The current working environment is characterized by constant change.
It’s been likened to the Industrial Revolution back in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when society adapted to the switch from a self-contained subsistence way of living to one dominated by trade, and the organized creation of products and services based on specialism, mass production in factories and economies of scale.
Looking back we can see a certain amount of constancy in our working environment in the last fifty or so years. Of course, it never feels that way for the people living through such an era, but, up until recently, the prevailing mindset was for people to have a working life and a personal life that were often quite separate from each other. Of course, they overlapped, but, in general, people were happy to keep them separate. Working provided the resource that enabled a fulfilling personal and family life. It was a one way relationship, though, of course, people did what they could to feel happy and fulfilled within their working environment.
We are now a society in transformation with the phrase, The Future of Work, often used to allude to the growing alignment of people’s work and personal lives, in addition to hypothesizing on various technology and design scenarios.
This blog post is not an exhaustive analysis of the drivers of how change has happened over the last ten years. We try, rather, to establish the success factors which can enable organizations of all kinds to embrace the change and make use of the positive energy that can be harnessed during this change.
We should, however, establish quickly the drivers so we can understand our start point and context. Drivers divide into the two categories of Technology and Expectation.
Drivers of Future of Work
This is the one we are all aware of. Information technology has evolved rapidly to permit global communication in ways that we could not even imagine 20 years ago.
Connectivity is constant.
Time for thought and uninterrupted personal work now need to be proactively built into our working days rather than happening by default.
A direct consequence is the blurring between work and home life. Home workers report the difficulties of switching in to work or switching off from work when in the same environment. In addition, technology can automate and reduce the more administrative and repetitive tasks. These could also be physical tasks in a factory environment with robots able to work consistently and tirelessly.
Partly for amusement; partly because it still might happen, I will quote from The Mighty Micro by Christopher Evans (Gollancz 1979).
The second aspect of the shift away from work will be a reduction in the working week which, in the mid-1980s, could be down to twenty-eight hours, or an average of four days, and by the ‘90s to twenty hours or less. There will also be substantial increases in vacation time, and by the final decade of the century people will look back in amazement at our present ludicrously small entitlements.
Finally, “retirement” will occur much earlier. By the end of the next decade, fifty is likely to be the mean age beyond which it is not necessary to work and another five or ten years might be clipped off by the ‘90s. What we are talking about is a total working life, if one discounts education preparation, of fifteen to twenty years, with the workload spread much more thinly over that time. As we move into the twenty-first century these working “requirements” will lessen still further.
It would be the subject of another blog post to analyze this prediction more fully, but, suffice it to say now, that the time savings that technology in fact bring us seem simply to create a new base level of work, as everyone has access to similar time savings and our economy and society feeds off a constant desire for growth. It’s just not possible to get off the fairground ride!
This is less easy to assess objectively, but many commentators have pointed out the attitudinal change of the Millennial generation in many developed countries. We note a strong desire to balance working lives ever more carefully with their personal lives. Indeed the two merge far more completely, and we see the most recent workforce generation seeking out companies that display their own values in the same way that previous generations might have purchased certain brands.
There are many consequences for organizations and employers, not least the requirement to be transparent about their values. Corporate Social Responsibility is vital, and not something to pay lip service to. We witness the continual adjustment from business (and indeed other organizations) who now realize that nothing less than full transparency will do. For people graduating from further education it’s not all about the pursuit of a career; it’s about a more holistic management of their lives. There’s no longer an automatic assumption that a career is the backbone of one’s life. It’s anticipated that many roles will become external or contracted roles and whole swathes of junior and middle management could switch out of “standard” employment models. This is driven both by employers looking to reduce their fixed cost burden, but also workers looking for the benefits of flexibility.
This then require all sorts of new “glue” mechanisms to create the social systems that create the appropriately supportive and efficient working environment.
OTM’s 8 steps to establish your Future of Work
Now we have our context, I’d like to explain OTM’s eight action areas to ensure you succeed in harnessing the capability and creativity within your teams. In each case, the activity can be done either at the macro head office level of a global organization, or at a sub-level, depending on the scope of influence of your leadership team. Do let us know if you’d like some further even more specific advice for your organization!
1. Develop a strategy with the participation of the entire management team
This is where it all starts. Without this, every further action will be built on shifting sands and the chances are it won’t succeed. Also, as mentioned above, nowadays, people at the start of their careers thrive when understanding the complete picture, even if they might not always be fully prepared to contribute to the process. It’s all part of the transparency requirement.
2. Rethink and define the Value Work, structure, management mechanisms, reward and remuneration, people processes that enable Future of Work features
This refers to the need to align all aspects of the organization to one strategy, and to the work which is adding the value. OTM’s Star Model of managing Organization Design does this in a systematic and holistic way ensuring everything is aligned to the same objectives. Future of Work features will naturally be included in this process and won’t feel like “trendy” or temporary bolt-ons. The FoW features chosen will be chosen for the right reason and they will, therefore, have longevity within the organization.
3. Start a leadership development program for the implementation of the strategy, and develop a “new” management culture and operating model
The right culture is fundamental, but it can’t, unfortunately, be simply “designed” into your organization. Culture is best understood as an outcome of all aspects of the management structures and processes which have been decided and implemented according to OTM’s Star Model. Things change only when actual behavior changes, so ensure you have the right follow-through in place with the right leadership development and support. Then your behaviors will change within the supportive context, and the desired operating model and the right culture will be a natural consequence.
4. Create a transformation map
Things don’t happen by chance. Plan it, visualize it & sell it.
5. Make HR the central authority for department-wide coordination of implementation activity of all kinds
This is a wonderful opportunity for HR to play a lead role. In those companies that have previously seen HR as an administrative function only, this initiative will be an opportunity to position you in a far more forward-looking and strategic light. Don’t miss the opportunity. And your senor leadership team will be delighted that you are coordinating what would otherwise be a burden for them.
6. Understand how the detailed design of work supports all decisions relating to Future of Work decisions
The work, the working cells and other ways of working (business scenarios) all have equal importance as the basis for the further refinement of products, work areas or management rules and these must be clear to all those involved in the creation of FoW strategies and their implementation. This might apply to the IT department, technology suppliers, systems architects and others.
7. Enterprise 2.0 technologies must have an “organizational concept” and accompanying “accelerated change readiness measures”
Your innovations in the area of FoW must be accompanied by preparing the workforce for these changes. Implementation will often include some form of change readiness measures.
8. Develop an HR strategy for leaders and employees who choose not to work in the FoW environment, allowing them to leave in a positive way
We have to realize we are in transition and it won’t always be possible to create a compromise that appeals sufficiently to all people in an organization. Some people might need to leave. When this happens, everyone is watching (including those for whom change is positive) and the organization will put itself in the best possible light by showing appropriate empathy for those needing to leave. It might be them in a few years’ time.
Be sure to integrate your FoW strategy and tactics into a disciplined design process and frameworks.
ON THE MARK’s experience and passion for collaborative business transformation that’s supported by pragmatism, systems thinking, and a belief in people is unparalleled. OTM has been in business for 27 years and is a global leader in organization design consulting.
1994 Peter Drucker Knowledge Work and Knowledge Society
2006 Achieving Innovative Workspaces Using STS; ON THE MARK
2012 IBM Leading through connections GBE03485GBEN
2014 McKinsey Automation jobs and the future of work
2014 McKinsey Strategic principles for competing in the digital age
2015 McKinsey Unlocking the potential of the Internet of Things
2015 Microsoft ebook digital transformation Unplugged
2015 Microsoft on Becoming a Digital Business
2015 The Sunday Times future-of-work
2016 McKinsey Four fundamentals of workplace automation
2016 McKinsey Organizing for the future