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Future of Work

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Trivially, “Future of Work” is looking into the future and attempting to see how working practices will change as technology and business cultures change. From the Bloor point of view, it is about how technology affects business practice and the management of people in the business – and vice versa.

It encompasses the digital workplace, the use of “Digital Twins” (somewhat simplistically, maintaining a workplace environment by maintaining a working model, of it) and suchlike, as long as people are included in a holistic view of the environment. Collaboration tools can also be an important component of the technology involved.

Future of Work is more about getting the best out of one’s employees and achieving business outcomes effectively than it is about installing technology. Technology is only an enabler for future working practices, but it does have a major impact on what working practices might be feasible.

In the 1990s, for example, Future of Work might have involved looking at the impact of the World Wide Web and the way people might work in the app economy. That is all still relevant – “Future of Work” morphs smoothly into “Current Working Practice” – but the current Future of Work concerns are around building resilient organisations (in the face of, eg, COVID-19) that can facilitate flexible working practices (homeworking and mobile working etc) and achieving the sort of Mutable, flattened, organisations that implement General Stanley McChrystal’s “Teams of Teams” concepts.

Future of Work constantly changes, as different futures become real.

You should care about Future of Work because it is a fundamental aspect of Business Resilience. Obviously, thinking about Future of Work must be balanced against managing current “good practice” organisational management, but if you don’t think about Future of Work, the future can put you out of business – and even if things aren’t as bad as that, competitors that are more in tune with where Future of Work is going, and Mutable enough to take advantage of this, will out-compete you.

In 2020, we are living through a Future of Work crisis, owing to lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic, when the future is coming towards us extremely fast. As Brian Jones, Bloor Chairman, points out:

“Some leaders of businesses that are effectively mothballed are using the time to consider fundamental re-designs to their business models. Others have been brutally confronted by the dependency we all have on technology and are either regretting or celebrating earlier investment decisions.

“Every leader must have been struck by the impact on people – their employees, their customers, their suppliers, their investors, and of course their own families. Depending on how successful homeworking proves to be, questions will arise regarding the need for office space and what that means for cities and business parks. Could this be the opportunity to start to “level up”? Will office buildings eventually be re-purposed into residences? Will local small service providers be set for a bonanza if they can only get through the next few months?

“As we all know, these three key elements – people, business models, and technology, all need to be considered holistically if organisations are to compete successfully beyond the current crisis.”

Brian is, in effect, recommending “Future of Work thinking”, which complements Bloor’s Mutable Business™ Framework and, in particular, the people aspects of this.

Businesses can address Future of Work by facilitating both top down and bottom up discussion of the issues within the organisation, involving all of its stakeholders. Buying the right software to facilitate people management and collaboration can help, but only after the organisational culture has been changed to accommodate holistic management of both people and technology.

Tim Connolly, head of Business Development at Bloor, summarises Future of Work as we see it today:

One development we can be pretty confident about, though, because it is already happening, is that the relationships between companies and employees will continue to fundamentally change. Lifelong employment is dropping and will continue to do so. Career changes, portfolio working and the ‘gig economy’ are all current realities and are not going to go away. A combination of mergers & acquisitions, business failures, start-ups, new technologies, personal career choices, attitudes to work and other factors will continue to see to this.

“In such an environment, the individual inevitably has to take more responsibility for their personal development and career management than ever before. That is a big challenge, not only for the individual but for employers. How do they attract and retain the talent they need in a world where most people will not expect to work for their employers for more than five to ten years? Or not to work exclusively for them? How will they provide the lifelong learning opportunities that are more important than ever in these days of continuous and rapid technological and social change, in the knowledge that much of what their staff learn will be put to good effect in other enterprises than their own? Tough questions to answer – but wrapped up with these challenges are some really exciting opportunities and possibilities for employers.”

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