In an attempt to return this blog to a more serious tone (just kidding Elizabeth), I want to offer up some thoughts on the future of work. I promised a couple of weeks ago to share some of the ideas that Charlie Grantham and I have been nurturing for some time.
So, what follows is a sampling of some trends that we believe are becoming more real every day (these are the first 7 of a total of 23 "Theses" that we've framed about the changing nature of work. We're trying to find a corporate door somewhere to nail them to).
1. Social bonds between worker and firm will decrease
Historically workers have been subservient to corporations because companies owned the means of production, such as factories. Individuals livelihoods depended on companies and they formed close connections with employers, often for life. These dependencies will decrease because large organizations are not needed to create value in a knowledge-driven economy.
2. People (atoms) will combine into teams (molecules)
People will become highly networked for the duration of individual projects. They will form up into molecules of several people, stay together for a project, break apart and then recombine into new molecular forms. In effect, this is like the Hollywood model where actors, directors, and producers come together for a project and then re-group for others.
3. Molecules will be short lived (half life dropping from years to months)
As the Internet speeds up our social processes, projects take on new meaning and last only a brief time. The average project length will be one year or less, with a multiple year project being a rarity. The richness and variety of work available will motivate people towards a constant mix and re-mix of activities.
4. Back to guild structures
Guilds and confederations will return as the primary social organizational model for these smaller groups of people. Guilds will be responsible for recruitment of talent, some training (more like mentoring), and enforcement of process quality standards. Guilds will be based on a common interest in a particular topic area, or on common expertise such as the Screen Actors Guild.
5. Work will take place in a greater range of locations
About 50% of the workforce will work in multiple locations depending on the task at hand, the tools available, and the requirements of the customer. The industrial model of everyone at the same place, same time (which was built on an economy of scale principle) will begin to disappear. Work activities will be distributed across central offices (40% of time), remote locations (40% of time) and transient community locations (20% of time).
6. Work will be spread out in time (not the 8 to 5 agricultural clock)
The normal eight-hour workday will be spread across a 14-hour window (at least) to accommodate collaboration across continents, quality of life needs, and for workers and their families to be in sync with community and educational activities.
7. Work will take place in shorter chunks (down from months to weeks)
Technology will allow for, and foster, the compression of work projects. Project management tools will support the decomposition of complex, larger work tasks into more discreet units. The rule of two will become a standard:
Heres how much time you have . . . to
- 2 minutes ..take action on immediate requests for your attention.
If you cant handle it that quickly, then it needs to go to someone, or someplace else!
- 2 hours . . . hold face-to-face meetings.
If it takes longer than that, youre not planning!!
- 2 days . . . .respond to electronic requests.
If you cant get to it by then, youre wasting your time and everyone elses.
- 2 weeks . . . assemble a work team and commit to a plan.
If you cant find the right people and the right plan by then, the project will fail
- 2 months . . . identify a business opportunity and test it with customers. If you cant do it by then, your competition can
- 2 years . . . nothing at all.
If your static plans reach out years into the future, the world will have passed you by long before you get them done.
I'll pick up on this topic again in a couple of days. Meanwhile, tell me what you think. Do these make sense? I know some of them are pretty self-evident, but what impact does this view of the nature of work have on organizations? Individuals? It sure ain't all good!