The Future of Work


I think about work often. I have been both an employee and a deep thinker about work since my first jobs. Even before I was of legal age to work, I had little business ideas and plans, and some of my beliefs, once thought to be pipe dreams, are a lot more common place. With that in mind, here are some thoughts about the future of work. Note: A good deal of my thoughts on work are very Western-hemisphere centered, but one might be able to extrapolate for other countries, or at least see how their ideas will fit into what I think might be happening here.

Work Will Be Modular

Many of us will start using “project” as the unit of measurement of work. Meaning, a job won’t be a job any more, but a collection of projects, sometimes with the same employer and sometimes not. We will all work a bit more like Hollywood’s film industry, gathering the right team for the right project, and having more than one “picture” in the works at all time. This will require a lot more self-organizing and a lot more self-discipline, but people who define work around the unit of “project” instead of the unit of “job” will definitely have a better chance of succeeding.

Work Will Be Mobile

Anything that doesn’t have to be tied down to a desk won’t be. We are already nearly there. More and more people are issued laptops, and yet, management styles are still based around “butt in chair” metrics. I’ve used tools like GoToMeeting, Skype, Yammer, and mobile technologies to keep attached to a team for years. More and more businesses are catching up. Apple, for instance, has no cash registers in their stores. Other retail outlets are trying out the same technology. More and more of our technology is enabling us to work wherever we can find the net. This trend shifts a lot of other things, such as the future of where we live, the future of transportation, the future of family structures. It’s the most powerful of the future of work trends.

Work Will Be Cause-Balanced

More and more social causes are finding their way into our day jobs. Business models like that held by Toms Shoes will be more the norm than the exception. We will seek relationships with companies based on their social giving profiles as much as we do their value and their product offerings. We’re already hearing that about PepsiCo, who has been building more and more brand power with their Refresh project and other social giving initiatives, and who is getting higher and higher ratings (in some measures) with people who care about social good. Many more businesses will seek this out.

Work Will Be Smaller and Bigger

This sounds like bet-hedging, but it’s not. Work will be pushed to two extremes: tiny cottage businesses of never more than 5 employees, some smaller-but-big-feeling companies of 100 employees, and huge conglomerates of 20,000 or so employees. The mid-sized business will become less and less attractive, and will act more like the “interface” between big companies, instead of feeling as much like a standalone business of its own. This might be my most “out on a limb” prediction, but I have some reasoning, based partially on how social tools and Internet sales and marketing have changed the power structure of small businesses. The more we can grow and market small businesses, the more other company size benefits won’t be useful. So, either we’ll be huge, or we won’t want that at all.

Work Will Be More Goal-Aligned

This is more of a wish than a prediction, but I see little signs that people care about it. At least, I tend to surround myself with people who work for goals instead of working towards a retirement. Maybe because the banking systems have failed, maybe because no one will ever retire at the company where they started (unless they built the company), and maybe because the world has changed in too many ways, but I feel that people work with their own goals in mind now instead of working towards someone else’s. (You’re welcome to disagree.)

And You?

How do YOU view the future of work? What have I missed out on? What would you add? Are you living this future today?

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