Executives who are peering into the distance waiting for the future of work to arrive would be well advised to spin around: because it’s already here, and it’s not just changing what we do, but also why we do it.
First let us recap where we’ve come from. In the past, the work environment was rigid, hierarchical and formal. Work was performed almost exclusively at desks, decision-making was slow and bureaucratic and power was centralised. As far as legacies go, we won’t be referring to this bygone era as “the good old days” any time soon.
Today things are qualitatively more dynamic and far more exciting. Work flows rapidly and often in real-time, which means that the expiration date on reliable data is measured in days, hours, minutes and sometimes even seconds – not in months and weeks. As one enterprise CIO stated recently without a trace of hyperbole: “When I hit ‘send’ on an email, I know that by the time my team opens it up, the information it contains will be at least partly, but sometimes completely, out-of-date.”
In addition, remote workers and distributed teams are now the norm rather than the exception, as is 24/7 uptime and the need to evaluate actions, consequences and impact on a global scale, regardless of whether an organisation is targeting customers across the street, or on the other side of the planet. The influx of the Millennials – and we’re just on the cusp of this seismic labour market shift! – is making organisational culture flatter, social and democratic.
However, while the long-awaited arrival of the future of work is certainly worth celebrating – because it means that work can be more about people and performance and less about politics and power trips. Most organisations should expect to face some growing pains as they transition from the old to the new, particularly in the ways their teams are managed and oriented.
Re-connecting islands of activity
In the face of such transformative change to the work landscape, organisations are likely to find that their teams may attempt to insulate themselves by retreating to what can be called their ‘disconnected islands of activity’. These islands are marked by their distinct systems, tools, processes and even conversations and cultures.
In the old world of work, such disconnected islands could endure for years without causing serious damage. But now they are potentially more threatening than the most aggressive competitor because they can pull an organisation down from within rapidly, ultimately threatening its very survival, let alone success.
In this light, organisations that want to embrace the new world of work triumphantly, rather than be dragged into it kicking and screaming, need to take a pro-active role in re-integrating, re-orienting and re-optimising their teams. This requires an continuing focus and commitment in three core areas: transparency, collaboration and innovation.
1. Creating a culture of transparency
Organisations must create, maintain and evolve a culture of transparency so that they can see what’s ahead and respond instead of react. Otherwise, they risk having the vision distorted or blocked by their own systems, processes, policies, workflows – and yes, even their people.
Organisations will know that they’re on the right track when their culture of transparency is characterised by unbridled curiosity, a passion for solutions, democratic leadership, active listening, and an underlying modesty where ‘knowing what one doesn’t know’ is an indication of strength rather than a symptom of weakness.
2. Snapping collaboration into context
Organisations must resist the trap of ‘collaborating for the sake of collaborating’ by moving to snap collaboration in the context of project and program objectives – and ultimately into organisational goals and customer success. Through this commitment, organisations will know consistently and clearly what they need to achieve, where they are on the road to achieving it, and what they must do to reach the finishing line on schedule and in budget.
3. Deliver on serial Innovation
Organisations must encourage and empower all employees to innovate constantly by looking for ways they can add value, make an improvement, avoid a problem, delight a customer, or simply share feedback with other teams that will help them achieve their tasks and mandate. In this sense, innovation is no longer owned by a specific group (e.g. R&D, Product Development, etc.). Rather it is a mindset that everyone needs to adopt and be plugged into on a daily basis – from entry-level employees through to top executives.
Finally the future of work is here, and is an event to celebrate! However, to reap the rewards many organisations will need to overcome key challenges. Rather than being intimidated by these temporary obstacles, organisations should use them shrewdly as inspiration to dig deeper in their efforts to create a culture of transparency, snap collaboration into context, and deliver on serial innovation.
Doing so will empower them to play a meaningful role in the new world of work, and to shape and lead it for years and decades to come.
By Avinoam Nowogrodski, CEO of Clarizen