The future of the workplace

I am one of those “Digital Natives”. This title was given to me only because I was born after 1980 and have had computers and other electronic gadgets around me for most of my life. I got a computer when I was 8, had internet access in middle school and emails were the norm when I entered the workforce.

This makes it very hard for me to imagine an office without computers and email. I have never written or received a paper memo – almost all communication within the office to me is by email or IM.

This is perhaps why I cannot fully comprehend the magnitude of change that took place with the advent of computers and the internet. I do not know/remember what it was like before – they’ve always been there.

I do remember being a part of the evolution of the internet over the past decade and the effect it has had on our online and offline lives. The internet is more personal now – there has been an explosion of tools and apps that allow us to share more, meet new people and have a more personalised experience on the web.

I think I am here in time to experience the next big change in the workplace.

Social media or tools that allows us to share and connect with others was once meant for the geeks but has rapidly entered the mainstream and is now generally accepted by everyone including businesses as a valid and necessary way to reach out to others.

I remember the mid-late 1990s when all the businesses were proclaiming “we now have a website!”. Amidst all that hype and attention-grabbing headlines, the web developed into an indispensable part of our interaction with businesses. The current hype of “we’re doing social media!” will likely also yield to foundational changes in how we interact with each other.

How or what will these changes be?

In a recent report Gartner predicts the 10 major changes that will occur in the next 10 years in workplaces.

“Work will become less routine, characterized by increased volatility, hyperconnectedness, ‘swarming’ and more” said Tom Austin, a Gartner fellow and author of this report in the media release that was circulated.

Some of the key changes listed in the report that caught my attention are:

  • Work Swarms: According to Gartner, “swarming” is a way of working characterised by “flurry of collective activity by anyone and everyone conceivably available and able to add value.” The report notes that “Swarms form quickly, attacking a problem or opportunity and then quickly dissipating”. This is in response to an “observed increase in ad hoc action requirements, as ad hoc activities continue to displace structured, bureaucratic situations.”
  • Weak Links: In Swarms – the report notes, individuals may not know each other at all; and if they do, it is only by way of weak links. “Navigating one’s own personal, professional and social networks helps people develop and exploit both strong and weak links and that, in turn, will be crucial to surviving and exploiting swarms for business benefit.”
  • Working with the collective: There are informal groups of people, outside the direct control of the organisation who have a huge impact on its success or failure. Gartner calls this the “Collective”. The report says “Smart business executives discern how to live in a business ecosystem they cannot control; one they can only influence.” This requires an understanding of the collective and how to “use them to define segments, markets, products and various business strategies.”
  • Pattern Sensitivity: Gartner, in their previous research, have focussed on “Pattern-Based-Strategy”. As the global economic environment becomes more volatile, businesses have struggled to create long-term strategies – since so much has been unpredictable. According to the report, there will be a “significant growth in the number of organizations that create groups specifically charged with detecting divergent emerging patterns, evaluating those patterns, developing various scenarios for how the disruption might play out and proposing to senior executives new ways of exploiting the changes.”
  • My place: Businesses and the relationships we form are increasingly global now and the report notes that the workplace will become more virtual with with “meetings occurring across time zones and organizations and with participants who barely know each other, working on swarms attacking rapidly emerging problems.” My place is an interesting concept where many employees won’t have a company provided desk or physical office and work will happen 24/7 and the “lines between personal, professional, social and family matters, along with organization subjects, will disappear.”

Someone once said “It’s hard to predict, especially the future”. I know these predictions might seem far-fetched and implausible, but are they really?

The way we use a lot of current web tools and technologies and the pattern in which they are developing suggests a future that might look like this. It’s hard to predict what the pattern of evolution will be for our current networks and tools but it’s almost a certainty that we will continue to use them, as this research from the Pew Internet Centre suggests.

As usage increases, so will our reliance on such tools. This will impact not only our personal lives but also our professional ones. Perhaps there mightn’t be such a difference between the two anymore.

I think social media networks and technologies will play a huge role in shaping this future. So let’s sit back, continue to do what we’re doing and get ready to experience and welcome the future.

You can access the full report here.

What do you think? Do you see the future of the workplace developing in this manner? What part will social media networks play in shaping this future? Is it scary, exciting, or both?

Editor in Chief at here SMNZ, I have a passion for social and digital media. When not writing and managing SMNZ I am the Head of Innovation at TAG The Agency, a digital ad agency and the Head of Sales and Marketing for End-Game, a software development agency. I'm also involved with a number of startups and I am always keen to support those that are bold enough to give things a go. Start something, better to try than to live wondering what if...


    1. @ajaystwtr Reply

      Thanks the comment and sharing the video Brad. It's incredible how much of his insight and predictions have been proven true. We live in exciting times, let's wait and watch how it all unfolds.

  1. Rose Reply

    The key changes listed are already a reality. It is the way most 'giant' IT companies function and yes most of it is literally virtual. Social media has an impact in distribution/marketing/collaboration/networking and showcase but the workplace (environment or how one works)is defined on how successful a business is and the process that a company follows.

    1. @ajaystwtr Reply

      Thanks for the comment Rose. I agree most of this is already in motion. Change is the only constant – organizations are shaped by the people in them. How we live, work and play will undoubtedly have an impact on them too.

  2. Mark Reply

    Social Media plays an important part in both personal and business life. I have seen analytics stats from people that prove the biggest usage of social media is midweek during the middle of the day (lunch time).

    One thing I'm always cautious about is believing all of the hype, certain topics (threads) that circulate in social media.
    I like the saying "Believe half of what you see and nothing of what you hear (or read)".

    It's topical to mention the rift between Actors Equity and Sir Peter Jacksons "The Hobbit" and how social media helps to influence opinions… my point being, if not carefully managed, a business can be negatively affected by personal opinions.

    I think it's essential for businesses to get involved in social media… it's a great way to communicate within an organization and get a "feel" of the value systems of their business.

    A good read about value systems is Edward de Bono "Six Value Medals"

    With social media still being relatively new, plus more and more people joining to become actively communicating, it is scary to predict where we'll be in years to come.

    I'm relatively new to social media, but excited about the benefits of easily and quickly accessing quality information, whilst remaining cautious about the authenticity of it.

    I can see an explosion of the "work desk" from workplace to home… it makes sense… who wouldn't want to work from home? So I imagine more people might work contractually, rather than as employees.

    The Future Of The Workplace… a great discussion 🙂

  3. @ajaystwtr Reply

    Thanks for reply Justin, That's an interesting comment about reduction in our carbon footprints. I agree, changes to how we work will not only have an economic impact, but also environmental and social. Would love to hear more of your thoughts the next time we meet 🙂

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