Not much has changed about the way people work in the last 15 years. Their workstations, by and large at big enterprises, are set up for individual, process-oriented tasks. Their tools are telephones, whiteboards, meetings and e-mail.
However, big change can be expected in the next 10 years, according to Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research. I got to speak with Alan at a Microsoft event in New York City called “The Future of Work.” Along with Lepofsky were folks from Trek Bicycles, Delphi, Herman Miller and Jamba Juice, all to talk about how collaboration software—specifically Yammer—has transformed their businesses.
Bryan Goode, senior director of product marketing at Microsoft, moderated the event, which looked at five trends affecting how we work. The first is information overload. With data coming at workers from all different types of sources, it’s important to weed out the noise. Dave Peterson said that at Trek, they’re getting into Power BI, coupling that with Yammer to get people talking about the data, which is how the analysis occurs.
A key point made by Peterson is that collaboration comes from unlikely places when you have a wide-reaching collaboration solution. It’s that solution that offers the network effect. He said his IT team was discussing an issue, and someone from the apparel division chimed in.
Lepofsky explained the second trend: network effect. “It’s not about getting a team to work together; they already do. It’s about getting strangers to work together. That’s the power of the network: Getting answers from anywhere,” he said.
With these digital tools in place, the third trend Goode pointed out is a shift in where work happens. Ryan Anderson, director of future technologies at office furniture company Herman Miller, said, “Mobile has disrupted everything. Work is shifting; it’s less dependent on the physical space.” People, he said, are not doing all their work at their desks. So company leaders have to be open to the idea of people doing more work outside the office than on-site, and letting the workers determine what is best handled digitally and remotely, and what they need to do in a face-to-face environment.
Andrea Siudara, vice president of information technology at Delphi, addressed the fourth trend, distributed workforces, saying, “Technology must work with you where you want to work.”
Lepofsky added that the whole concept of the 40-hour work week is being turned on its head. But, he said, it requires trust and leadership. If you work 25 hours one week, and 55 the next, and 15 hours in the office and 40 outside, but hit the mark on deliverables, that is fine, he said.
Anderson said workers want autonomy and choice. “Workers are shoppers,” he said. “They should be able to go where they want, and when, to get their jobs done.”
But as people work more remotely, and the office is less the center of the work universe, it becomes important for top-level executives to have direct contact with the workers on the front lines. So, according to Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group, “Middle managers need to be facilitators, not gatekeepers.” In the new work world, she said, “they’re the ones who are most stressed out.”
This breaking down of hierarchal structures means that organizational leaders will come from new places, Li said. “With Yammer, leaders emerge through following. People admire what they say, and they become leaders” through a more democratic, organic process, she said.
Adam Pisoni, a cofounder and CTO of Microsoft-owned Yammer, said, “We are at the beginning of a generational, 100-year shift in work, and there is increased tension between the old and the new. The difference today is that this is a business imperative. Companies will die if they don’t leverage the knowledge of their employees. We will see major experiments in large companies’ office space, employee reviews and budgets.”
For instance, he said that General Mills has done away with assigned seating in its offices. He noted that neckties—long a symbol of a hierarchal organization—have all but disappeared, which serves to improve trust, transparency, the ability to relate to one another, and information exchange. “There’s a big shift, moving from efficiency to responsiveness.”
From an IT perspective, this means a shift as well, Pisoni said. “You’re there to solve business problems,” he said. “You need to understand the trends to build the right solutions.”
David Rubinstein is editor-in-chief of SD Times.