The Future of Work: As Gartner Sees It

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Earlier today, I stumbled on this bit of research on the Gartner site; while it dates back to August there’s some interesting speculation about the Future of Work.

“People will swarm more often and work solo less. They’ll work with others with whom they have few links, and teams will include people outside the control of the organization.”

“In addition, simulation, visualization and unification technologies, working across yottabytes of data per second, will demand an emphasis on new perceptual skills.”

–       Tom Austin, Vice President and Gartner Fellow

Gartner points out that the world of work will probably witness ten major changes in the next ten years. Interesting in that it will change how learning happens in the workplace as well. The eLearning industry will need to account for the coming change and have a strategy in place to deal with the changes.

1. “De-routinization” of work. The core value that people add is not in the processes that can be automated, but in non-routine processes, uniquely human, analytical or interactive contributions that result in words such as discovery, innovation, teaming, leading, selling and learning.

2. Work swarms. Swarming is a work style characterized by a flurry of collective activity by anyone and everyone conceivably available and able to add value. Gartner identifies two phenomena within the collective activity; Teaming (instead of solo performances) will be valued and rewarded more and occur more frequently and a new form of teaming, which Gartner calls swarming, to distinguish it from more historical teaming models, is emerging.

3. Weak links. In swarms, if individuals know each other at all, it may be just barely, via weak links. Weak links are the cues people can pick up from people who know the people they have to work with. They are indirect indicators and rely, in part, on the confidence others have in their knowledge of people. Navigating one’s own personal, professional and social networks helps people develop and exploit both strong and weak links and that, in turn, will be crucial to surviving and exploiting swarms for business benefit.

4. Working with the collective. There are informal groups of people, outside the direct control of the organization, who can impact the success or failure of the organization. These informal groups are bound together by a common interest, a fad or a historical accident, as described by Gartner as “the collective.” Smart business executives discern how to live in a business ecosystem they cannot control; one they can only influence. The influence process requires understanding the collectives that potentially influence their organization, as well as the key people in those external groups.

5. Work sketch-ups. Most non-routine processes will also be highly informal. It is very important that organizations try to capture the criteria used in making decisions but, at least for now, Gartner does not expect most non-routine processes to follow meaningful standard patterns.

6. Spontaneous work. This property is also implied in Gartner’s description of work swarms. Spontaneity implies more than reactive activity, for example, to the emergence of new patterns. It also contains proactive work such as seeking out new opportunities and creating new designs and models.

7. Simulation and experimentation. Active engagement with simulated environments (virtual environments), which are similar to technologies depicted in the film Minority Report, will come to replace drilling into cells in spreadsheets. This suggests the use of n-dimensional virtual representations of all different sorts of data. The contents of the simulated environment will be assembled by agent technologies that determine what materials go together based on watching people work with this content.

8. Pattern sensitivity. Gartner expects to see a significant growth in the number of organizations that create groups specifically charged with detecting divergent emerging patterns, evaluating those patterns, developing various scenarios for how the disruption might play out.

9. Hyperconnected. Hyperconnectedness is a property of most organizations, existing within networks of networks, unable to completely control any of them. Hyperconnectedness will lead to a push for more work to occur in both formal and informal relationships across enterprise boundaries, and that has implications for how people work and how IT supports or augments that work.

10. My place. The workplace is becoming more and more virtual, with meetings occurring across time zones and organizations and with participants who barely know each other, working on swarms attacking rapidly emerging problems. But the employee will still have a “place” where they work. Many will have neither a company-provided physical office nor a desk, and their work will increasingly happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In this work environment, the lines between personal, professional, social and family matters, along with organization subjects, will disappear.

The Gartner report “Watchlist: Continuing Changes in the Nature of Work, 2010-2020.” is available on Gartner’s website at http://www.gartner.com/resId=1331623. (Purchase required)

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