The future will see dramatic changes in how, where and with whom we work.  In this article the managing editor of high tech magazine Net.Worker talks with two leaders of the “future of work movement” about their forecasts concerning the future of work.  Among the findings:

  1. Demographic trends will change the workforce, which will become older and more diverse, with more lower-skilled workers entering earlier.
  2. The economies of work will change.  Instead of making more products more cheaply, companies will pursue premium prices paid for customized products that meet individual needs.
  3. Job growth will be greatest in creative endeavors – teachers, healthcare professionals and designers (software to clothing).
  4. Our talent shortage will worsen.  Today, there are more knowledge-based jobs than qualified people to fill them.
  5. Technology will continue to make remote and mobile work as efficient as being in the next door office.
  6. The “rules of engagement” are changing.  More and more creative talent, not company management, will control the game.  Like today’s sports and entertainment figures, gifted people in the professions from engineering to liberal arts will define when and where they work.
  7. People will move back to smaller groups, teams and microbusinesses, particularly as big companies lessen the hold of health insurance and retirement benefits.
  8. American businesses, as we know them, may become obsolete.  The best electronics engineers are in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia; the engineering powerhouses of tomorrow will likely be China and India.  People once went to work to access the tools they needed – a telephone network, a mainframe computer, research assistants.  Today many professionals own their own computers, run wired and wireless phone systems, have fax machines and printers, and possess online access to vast databases.  Corporate affiliation means less and less and the ability of businesses to manage people and events within a known, stable environment means even less than that.

Next Generation Consulting did a study that found six key characteristics that will make companies sustainable over the next hundred years:

  1. Meaning – making the company mission meaningful to employees;
  2. Voice – giving employees a say in decisions;
  3. Enrichment – providing opportunities for individual growth;
  4. Membership – helping employees to identify with and within the corporation;
  5. Appreciation – monetary and otherwise; and
  6. Harmony – balancing work and home life.

Companies that want to be sustainable are advised to:

  • Be driven by a clear vision that focuses on long-term goals;
  • Place a priority on finding and developing talent;
  • Isolate and embrace core competencies and shed the other 60 percent of company interests by helping middle managers in non-core areas to set up their own businesses, investing in those businesses and then contracting work back to them;
  • Invest in educational and public service institutions that build talent pools of potential employees;
  • Renegotiate with the “talent” in the organization and quit calling them “employees.”  The employee/employer relationship is not a “shared responsibility partnership.”  The new contracts have to be about life/work balance, performance standards and co-investments in our future.  This way we can put output-bases performance standards in place that we can audit; and
  • Take the company private – a market that cares only for quarter-to-quarter financial measures won’t sustain a company with long-term investments in talent, partnerships and community.

The experts interviewed don’t think this is 20 years out – they see it coming within the next three years.

Source: Toni Kistner, Network World; June 21, 2004

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