The Future of Work Consortium was created to pull together some of the most important corporations and organisations around the world, to build a picture of how we will be working – as companies and individuals – in 2020.
Organisations that crack the code of ‘new work’ and adopt their work practices ahead of their competition will be incredibly well placed to forge ahead over the next decade.
In this edition, we’re giving Hot Spots Movement members an insight into the initial work of the consortium. Joining us in the consortium are senior executives and Gen Y-ers from companies around the world including: Nokia, BT Global Services, NHS, Save the Children, World Vision International, Thomson Reuters, Colt, HSBC, RBS, Absa, Novartis, Unilever, Randstad UK, SAP, ThoughtWorks, Singaporean Ministry of Manpower, ARM, Tata Consulting Group, Shell, and Virgin Active.
What concerns us most about our work life in 2020?
Earlier this month, we launched the Future of Work Research Consortium in London, with 60 executives in the room and another 40 following via webinar. Together, we got a glimpse of the future – and it’s not looking too sunny!
Over the next few months, the group will look at five themes, which we believe will have the biggest influence on how we work in 2020: demography; globalisation; societal trends; low carbon; and technology. On the day of the launch, we presented results from the survey that members of the Future of Work Consortium had filled in just before the launch. Some of the findings were surprising!
The group was most fascinated by societal trends, of which three stand out. People are increasingly living in smaller family units and on their own; our trust in companies and corporate leaders has systematically decreased; and more people every year are deciding to work for themselves or in small start-up companies.
We have a pretty clear idea of where technology will take us – helped by our members from ARM, BT, Nokia, SAP, TCS and ThoughtWorks. Technology will be more ubiquitous, more mobile, and more available – and could fundamentally change the lives of working people in rural areas.
A low carbon future was the area that was felt to be the least understood and where the impact was least clear. Either we feel that the impact is too far ahead of us to worry about now, or because we believe others (governments and big corporations) will have more of an effect than we ever could.
Imagining the future
During the launch, the consortium members presented their scenarios of the 2020 workplace, helped by actors and performers in a series of vignettes.
Confronted with the reality of the situation, the group came up with some profound issues that corporations must address, and which we will examine in more detail over the next six months.
One vignette was of a female eye surgeon living in Sweden consulting with patients across the world and performing virtual surgery. Another was a young man in rural India who cleans during the day while spending every free minute he can educating himself, through free high quality educational modules he can access. His is a life of aspirations and hopes. One group shared a story of a young American women drifting from place to place – little access to credit, few friends, no family. Her hope was to move to China but this was a dream she felt was unattainable.
While these scenarios were meant to paint a picture of what life may look like in 2020, we can already start to draw common themes and issues.
1. Many of the vignettes painted hugely fragmented lives with little sense of community – people living on their own or with one child – communicating virtually with a professional community across the world. If our lives feel fragmented now, they will become ever more fragmented unless we can change things.
2. These potentially isolated lives can be very pressured. For example, we imagined that the Swedish eye surgeon is ranked monthly against all her global colleagues. That sort of verification will be crucial in a virtual world, but imagine how it actually feels?
3. As people are more self-reliant, personal aspirations and goals will become increasingly important. We contrasted the aspirations of the Indian cleaner with the young American women. She had big dreams, fuelled by television and its rags to riches stories. But are these aspirations realistic, or are they only pipe dreams?
The role of communities within organisations, and the organisation within the community
We also started to look at the role of the company and employer, and their “hold” on their employees. What we saw is that communities within - and across organisations - will increasingly replace the company as the entity that employees trust. This puts another question mark about the relevance of companies to their employees, and the relationship between them.
When we look to the future, one of the drivers of change will be pensions. Uncertainty about pensions and the potential of companies to continue to fund pensions fundamentally changes what has been an integral element of the employment contract. Employee trust in their companies is reducing: it is already at a low level, and if it falls further, will have a significant impact on how and why employees engage with organisations that employ them.
Everyone agreed that more and more relationships will be virtual. So what are the compensation mechanisms? In this new world of work where will communities be formed, and what role will organisations play? Will the company increasingly be the social hub for people? The founder of Unilever built communities for employees with libraries, art galleries and social clubs, connecting its people.
In a recent meeting in Singapore, Lynda spent time talking with a group about the future. One of their concerns was that some corporations have made good parenting almost impossible with frequent travel, working long hours and weekends, and always being “on call” taking away from family life. The group came to the conclusion that in the future, some companies may actively differentiate themselves by playing a positive role in supporting good parenting and encouraging their employees to build family ties.
Have your say: urban tribe or corporate tribe?
We discussed how we will have changed as individuals in 2020, including our family life and our aspirations – and what impact this change will have on the workplace. But we also want to delve deeper into the structure of the workplace and how we contribute. We examined two very clear and distinct scenarios – an urban tribe of interlinked free agents or a corporate tribe of “lifers” - and the future could go either way.
Some companies in the future may well decide to build whole infrastructures either independently or in clusters with other companies – to provide a total life and work experience for their most talented employees. Others will decide to buy talent from the spot market when and how they need it.
Have a look at the following two scenarios: which would you prefer? Email Tina on email@example.com - or are there other scenarios we haven’t portrayed?
Scenario 1 – you live in the middle of a large city in a small apartment which is also a working space, fitted it out with all the latest connectivity gadgets. Twice a week at 9am, you pick up the work that a project team in Singapore have been working on during their day, and at 5pm you hand it over to virtual colleagues in California who will pick it up.
You exchange a few words through your personal hologram, so you feel connected, you work with several different companies at any one time and virtual agent avatar brings work to you. But you have never actually met anyone you work with, and you are booked for work based on your hourly rate. You aren’t engaged or committed to any one of these companies. Yours is an independent, autonomous, fragmented life: that of an urban tribe member, connected to tasks but disconnected from the companies you serve.
Scenario 2 – same city, same apartment, and the same job tasks. The difference is that you work full time for a large corporation and have worked there since you joined at the age of 16, when the company agreed to pay your college fees in exchange for the commitment that you would work for them for at least 5 years when you graduated. Once you graduated they gave you a corporate loan to put down a deposit on the apartment you now live in, which is owned by the corporation. Around you in the same apartment block are many other employees from the same firm and many of you spend time at the company social centre. One of the reasons you will stay in the company is because it runs its own schools and hospitals and the standards are excellent.
However, you have only ever worked for this company all your life and other companies tend not to recruit from it, taking the view that your skills and knowledge are too specialised. Also, you feel a little trapped: surrounded by your colleagues at all times. Yours is the dependent, integrated life of a corporate tribe member: connected 24/7 to the company but somehow disconnected from the community of which you are a member.
You can also follow the debate on the future of work at Lynda’s weekly blog.
Within the Future of Work research consortium, we’re starting up some really interesting conversations about the challenges and opportunities facing companies.
Click here for an extract of the debate on the Ageing Society – why not take up the conversation in your own organisations? We are finding some of these topics extremely useful as a talking point within the HR department, as well as at board level – if you come up with any interesting conclusions, feel free to email Tina on firstname.lastname@example.org so we can share them in next month’s newsletter!
Developing networks: who’s in our network?
At the heart of Hot Spots is the capacity to create valuable and exciting networks. This month: Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, who are Europe’s leading experts on organisational culture, leadership and change.
They are both colleagues of Lynda’s at London Business School. Rob teaches on the Senior Executive Programme and has some really interesting strategic thoughts on entrepreneurship and management, including ideas on women in leadership positions.
Gareth was director of HR and internal communications at the BBC, and is a Fellow of the Centre for Management Development at LBS. Together, they won the McKinsey Award for best article in the Harvard Business Review for Why Should Anyone Be Led By You. Their latest book Clever examines the taxing question of how you can manage and lead the talented, super clever people who are central to your business. Alongside Lynda, they were contributors to the Managing in a Downturn series in the Financial Times, and you can read that article here.
You can read more about Rob and Gareth on their website.
A final word from Lynda…
As members of organisations we don’t need to remain passive observers: we can understand these emerging future trends more deeply and work together now to develop solutions about how to work with talent in a way that creates maximum engagement. We would be delighted to hear your thoughts on how corporate communities will emerge, and what role they will play in our lives.
End of year report from the Hot Spots Movement; looking ahead to 2010.