Cultural transformation

Work, consumption, leisure: the old barriers are coming down

In a few weeks, the ambition of the American founders of La Louve will be realised, when the community food co-op opens its first supermarket in the 18th arrondissement in Paris. Co-op members will volunteer alongside a handful of paid employees for three consecutive hours every four weeks to perform “all the tasks necessary for the store to operate normally”: checkout, stocktaking, administration, cleaning” and in return for their efforts will be the supermarket’s sole customers. Neither workers nor clients, but a mixture of both, plus a bit extra as each member will become a shareholder, with a stake of €100 worth 10 shares in the cooperative.

The business model, tending to blur the distinction between customers and staff, looks good on paper. It’s hard not to want to join in, or at least to track the project’s progress and see whether it succeeds or encounters difficulties.

The project also tells us a lot about changes occurring in a social order that appears to be steadily demolishing all of the barriers that organise (or should that be “used to organise”?) our existence.

  • The distinction between working life and private life was one of the first to go, under assault from, among other factors, the hyperconnectivity and mobility ushered in by the digital era.
  • Others are already looking for ways of bringing down the barrier between work and leisure, for instance by continually seeking to “gamify” the working experience, while yet other initiatives involve the inverse procedure of “workifying” what are normally considered to be leisure activities (‘bitwalking’ to name just one, where users can generate income in virtual currency by walking with their smartphone, i.e. walking is remunerated as of it were working).

In this new world without work/life frontiers, the very concept of Human Resources, which up till now has designated workers and staff uniquely, is likely to rapidly become obsolete. Some companies are already thinking about expanding their HR function to include customers and stakeholders, considering, perhaps like La Louve, that in fact these groups are actual or potential resources.

Even though it may not please everyone, in particular sales and marketing departments, this form of organisation does seem to me to open up perspectives in a number of areas. Take corporate communications, for example. If it is no longer possible to clearly separate the customer from the employee or the shareholder, we shall no doubt see the arrival of increasing numbers of hybridised communications media that could be one third financial communication, one third corporate communication and one third relational marketing.

We’ll see what happens.