces were organized in a mostly rigid and standardized manner, professional identity was always distinct from private identity. There were different times and spaces for living two different parts of life. It was even possible to play Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, becoming two separate people, wearing different masks. We knew little of the work our fathers and mothers did. Maybe one day a year we could visit their companies; but when they came home, work remained behind the door, so to say. It was discussed at the table, but abstractly, like a conversation on politics or the weather.

This is how it was for a long time. The rigidity of the organization of work allowed for a sharp separation of two basis aspects of each person's private and personal identity. In the current economic and social context, characterized by complexity, speed, and uncertainty, people have expressed new and more sophisticated needs to manage the pace of work and life, that is often very tiresome. The need for flexibility, to reconcile private life and work, has become a priority.

To respond to this need, linked not only to the management of family responsibilities but also the possibility to cultivate one's own interests and private relationships, businesses, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, had begun to rethink the organization of work, making it more flexible, less restricted by punching in and strict hours. And with the slow adoption of smart working by many workers, there seems to be a transformation of identity, becoming more fluid and integrated. Work has come into the home and the family, creating an inevitable contamination. However, this contamination has been exasperated by the health emergency, creating a true fusion (and confusion) between the two spheres of identity.

This particular situation provides us the opportunity to reflect on the advantages and limits of this process of melting of identity, which has been underway for some time. Immediately, we all see with our own eyes the coercive aspects of "never disconnecting;" rigidity separates and fluidity creates a connection of time and space that can become stressful and all-absorbing. There is less reflection on other aspects of this new option: fluidity does not allow us to hide ourselves and play with different masks. In the connection of times and spaces, the authenticity of the person, and not the role she plays, becomes an important foundation to construct a relationship of trust and constructive exchange. In fact, as the comment shown above indicates, this mixture between the two spheres, that were previously separated, humanizes people. In this period in particular, we have learned more about our colleagues, our bosses, our team that was previously unknown to us, recognizing various nuances of their lives. This transparency can become an important bond for trust and reciprocity when we go back to our offices. In addition, the possibility of revealing ourselves in a more fluid and coherent manner could compensate for that condition of pluralism of social identities that in psychology has been defined "the carnival of identities" or the "schizophrenia of the self." According to this view, the tendency to continuously change models of reference, to act out different lifestyles, which is characteristic of the post-modern condition, makes the nucleus of the personality fragile; a difficult emotional condition for each person.

It is also true that this path of greater dialogue and exchange between the spheres of our identities could be seen as excessive, a Big Brother that controls and standardizes everything. If this were true, each person could also decide differently, for example wearing professional suits and concealing the view of her home in order to prevent people from seeing other aspects beyond their head and shoulders (a function available in most video-conferencing tools).



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