The Future Of Work Are you Ready?

The Future Of Work Are you Ready?

The ‘social enterprise’ is not enough, because it does not always have a specific purpose or goal.

We are living in a rapidly changing environment. Stability and security are nice fantasies, and moving from industrial work to knowledge work has changed the structure of business organizations forever.

Add to this the effects of Gen Y and the Millenials, and we not only have different organizations, but a different workforce. A vice president at Cisco in a recent talk said that over the next five years there would only be 1 percent of baby boomers working at Cisco.

Couple this with a flood of new devices in the enterprise (BYOD/bring your own device), and the rapid pace of technology advancement, the use of crowds as a business means, and you begin to see that the future workplace may look nothing like what we see today.

One of the top five issues on CEO surveys for the last five years is “improved collaboration.” But I don’t think everyone means the same thing. In Fig. 2, I look at level of commitment on one axis and solidarity of purpose or goal in the other axis. We see that conversations (social) do not require a high level of commitment, nor do they have a clear idea of purpose or goal. People can converse for a variety of reasons. This is why “the social enterprise” is not enough, because it does not always have a specific purpose or goal. We see that communication (which is what most people mean by collaboration) requires greater purpose and commitment. Finally, collaboration requires a high degree of alignment around a purpose or goal, and a high level of commitment to get the project or goal completed. I could write a whole whitepaper on just these differences and definitions, but that is another topic for another time.

New Technologies New WorkPlace

Tomorrow’s environment is sure to be more complex than today’s. Look at all the new technologies that will impact organizations in the near future:

Nanotechnology – the ability to build something an atom at a time. This has big implications for supply chain, as transportation is not required when you can just grow a desk or chair out of a sheet of plastic or metal on the floor of the office.

Heads-up displays – not so much what you see in a fighter jet, but more like the displays you see in World of Warcraft (WoW) or in science fiction movies like “Minority Report” (Fig.3). In fact, Rob Carter, chief information officer at FedEx, thinks the best training for anyone who wants to succeed in 10 years is the online game World of  Warcraft. Carter says WoW, as its 10 million devotees worldwide call it, offers a peek into the workplace of the future.” (Source: Opens external link in new window 0,28804,1898024_1898023_1898086,00. html #ixzz1q4eJbJ00)

Driverless cars- With the Stanford team winning both the DARPA Desert Challenge and the Downtown Traffic Challenge in Los Angeles, can commercial driverless cars be far behind? How will that effect business real estate when you don’t need to park cars, but can just request one from a nearby fleet whenever you need it. This will also affect taxi drivers, insurance companies, car companies, the mobility of seniors, and many other aspects of our society. What about a no-fault accident when neither car has a driver?

Understanding Brain Function for Various Tasks at Work: There are new technologies available that you can wear on your head and they can show you (on a screen) what areas of a brain are involved in a specific task. Could task enhancement drugs not be far behind? Or could selection of employment candidates be based on their brain’s ability to do specific tasks. It gives a whole new twist to “talent management.”

B.Y.O.D. – With a plethora of new devices entering the workplace (Fig. 5), how will I.T. manage or even keep track of these devices? It is now longer the norm for an employee to get a Blackberry and a laptop.

Companies like Facebook give their employees both an iPhone and an iPad. Orders for 10,000 iPads are not uncommon for some companies today. Now you have many different operating systems, types of devices, and applications (of which there are more than 500,000 in Apple’s Appstore). There is an app for everything —and if not, it will be available soon.

Location-based Technologies – There are not only GPS-based applications that can track your car, your shopping habits, your friends nearby, where the best place to eat near you, directions through the New York City subway, social traffic reporting, etc. There are wifi devices that use a badge (Fig.7) that allow you to track your employee’s location within a building or campus.  

3-D Printers – You can buy one these days for about $800, and they are just what they seem, a printer that lays down a resin instead of ink and allows you to create or print a prototype or object. According to Wikipedia “3-D printing is the process of creating a three-dimensional object from a digital file using a materials printer in a manner similar to printing images on paper.” Since 2003, these printers (Fig. 8) have become more popular and dropped in cost and have been in use for several years in jewelry, footwear, AEC, engineering, automotive, aerospace, dental and medical industries. It is believed that everyone in the future will have one of these printers on their desk to make their own shoes and hats.

There are some companies looking at using these 3-D printers on a much larger scale, and printing homes and buildings (Fig. 8). Imagine if you could print your own office or office building in a fraction of the time it would take to build it the normal way.

These are just some of the few technologies that will affect work in the future. Remember? Ten years ago cell phones were the size of a brick, Google was young, and Facebook hadn’t been created yet. No one talked about the “cloud”; it was all clientserver, and the workspace per employee was about double of what it is today. Never mind all of the alternative work environments: work at home, co-location third spaces, satellite offices, hot docking, hoteling, working in a coffee shop with wifi, globally distributed teams — the list goes on, more signs that the work in the future will look nothing like work today.

Issues For Future Work

>> How to deal with more customer involvement

>> Removing inefficient information silos

>> Rigid organizations, talent loss, what is collaborative talent?

>> No trust that employers will not to lay off, with a low risk of working for self

>> Single employees are workhorses, any day, any time think Silicon Valley    startup)

>> The 50-foot rule: you’re just as likely to collaborate with someone on the opposite side of the world as you are with someone that is 50 feet from your desk.

>> Issues of privacy, identity, noise isolation, provisioning all the different work environments, security and policies and laws to deal with these new technologies will all contribute to the changing nature of work in the future

The Role Of I.T.

The role of I.T. in the organization today is in flux. In the past, it was more of a “data fortress mentality.” Today, advanced CIOs see their role as more of an” internal consultant” to the company to help enable critical processes for any and all departments. In some cases, I.T. personnel and their obsession with security are strangling the organization and creating a competitive disadvantage.

But many visions of future organizations have I.T. as an outsourced department (Fig.9). This type of organization has a small core — say 200 people — that deal with company management, marketing, product management, R&D, operations, and coordination of outside contracting groups for I.T., HR, sales and supply chain. Many of the other departments may be outsourced to other organizations that have proved their merit and have longstanding relationships with the core.

Future Workplace

Given that organizations and technologies are changing rapidly, what does the future of the workplace look like? If any of you reading this remember “the cone of silence” from the old TV series “Get Smart,” Fig. 10 should not be a shock to you as a workspace. This workspace was designed in France and has lots of light, trees and plants as well as curved furniture to convey the nature orientation of the workspace. However workers are isolated in the cones covering their desks. Also, Fig. 10 from Finland shows a diagram of a future workspace that looks more like a café than a traditional work environment.

Features Of Future Companies

>> Cross between long-term commitment and free agents

>> Managers are mentors focused on projects, not functional area, teams

>> Employees negotiate work commitments with project managers

>> Employees commit to interests and time available

>>Project managers define roles and resources and recruit/manage team

>> Employees manage their own hours

>> Everyone gets reviewed (templates, organizational goals and values are  metrics)

>> Executive tasks earned based on size/ number of successful projects

>> Can pick bigger budget but less risky projects — all vetted through process

>> Can pick smaller budget but more innovative projects, with customers a partof project

>> C-suite survives – needed for overall direction, instigate projects, arbitrate between teams

Much of work around collaboration in the future will be focused on processes. Not just any processes, but critical processes that have a collaborative component.

Collaborative Leverage

Collaborative leverage is the ability to apply the right collaborative technology to the right process at the right time and with the right people. This can result in huge savings or revenues; imagine if Intel could get a new chip out a month earlier … it could be worth billions of dollars. We have found six critical processes that are part of any company that have collaborative leverage:

  •     Sales & marketing (proposal development)
  •     Customer service/support (exception handling)
  •     R&D – new product development
  •     Value network management/relationships with external organizations, DPM, and project management (exception handling)
  •     Training (internal, external)
  •     Crisis and decision management While these processes give us some clues as to where to get the greatest amount of collaborative leverage and the greatest return, there is another trend that is impacting businesses today, and that is the business of crowds.

The Future Is Crowds

Crowd-based business (CBB) is also the future. Although it is here today, it is not mainstream, but there are hundreds of examples of how crowds can be used for business and the tools that enable them:

>> Micro tasks – breaking one task into thousands of micro-tasks which can be done in an outsourced manner and simultaneously

>> Crowd flower

>> Mechanical Turk

>> Crowd funding

>> Kickstarter is the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects

>> Micro-giving – Kiva,

>> Crowd-sourcing

>> Tap into collective intelligence: Spigit is used for crowd-sourced innovation

>> Designs (if you need a new logo, a whole pool of designers is available)

>> Social change (for example, “Arab Spring”)

>> Twitter

>> Facebook


As Arthur C. Clark once said, “The future is not what it used to be!” But we are creating the future of work right now. All of the technologies, changes in organizational structure, social change, and new ways of funding and working via crowds are available today. The way the workspace is evolving with new designs, alternative ways of work, and changing organizations, you may be working several days a week in a co-working space like Liquid Space. One of the best resources I know on finding out more about the future of work is NewWoW (new ways of working).

 — David Coleman is the founder and managing director of Collaborative Strategies Inc. He has been an industry analyst and author for more than 20 years, focusing on the social and collaboration markets and the author of five books on collaboration. He can be reached via email at

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