“Those who have learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed” - Charles Darwin.
This quote may have been lost in time and uttered mostly in evolution theory circles, but its relevance in today’s VUCA environment is higher than ever before.
A closed group of distinguished business and HR leaders representing technology, manufacturing, FMCG and pharmaceutical sectors came together in Bengaluru to discuss the future of the workplace and took an educated view to not just the workplace but how “work” itself will take shape in the future. The discussions both as a plenary and in small groups pointed towards three conclusive themes…
1. Work of the future will cease to operate like a singular continuity and function more like an aggregation of projects or “gigs” capitalizing on experts across different disciplines to come together and deliver a business result
2. There needs to be a transformative change in mindset right from how leaders prepare for the business of the future to how employees remain agile around skills to remain relevant in a fast changing yet demanding environment
3. The first step to realizing these truths would be to accept the fact that generalists would be a thinning herd and specialists/experts and aggregators (human or virtual) would be the future
…and the glue that would bind these three themes together and help crystalize the workplace is collaboration. During the discussion around collaboration the think tank that brainstormed around it tried answering are some interesting questions -
What is collaboration of the future? Collaboration in the future workplace would be a kaleidoscope of dimensions involving man and machine that would change the very fabric of modern enterprise. Right from planning an outcome to staffing a project to finally executing and disbanding would require collaboration at the center. Intuitive tech, skilled professionals and access to a gargantuan data universe is the key to success in such an environment.
How would people collaborate in gig economies? In a gig economy, success and failure would depend solely on how quickly and effectively skills and expertise can be sourced and managed. Revolutionary platforms like Slack would allow virtual workgroups and communities to come together to solve unique problems and create value. Data democracy would therefore be a critical parameter for collaboration breaking down level & grade barriers and transparency would be the core principle driving key business decisions in the future workplace.
How would structures change to accommodate a collaborative environment? As HR professionals, it is important for us to understand how people constructs would change in the future. The concept of collaboration will evolve to the idea of pod-collaboration where geographies and pyramids would become irrelevant but the key to success would be availability of information when needed. Digital and Agile would no longer be special teams but core capabilities across the organization. An inordinate amount of focus however, will go towards building communities of practice instead of traditional hierarchies. These communities would be the custodians of skills and capabilities and provide the necessary fuel for collaboration across the future workplace.
How will the nature of work change in this collaborative environment? Unlike today’s linear, continuous work environment, work in the future will be fluid with people carrying different levels of expertise coming in at different stages of iterations through an environment of collaboration. This means it will be essential to build a directories of expertise or communities of practice/interest to staff this kind of work on a realtime basis. The important question would be how we can bring squads together in Tour of Duty style staffing so expert teams can perform an operation and then disband immediately after.
How will knowledge get managed in the future workplace? For the collaboration paradigm to take shape, knowledge has to be collected, curated and stored in a way that is easily accessible to all. Free flow and access to information is the key to the success of project/”gig” style of work. Sentient machine learning databases would replace traditional knowledge management systems to make this a reality.
How can we action this change? What will it take? This question sought answers at different levels.
- For an employee this would require roles to be reimagined and rewards to have a stronger alignment to project outcomes. Performance metrics would track project outcomes rather than individual goals and in turn reward collaborative behavior. Project based compensation would essentially replace monthly salaries.
- Processes need to be reimagined not only to create virtual teams but also to include intuitive tech for real-time information sharing and collaboration.
- Organization development engines would need to produce communities of practice and expertise so as to constantly fuel the gig economies.
- Leaders would need to build the tenets of collaboration and front run the culture change in the future workplace.
The future holds a huge spectrum of opportunities that we possibly can’t fathom in its entirety. Yet it is important to ponder on some of these questions which inexorably point to possibilities which could shock the way work and employment would exist in this world.
Structures, policies, practices and beliefs will be shaken out of their foundation and replaced with new, more nimble constructs which would serve the connected world. Purists will be compelled to rethink the meaning of 'jobs', 'work', 'enterprise', 'performance', 'capability', 'resources' and 'rewards'. The true essence of business may remain the same but the current shape and form of modern organizations will most likely cease to exist. In a world like this, we need to adapt rapidly and prepare ourselves by being early adopters of some of the principles that emerged through this initiative.
Director, Performance, Rewards and Talent,
Aon Hewitt Consulting