The Future of Work is Now

The workplace location has traditionally been the primary reason people would choose to live in a certain area. Offices, as much as farms or manufacturing plants, have routinely tethered their workers to a single location as a way to bring people together. Now in the digital age, we can break the tether for many and move the work to the people.

The Agricultural Society

First, we were an agricultural society living on our farms. We produced crops and livestock, which were shipped from farms to consumers. We worked on the farm touching the foods we were growing, either vegetables or fruits, or animals we raised.

The Industrial Society

Then, we became an industrial society and people moved from the farms to cities, to do our work in factories.  Our products were physical goods and the workers needed to physically touch the product they were building. We then shipped these goods from our factories to consumers. Most often this finished goods were sold locally, although some were transported to other markets.

The Knowledge Economy

Next, was our movement to a knowledge economy, which had workers moving to offices again mostly in cities. Our output was mostly information, which was originally produced on paper, then stored locally in file cabinets or mailed to other locations. Our teams came to offices both to gain access to that paper information and to collaborate with their colleagues.  It was important and necessary to have our workers close to their work product and their colleagues, so they commuted to an office.

The Electronic Age

Our knowledge economy began to morph into an electronic age.  Paper records began to transition to be electronic records, with email letting us share that information instantaneously to anyone in the world. Parallel to this was the advent of the phone and then cellular phones, constantly driving down the cost of voice communication and allowing people to easily and inexpensively communicate.

And introducing, the Digital Economy

Our new phase is the digital economy. This is an extension of our knowledge economy, but with a dramatic and significant change: the ease and speed with which we exchange data.  Digital information is a set of digital bits that instantaneously and continuously flow to any part of the world.

Much of the output is now delivered as software or data. This is because we no longer carry phones, but computers, in our pockets.  There are more mobile devices than desktop computers now and we expect that 70% of the world's population will own one in the next five years.  Our customers expect to interact with us using their handheld computers in the form of a mobile phone.

For the first time our digital work is available to be performed from anywhere in the world.  Now we do not have to move employees to the work, as they can perform it from any location. Almost all job functions in all industries are touched by this move to digital work including marketing, sales, customer support, engineering, finance and administration.

The opportunities that result from this change are exciting and empowering. The concern is that in order to collaborate people will need to be physically collocated. Increasingly, the success of non-co-located teams has contradicted this assumption.

Work From Anywhere - Make Life Better

As most of my generation, the baby boomers, grew up going to the office, it is difficult for many of us to picture a distributed work team being effective. By distributed, I do not mean just working from home, but drawing on people from many locations.  This allows employers to get the best talent regardless of location and tap their current talent no matter where they are.

It is no longer practical, not to mention expensive, to expect people to endure long, frustrating, dull commutes in order to collaborate in a physical location. There are far better options that have emerged. I see people commuting to co-working spaces near their homes and doing digital work with their colleagues using modern collaboration methods.  They will socialize with people in their co-location space. Some days, they may choose to commute to the company’s central office and work there. With digital work and enhanced collaboration services, as well as new types of physical spaces, the options for the future of the workplace are very promising and already here today!

I am excited because of the opportunities to make so many things better and easier with this new way of working.

  • Let people commute less giving them back time, which is priceless
  • Improve employment by tapping people regardless of their location including smaller cities and rural areas
  • Allow people live in more affordable areas as opposed to moving to our largest cities, whose infrastructure is being strained to the breaking point
  • Encouraging those living in these large cities have better work/life balance

I look forward to sharing more ideas on this front and engage with you on these concepts.

What do you see as the future of work?  Let us know in the comments section below.


Reference -  The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That will Shape Our Future - Kevin Kelly - 2016 Viking