THE BLOG

The Future of Work Is About Challenging Convention

07/16/2014 12:18 pm ET | Updated Sep 15, 2014
  • Jacob Morgan Author, The Future of Work, Speaker, Futurist
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When thinking about the future of work many themes come to mind. However, if I had to describe what the future of work is all about in two words, I'd say, "challenge convention." But what does that actually mean?

Challenging convention is the practice of going against and challenging the common assumptions that our organizations have been built on. For the better part of a hundred years our organizations have remained relatively unchanged. Employees commute an hour each way to get to their cubicles while feeling disengaged at work, managers act like stoic creatures that delegate tasks and control information, and our organizations are rigid hierarchies which stagnate communication and collaboration all the while assuming that the only time it makes sense to change is when tragedy strikes. This is no way to operate a company in today's dynamic and rapidly changing world. In fact it's why my team and I launched the FOW Community to help organizations adapt and explore what the future of work and collaboration looks like.

It's no wonder that synonyms for employee, manager and work include words like cog, slave driver and drudgery. We have literally built our organizations from the ground up with the notion that work has to be unpleasant. That is, until now... Today there five trends shaping the future of work which are forcing organizations to challenge convention around how employees work, how managers lead and how organizations are structured. These five trends are:

New behaviors: Easy-to-find information online, build communities, connect with people and information, live a more public life and share.

Mobility: Most people in the world have a mobile phone and the majority of those people have smart phones. This means that I can get access to the same information living in the Bay Area as someone who works in a remote rice field in China.

Millennials: Those weird alien-like creatures that are bringing with them new expectations, values and ways of working into our organizations.

Technology: Collaboration platforms, big data, wearables, the internet of things, the cloud, robots, and a host of other things that are all impacting how we work.

Globalization: The ability for organizations to work in a world without any boundaries regardless of where they are located.

Considering these five trends it's hard to imagine how many organizations have still not adapted. How can companies operate the same way they did twenty years ago as they are today? The reality is they can't. This is why so many companies around the world are trying to figure out what the future of work is going to look and what they need to do to adapt.

So what does the future of work look like? Here's a fun video I did with the folks over at SAP /Success Factors where they asked me to share some of my ideas and thoughts on this very topic.

Although some (or many) of the ideas in the video might seem far-fetched, they are actually not only possible but probable. This is why the idea of challenging convention is so crucial for the survival and success of many organizations around the world today.

The idea of challenging convention must be applied to three areas in the workplace.

How we work

Does it still make sense for employees to commute an hour or more each way to get to work?

Why is it that employees, many of whom have kids, mortgages and car payments (in other words, are responsible people) have to get approval to buy a new $100 office chair?

Why can't employees customize how they work by being able to select the projects they want to be a part of, the hours they work, where they work, or who they work with?

Why don't employees have more of a say in the decision making or strategy process?

How we lead

How come managers are scared to show any amount of emotion or vulnerability in the workplace?

Does it really make sense for managers to make all the decisions based on the information they have?

What about relying on collective intelligence?

What can managers at your organization be doing to serve employees instead of assuming that employees should serve the managers?

Why do managers still give annual employee reviews?

How organizations are structured

Does a rigid hierarchy really make the most sense for an organization that is assumingly trying to become more innovative, collaborative, open, and nimble?

Why is the assumption that employees need to work at your organization when the reality is that organizations should be constructed so that employees want to work there?

Is it realistic to assume that your organization is going to stick with on-premise technologies instead of deploying in the cloud? How long do you think that will last? Another three years? Five years?

Many organizations around the world are starting to rethink how employees are getting work done. Whirlpool WHR -0.17% for example doesn't refer to employees as managers anymore, instead every single employee is a type of leader. Unilever developed the concept of "agile" working to empower employees to work anytime, anywhere, and on any device as long as they are able to get their jobs done. The goal is to double the size of the company while cutting the carbon footprint in half. Adobe recently got rid of their annual review process in favor of more regularly check-ins. Sun Hydraulics has only one manager at their company called the "plant manager," this is the person who literally comes in to water the plants. Tangerine Bank (formerly ING DIRECT Canada) has perhaps the most open and vulnerable CEO (Peter Aceto) who regularly encourages open dialogue employees which includes sharing what they don't like about working there and what can be done to improve.

The list of these companies goes on and on but they all have one thing in common. They challenge convention around work. Use this as inspiration to go back to your company to think about what you can be doing differently, what can your organization be doing to challenge convention and why isn't it doing it?

All of these ideas and much more are explored in my upcoming book: The Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and Create a Competitive Organization (available for pre-order, due Sept 2 with Wiley)

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