It may seem a tad unrealistic to those of us who didn’t help start a billion-dollar behemoth of a company such as Google, but you have to like Larry Page’s concept of a world where we all spend less time at work. At least in theory.
In a recent interview with technology venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, Page and his Google co-founder Sergey Brin touched on subjects ranging anywhere from the San Francisco housing market to artificial intelligence.
During the interview, Page also offered up his vision of an ideal working world, in which employees work fewer hours, are more productive and “have more time with their family or to pursue their own interests.”
While theorizing that many of today’s employees are driven to work longer and harder mostly by a desire to feel valued and useful, fulfilling that need shouldn’t require a superhuman effort, he said.
“I think there’s a problem that we don’t recognize that,” said Page. “And I think there’s also kind of a social problem. A lot of people aren’t happy if they don’t have anything to do. So we need to give people things to do. [People] need to feel needed and wanted, and need to have something productive to do.
“If you really think about the things you need to make yourself happy—housing, security, opportunity for your kids—it’s not that hard for us to provide those things,” continued Page. “So the idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet peoples’ needs is just not true. The amount of resources we need to do that, the amount of work that needs to go into that, is pretty small.”
Page suggested a few alternatives to free up more of employees’ time while maintaining a productive work environment, such as adopting four-day work weeks, or splitting full-time jobs between part-time workers.
“I was talking to [Virgin Group founder] Richard Branson about this,” he said. “They have a huge problem there. They don’t have enough jobs in the U.K. He’s been trying to get people to hire two part-time people instead of one full-time [employee], so at least the young people can have a half-time job rather than no job.”
Brin wasn’t so sure that idea would fly, however.
“I don’t think that, in the near term, the need for labor is going away,” said Brin. “It gets shifted from one place to another, but people always want more stuff, or more entertainment, or more creativity or more something.”
Brin has a point there. And there’s also the question of how the average employee would maintain his or her current standard of living on a part-time job that would presumably mean less money. Page didn’t shed any light on just how that might work. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be an HR professional given the task of clearing it up for a full-time employee who was just bumped back to part-time status.