The future of work: It’s work, but not as we know it

The future of work: It's work, but not as we know it

I can remember my first job in a quick service restaurant. I’d arrive 10 minutes before my shift, change into my uniform and then “bundy on”. This meant finding the card with my name on it and dropping it into the slot in the top of an electronic clock. The “bundy clock” would then stamp my start/end time which would then be used to calculate my week’s pay. Later, in an office job, I was introduced to the joys of time-sheets – and I – like many of you, no doubt, have been hamstrung by them ever since.

For while the nature, focus, and approach to work has changed over time, the way that businesses largely account for our efforts has not. Our future of work remains resolutely transactional, tracked by the hour, day and week, largely disconnected from the notion of “value” that we’d prefer.

Our work is comprised of three domains that dictate our work:
  1. Where we work: Location determines the physical boundaries of our work. It also sets out a psychological or emotional boundary.
  2. How we work: The tools that we use for work – particularly when applied to “knowledge workers” have been transformed by the digital revolution.
  3. Why we work: We are paid to work but businesses continue to struggle with motivation, morale, and engagement.

Each of these domains are facing disruption which is coming from both the employee side and the business side. This pincer-like disruption is transforming each of the domains and will also transform the job market itself. Take WHERE WE WORK for example. Disruption abounds.

Culture eats location

When we dig beneath the surface, WHERE we work is less a function of location – and more a function of business culture.

Once upon a time, workplaces were filled with corridors and offices. Everyone had a place, a desk, and a seat. Managers knew where people were and executives could comfortably patrol the floor like a seersucker clad shark cruising the shallows. It was easy to spot and manage the under-performers.

These days, open plan offices, cubicles, and hot desks are the norm. The walls are gone and employees are all the more visible. From a single glass office, managers can survey whole departments without leaving their desks. And while these changes in design and layout have provided some flexibility, this often comes at the expense of the employee’s sense of engagement and morale.

We have known for years, however, that there are three key motivators for a workforce. Dan Pink explains them as Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. And yet businesses struggle to incorporate these meaningfully into their culture.

On the positive front, some organisations are embracing activity based working, allowing the spaces for teams to form as hubs, brainstorm, collaborate and innovate. Sometimes these spaces are free form with moveable walls and partitions, abundant wifi and high touch furniture, rugs and appliances. Sometimes the spaces are more formal but lifted through visual design, bright colours, and open space. And while these are a marked improvement from the oppressiveness of the grey cube, some claim that open offices are destroying the workplace.

Furthermore, a recent Grattan Institute report shows that centralised workplaces have downstream impacts on employees and their families. Commuting time is one factor, but another is cost. As the report’s co-author, Paul Donegan, explains: We profiled one household spending $900 a month on petrol and on parking – that’s very high living costs… And it’s also bad for the economy because it makes it harder for employers to recruit skilled workers.

From an employee perspective, the promise of telecommuting offered an alternative to this that has largely disappeared. These days, organisations appear less willing to allow employees to work from home – despite issuing notebook computers and smartphones. Yahoo!’s CEO Marissa Meyer famously banned remote working last year. However, Harvard Business Review has noted that employees who work from home are more productive and cost less in furniture, space, and support (to the tune of approximately $1900 per month per employee).

So while denying the opportunity for many to work from home, workplaces are evolving in design to be more like the homes we want to work from.

A happy mid-point, however, has been evolving as an alternative. Co-working spaces started out as collaborative offices for freelancers and small teams. Heralded as a form of “collaborative consumption”, they provided close to office quality fixtures and services at an affordable rate. Also seen as part of a burgeoning “sharing economy”, the impact of these spaces is now being seriously measured, with PwC UK suggesting that five main sharing economy sectors will be valued at $355 billion by 2025.

Building on this momentum, co-working spaces have become a popular alternative to working from home, not just for freelancers, but also for employees wanting to reduce their commuting time. There are some surprising benefits to co-working, including:

– 70% reported feeling healthier than in a traditional office setting
– 64% are better able to complete tasks
– 68% can focus better and be more productive.

Choosing to share

Co-working spaces are not the only example of the “sharing economy”. The Future of Work Research Monitor has found that 92% of Australians are looking to supplement their income, with 68% considering using social sharing platforms to do so. These collaborative technologies are essentially creating marketplaces for under-utilised resources. And in some cases, that under-utilised resource is our professional skill or our time.

Sites such as Airtasker allow people to post ‘tasks’ and find someone to do them – at a relatively low cost. Sometimes that task is to pick up drycleaning. Sometimes it is to conduct market research. The scale and complexity is open.

Uber is another technology that operates in a similar way – but there are dozens of others.

Interestingly, people are choosing to share their skills over taking full-time roles. Or they are taking the casual roles on offer and then supplementing income through the sharing economy. Part of what is driving this is culture. People are choosing to work differently. They are choosing Autonomy. Mastery. Purpose. And that choice may be the greatest disruption facing the workplace of all.

More reading:

Fun and money – the two reasons to come to work
Workplace culture: Is yours the right fit for you?
Where is your place in the 21st century office?
The future of work spaces: hot desks or cold comfort?


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Award-winning Australian recruitment agency, Firebrand Talent, ignites the careers of digital, marketing, creative, communications, advertising, & media talent. If you are looking for your next career move, check out the jobs we currently have on in Sydney & Melbourne.


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