Has the Working Nomad Gone Mainstream?

GEEKING OUT

By: Michael Youngblood, Unsettled Co-founder 

I should say upfront that I’m not really a car guy. In fact, I’m more likely to view the culture around cars as part of some of the problems that I hope our generation overcomes. I am a fan of sustainable innovations, such as Tesla, and the wider transition from internal combustible engines (ICEs) to electric. But not a car guy per se. I drive a Subaru because it’s practical and useful in my lifestyle, but my wagon certainly isn’t flashy. I am, however, a fan of product development. 

So last week, when I saw that Ford was releasing a 2021 electric (a hybrid ICE and electrical to be exact) F-150, it caught my attention. I wanted to see how much one of the largest automakers in the world will push electric-powered cars forward. It was also interesting for me to watch how a company with nearly limitless budgets approach product development in a crazy year. If I’m honest, there’s also not much to do during the quarantine (read: I was bored), so I figured I’d watch the Ford Live YouTube event.

A little background (that Ford should probably pay me to share). The F-150 has been the best selling truck in the US for over 4 decades. In a good year, Ford sells close to a million of these vehicles in a year. If the price sticker on these trucks averages about $50,000, well I think the revenue projections for this product line would break my calculator. So I called a math friend with a larger calculator than mine and it turns out this single product is producing around $50B/year in revenue. That’s larger than many Fortune 500 companies, such as American Express. 

So, yes, I think it’s safe to conclude that the product development team behind the Ford F-150 probably knows a thing or two about consumer trends. They want to keep up with these trends and demonstrate value to the evolving desires of their market. In their product launch last week, Ford went into detail to highlight how their product development team spent time with their consumers to see how they live, work, and play in 2020. As a side, I think it’s important to note that their market represents only a fraction of society, which I’ll save for another post sometime about how product developers have a responsibility to seek out diverse voices during the research stages. 

So as I grabbed a beer and sat down to YouTube, I was expecting to have an electric-hybrid truck reveal modestly grab my attention for a few minutes. However, I was stunned when Ford began revealing the design of their key feature updates for their 2021 lineup, and it wasn’t the electric-hybrid engine they hyped up.  

Every effort was made by Ford’s well-steeped marketing and product launch teams to show off a series of features that sent a clear message: If the lines between how we work, play, and live were once blurry, these lines have now been erased from our memory. They are no more. Our work, life, transportation, and every other area you can think of has been penetrated by technology and the work-everywhere-you-go lifestyle that comes with that. 

Some of the features that highlight this include:

  1. The two front seats lay back to almost 180 degrees, like in executive class on an airplane. The darkness in this camera shot is almost singing me to sleep by saying, your car is now your mobile bedroom.

2. They have this cool magic feature that literally hides the shifter, thereby transforming more space for your laptop. I grew up loving the cartoon Transformers and always imagined our vehicles would have the possibility to morph into something… I just didn’t expect that to be into an office in 2020!

3. Plugs, plugs, plugs! You know that feeling when you walk into a coffee shop and you start eyeing the walls for an outlet? Yeah, apparently Ford’s product development team caught on.

What’s so interesting about this? The product designers of one of the highest revenue-producing products in the entire world have seen the trend of remote work coming to age. As a result, they redesigned their company’s top product — a vehicle of all things — to bring the concept of mobility and remote work everywhere you go. We are finally crossing that chasm. The blurry lines between our work lives and our home lives are now so blurry that we carry those two worlds with us in our cars, which are now also our mobile offices, bedrooms, conference rooms, and storage units that follow us everywhere we go. 

Society is fully embracing the idea of everywhere we go, everything comes with us. An optimist might say, everywhere you go, there’s possibility. Possibility to sleep, work, and to be more mobile. A pessimist would contend, work and the “work hard” mentality is now taking over our personal lives — everywhere we go, there’s work. Our boss or clients can reach us anywhere and hell, our trucks are now our offices-bedrooms-mobility units. Our personal lives be damned! 

I would say, at least the electrical engines are on the way in and ICEs are on the way out.

This product launch raises really interesting questions that we have been asking for years at Unsettled. It is finally demonstrating that as a society, the lines between our work lives and our personal lives have formally been crushed. They are so nonexistent that even when you are driving from “home” to “work”, the office is with you at all times. 

We believe that the events of 2020 are accelerating this change for a more mobile society where work goes everywhere with us. There will be pros and cons of these changes. In all likelihood, it’s up to us, in how we adapt and in how we decide to let these technologically enabled tools to permeate all parts of our lives. This may turn out to be one of the most compelling narratives of the 21st century.

For me at least, my hope is that more people become passionate about their work or find work-life integration that works for them. I hope that everyone makes conscious choices about how much technology engulfs their life or not. I hope that we are aware of the emerging cultural narrative that we need to work hard, we work everywhere, and that our identities are more and more defined by what we do. By building this awareness, it becomes a choice. Do we want our cars to be an office? Airplanes? Kitchen tables? What about our bedrooms where we make love, create families, and maybe, just maybe, unplug? Whatever your choice is, I hope that you do find meaning and purpose in your work, but that you also set boundaries by building this awareness because it’ll be the status quo before we know it.

Like Ford, we believe that the virtual spaces of our work lives and personal lives are fusing together and there are great opportunities in it! There are downsides too that need to be considered. 

At Unsettled, we are leading with some product development of our own that we hope is thoughtful, relevant to the times, and will have a positive impact (ICEs to hell!).

Stay tuned for more product launches from us throughout the summer!

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