Insights into the Changing Future of Work

By: Guy Bieber

Recently, the Citrix CTO Council held an industry workshop on the Future of Work. This event was driven by many observations of the tremendous forces changing work and the workplace. We hosted about 40 attendees representing dozens of companies and organizations.

We were amazed and grateful for the depth of discussion and graciousness of attendees to share their thoughts and time. If you read the fine print, every Citrix presentation ends with the words “Work Better. Live Better.” Citrix technologies have freed people from the office and enabled remote working. Work became something you did, not somewhere you went. At Citrix we think deeply about how we can improve work for everyone. This article provides a summary of the workshop discussions.

Future of Work Challenges

Many forces are transforming work. For individuals, these forces include infotoxication, engagement, remote work, flex work, automation, and productivity drains. Corporations are experiencing accelerating transformation as well including poor facility ROI, accelerated competition, cloud, SaaS, automation, and bring your own everything.

The world is trying to solve a myriad of problems that require our peak performance or flow state. Today, flow state percentage is arguably the number one management metric you need to know for your knowledge workers.

The Internet is the road to work. Freelancing is growing dramatically from 30% of US workers today to 40% by 2020. A big reason for this is more choice. Some companies are trying to create freelance conditions inside their companies (examples include Google, Accenture and Zappos Holocracy).

Freelancers may lose the big company overhead, but incur the overhead of a small company of one. Running your “freelance” business often involves 40% overhead to deal with marketing, taxes, self-provided benefits, cash flow, etc. Freelancing can also lack the social aspects that make work more enjoyable. Though freelancers often engage with enterprises, there is little tooling or training to support this.

Loving Work

The best work is the work that solves us.
– Jamie Wheal, Flow Genome Project

Work needs to be customized for the individual; we are all a sample size of 1 (N=1). The following figure highlights the elements that are needed for loving work:

  • Something we are reasonably good at (expertise).
  • Work we assign meaning to.
  • Work where we have some control or choice.
  • Work where we can connect to other people to do greater things.
  • Work where we develop a reputation for excellence (recognition).

Today we are blurring the lines between connection / locality, time / flow, work / play, and time / money.

Remote Work and the Virtual Corporation

We need to move from working from anywhere to engaging from anywhere. Creating an equal footing for workers is essential to unlocking collaboration. If everyone is remote, everyone is equal. This includes coping with temporal displacement by trying to overlap at least part of the workday or “sharing the pain” across the time zones.

There are 7.2B people on the planet. 3B people want to have a job. 1.3B have a job. 1.1B are not engaged in what they do. If we can engage people we could double or triple worldwide GDP. Platforms are key infrastructure for engaging remote worker talent across the world. Remote workers need tools for job matching and interaction. Perhaps we can create a people-centric economy where we maximize human capital.

Enabling Freelancers and the On Demand Workforce

30% of the US workforce is freelance and that is expected to increase to 40% by 2020. We are also seeing the rise of inter-lancer platforms that allow freelance-style work inside of corporations. Accenture is growing at a massive scale with 100K of their 340K employees hired last year. This requires rapid onboarding and knowledge sharing for success. Accenture has been working on internal dynamic talent markets that can project into public talent clouds like Freelancer and UpWork. They have done over 15k hours of dynamic work assignments using their CrowdForce platform.

More enterprises are moving towards a freelance way of operating and using freelancers, but that is a minority. Being able to on-board and off-board freelancers is definitely a skillset. Freelancing creates a meritocracy where public feedback drives reputation economics. The following figure summarizes the difference between freelancing and corporate employment:

Preparing for Robots, IoT, Hybrid Intelligence, & Mixed Reality

Hybrid intelligence is going to dramatically change knowledge work. It will be a productivity multiplier for people in any information-rich field (lawyers, doctors, engineering, etc.). In a BYO dual-use world, privacy will be more of a challenge especially with the advent of contextual computing and IoT.

The emerging virtual reality and mixed reality developments are going to have a transformative impact on the scale that mobile computing has had. This includes the death of big screens and redesign of user interfaces. The robots are coming, but not with the intelligence we attribute to them. IoT is coming out of traditional embedded systems and surrounding us with the potential for huge efficiency gains, but also significant privacy impacts.

Information Technology and the Next Billion Non-Office Workers

Technology now has to go where the work is done. That means in crazy environments like oilrigs, farms, mines, manufacturing lines, etc. Often these environments have no network connectivity. Even if you successfully deploy equipment, managing and maintaining it in a network-poor environment can be challenging. You don’t want to disrupt the current workflow when providing this technology; you want to make it better.

Delivering technology into environments where people are fully engaged with the environment can be challenging… for example, when the worker is already using their hands and moving around. Often you are providing technology to the non-tech savvy. On production lines this means the right information, at the right place and the right time.

Gamifying the system can also help make manual processes more efficient. These systems can avoid problems and cost instead of just detecting them. Training needs to be fast and simple. The Light Guide Systems turned training that used to take hours into 1.5 minutes. Reducing complexity is key to getting high performance and reducing stress.

When applying operational technology you need to be data driven and show real gains. This means you need metrics and a baseline. There is an “I think I’m doing just fine on my own” mindset that you can only overcome with hard data.

Conclusion

The rate of change in labor markets has dramatically increased. We are forcing people to adapt more quickly, which is something we need to prepare people for. We can have workforce displacement like the Detroit car industry or be more like the Australian car industry. Detroit was devastated as a city. Australia is retraining people, promoting startups, and allowing people to more easily go where the jobs are.

There is no such thing as a human asset on a corporate balance sheet. People are considered an expense, yet the machines the company owns are considered assets. You can earn more by raising the value of people (amplifying) than removing them (automating). This is a challenging perspective to grasp for many corporations.

How can we improve work in the short term? Make it easier for people with important work to connect with people with the talent to do that work. Where jobs compete for people instead of people competing for jobs. The future could be dystopian (terminator man versus machine) or utopian (iron man = man plus machine). Ultimately it is in our hands.

We don’t need to predict the future of work; it is in our hands.
David Nordfors, i4j Co-founder

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