We can see it’s coming. The future of work in the next five years will be so different from the last 50 years. There are more than a few driving forces behind this: demographic shift, lifestyles of millennials, technology, organization design, nature of competition, and human capital flow etc. Management of the workplace used to be quite simple. All one has to manage are:
- What is the direction in terms of how work is being performed?
- What tools are needed to support the work?
- How much effort is needed to achieve the desired goals?
- How much persistence should be applied to get better results?
- What incentives are in place to motivate the individuals to achieve those goals?
Our work pattern is changing. You can no longer distinguish between the Travel-Worker pattern and Wherever-Worker pattern or the Whenever-Worker pattern. And there is the Whoever-Worker which is adding new challenges. These Work-Pattern Personas are not mutually exclusive and many traditional incentives won’t work for them. Actually, many of the incentives we use today make companies worse off. They encourage more short-termism as well as each optimizing for their own good rather than the company’s whole, which ends up in more politics and a lack of collaboration.
The best incentives are the intrinsic ones. These self-generated factors (self-responsibility, freedom to be creative, develop unique skills and abilities, interesting and challenging work, opportunities for advancement) all have a deeper and longer-term effect than monetary incentives. I guess for the millennial, the most effective extrinsic motivator is title. They just can’t wait to lead even though they are far from ready. It is like taking on a new PS4 game at the advanced difficulty for the first time and getting killed in 3 seconds. Intrinsic motivation is powerful. It comes from a person’s internal desire to be something…. to do something…. to make a dent in the universe. They are their own dream-makers. They are the best people you can find.
So what would be the communication and collaboration technologies needed for the future workplace? This is purely anecdotal but we do have a lot of research in this area, which I can’t share. The emerging needs for a worker is not being more productive, as most are very productive already and with these little devices that we carry around, we are all working 24/7 (at least myself). Here are a few ideas:
- Idea Mapping Networks. As the knowledge workplace is more reliant on creative ideas and often innovative new ideas rebuilt on top of each other. The future workplace will have a solution to map the origin of ideas and link them to those who improvise on them while not losing sight of the sources and the associated mental models that it derived from. This 3D visualization will link all important documents and work performed and will be the starting point of any creative brainstorming session.
- Blue Collar Special Forces Central Comand System. Blue-collar field workers are often less motivated and often see their job is meaningless. Taking a page from the special forces and using augmented reality technologies (virtual glasses and dual-comm bone conduction headsets etc.) will not only improve their ability to handle onsite problems but make them feel they are part of a special forces that they are out there solving complicated problems. They can act and feel more professional, working and talking to the command center with people who support them to perform their tasks.
- Emotional Management Systems. Emotional management in the workplace is often a performance issue. This is often too personal for your colleagues or even managers to deal with. If it is taken care by technology that is a different story, because the system won’t judge you. They are there to help. With biosensors to monitor your level of stress and frustrations, perhaps they can activate some breakers to help you to cool off. Marily Henner was right she said “Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life”.
- Virtual Work Bench. Imagine a share desk that a team can work together on even when they’re in different offices. It takes the idea of a share bench (desktop) further and allows sharing and real time editing of moving of documents or any objects. It is available when people are assigned to a team and you can always switch back to your private desk with a wipe gesture. Imagine one real-time synchronized virtual desk.
I have a few more but I have to get back to my day job. I realized I have not written a blog post for almost two months (probably the longest since I started this blog 7 years ago). I was jetting around the world running meetings with 3 hours of sleep every day and often I almost forget where I'm at. Sometimes I woke up ending up at our Shanghai, London, San Francisco or Mexico offices. Here you go, another unmet need for the new workplace – please tell me where I am at now.