The future of work has been an almost perpetual topic of discussion over the past few years. Much of this has focused on the impact digital technology will have on how, where and when we do our work.
If you believe the predictions, we might finally be about to fulfill the famous vision of Melvin Webber that “for the first time in history, it might be possible to locate on a mountain top and to maintain intimate, real-time, and realistic contact with business or other associates.”
Of course, that prediction was made in 1973, but the number of statements predicting the demise of distance has grown to a deafening roar in recent years.
The Evolution Of Work
The latest of these is The Evolution of Work by payroll experts ADP Research Institute. The study asked over 2,400 employees from around the world their opinions on how work was changing, and this was combined with a thorough literature review of the topic to compile what ADP believe is a comprehensive analysis of the subject.
Five key themes emerged from the report:
1. People want greater freedom over their work schedule and location.
2. We will need to be learning constantly to keep pace with the changing world.
3. Job security will diminish significantly as a result of a global talent pool.
4. Repetitive tasks will be automated, and hierarchies flattened.
5. Motivation will come via meaningful work rather than paychecks.
As findings, they’re all perfectly admirable, but there remains a sneaking suspicion that they’ll only ever be evident in the kind of hip startups that are found in Silicon Valley or the East End of London. In other words, it isn’t likely to be found in the kind of workplaces the vast majority of us go to each day.
Time To Reassess
That’s the perception anyway, but maybe that’s a slightly unfair perception. For instance, recruitment website Indeed has recently launched Indeed University, whereby new graduate employees are given a 12-week onboarding process that involves them launching their own intrapreneurship venture at the company.
They are tasked with convincing a couple of staff to join them on their project, and the company encourage more experienced staff to sign up as mentors for each team.
Whilst the primary aim is to give a more rounded view of the business world, the company has nonetheless continued developing at least a handful of the ideas the new hires came up with.
“Students simply need the backing of two colleagues to progress a project — with this autonomy, they are free from ideas being killed in their infancy — we’ve created a learning engine. We are growing great product leaders,” Chris Hyams, President at Indeed, told me recently.
It’s a process that seems to be chiming with the “students” too.
“I like the process of Indeed University, not only because we have more ownership over the software we develop. As a software engineer, I will have more opportunities to do the roles I couldn’t otherwise experience. During the three months in Austin, not only did I work as a software engineer, I was also a product manager, a marketing assistant and a UI designer. I took whole ownership of our software product, and naturally, I take that really seriously,” Shumeng Gu says.
This level of involvement and autonomy is something that innovation platform C-Space has brought to the advertising giant Omnicom. They have rolled out a program, called SHAPE, whereby talented employees are selected by their managers to form part of a crack team that can help to crowdsource innovative solutions to the challenges faced by clients.
Participation on the platform is not just a nice reward for strong performance in one’s day job, but it also provides a real creative outlet and an excellent presence across the organization. What’s more, it gives employee engagement levels a real boost at the company.
“SHAPE has been an incredibly valuable way for our agencies to engage top talent. SHAPE provides participants with an opportunity to stretch their thinking outside of their day-to-day work for clients, and contribute in a different way. We’ve seen talent really embrace the platform, not only as a way to raise their visibility with the senior-most ranks at Omnicom, but as an inspiring way to collaborate with other smart people across the network and get exposure to diverse thinking and ideas. Also, as a select group, SHAPE has enabled agencies to acknowledge and reward top talent by offering them a unique experience. More and more we see talent seeking growth experiences like SHAPE provides, so it has been a great asset to us as a talent-centric organization,” Karen van Bergen, CEO, Omnicom Public Relations Group, told me at the recent Millennials 2020 conference.
The Importance Of Good Management
Of course, none of this comes easily, and good management is a key to changing our workplaces for the better. In the U.K., for instance, the National Health Service are trialing the innovative and distributed “Buurtzog” model of care in a community team operating out of London. At a recent information session for staff, many of the managers expressed significant unease at the removal of their levers of power as the team becomes flatter and authority more localized.
So long as such skeptics are in charge of rolling out changes that may well diminish their traditional authority, such change will always be challenging. Even relatively simple things such as flexible working hinges on managers being able to accurately judge the quality of someone’s work rather than relying on crude measures such as hours spent in the office.
This was highlighted in a recent paper that explored the role of middle managers in change. The analysis found that they played a crucial role, but their influence was only positive when they behaved and thought in a strategic manner.
This layer of managers are often the ones that will turn strategic vision into strategic practice, so they are pivotal to any kind of organizational change effort. If you want to build a more enlightened workplace therefore, they may well be the best place to start.
This article was written by Adi Gaskell from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.