Thursday, January 19, 2012

The workplace of "tomorrow" - a view from the 1990's

Finding work that needs doing
– Considerations of the workplace of tomorrow

Since we are on the topic of finding work that needs doing in changing global contexts – Critical Task #1 of the Integrative Life Planning model – we will further investigate five statements describing the workplace of tomorrow from the (1990’s) perspective of William Bridges:

1. In the organisation of the 21st Century, there is less emphasis on work and an increased emphasis on tasks and assignments:

This is an interesting notion, and may sound a bit awkward at first. In the work of Bridges it was suggested that in future there would be a shift towards tasks and assignments. Since the time of the statement goes back to the previous decade and millenium, his future has become our today.

The kind of working environment we find ourselves in will obviously influence the appropriateness of the statement in current times, but I am sure not too many will be challenging his notion. At this time we have all become accustomed to the idea of working in project teams, working towards a specific goal, and working in teams that have been put together based on the required skills set for that task. Yes, the work still gets done, but the manner in which this is now achieved, is quite different.

In these times where we need to accept and manage change in both organisational and personal spheres, we are bound to identify groups and individuals who have not been able to get comfortable with the idea that the nature of how they do what they do has changed. From the perspective of ensuring that all our staff stay on the bus, it is imperative for decisionmakers to realise staff need to be approached differently. The old notion of job security as we knew it, has gone for good. The challenge now is to be smart about how we treat staff in these uncertain times.

2. Workers will still be performing tasks, but they will be required to create tasks, i.e. for projects, and will therefore be required to become more entrepreneurial:

In line with the first statement, Bridges continues by stating that the workplace of the future will be a place where workers will all need to become more entrepreneurial in their approach to their work lives. Evidence to support the idea that his statement from the 1990’s has come true is readily available; the implications for workers is also an issue worth a thought. Think back to the typical workplace of today: people will be selected to join task teams with the intention of reaching a certain goal. To ensure that we remain relevant and in demand in our organisations, all employees are in some way required to reinvent themselves on a regular basis. The key concept to grasp is that not everyone is equipped with the interest or personality to become full-fledged independent contractors – the largest percentage of people in the corporate arena will probably feel uncertain when presented with an opportunity to go it alone.

Since the time that Bridges put his thoughts to paper, a new word has been entered into the dictionary: intrapreneur. This is quite fascinating, as the definition given is that it refers to an employee of a large corporation who is given freedom and financial support to create new products, services, systems, etc. and does not have to follow the corporation’s usual routines or protocols. Even though this definition may not be fully operationalised in all business operations, there is certainly a move towards view on staff.

Organisations will do well if they empower all staff, regardless of their work level, to act in the manner suggested by the definition. This can only be achieved sensibly if staff in those roles are sufficiently skilled and trained.

3. The actual place where work will be done, will change. No longer will work be limited to the office, but will it spread to other locations:

At the time when Bridges published his questions, he could not have had any idea just how right he in fact would be in future! Originally the statement was written so as to include working at home, on planes, in hotel rooms, and almost anywhere else. This has all come true, but the manner in which this is now achieved, would possibly not been fathomed by Bridges or other writers of the time. The introduction of the internet had taken place in the 1990’s, but the impact of social media, smartphones, the cloud, and tablets, could not have been imagined!

So, in keeping to our main topic, which is looking at changes in the workplace, I think we can all agree that Bridges was absolutely correct in anticipating this change. Our challenge now is to ensure that technology is used constructively and not as a mechanism to create further and deeper division.

4. Every person will be regarded as a temporary worker:

The shift has started to take place. In my previous postings on the topic, it was mentioned to what extent the world of work has changed: the time where a job for life was almost guaranteed, has come and gone; all workers, regardless of their age, training, experience, and the like, have to consider themselves as contract workers. With the move in the world towards businesses becoming smarter, and leaner and meaner, the false security of a job for life has now been removed from the landscape. Thus, Bridges also saw this one coming. Want to know the sad news? More than twenty years down the line, there are still large numbers of people worldwide who have not made the required mindshift and have been found wanting in terms of the right skills and attitude when their organisations start laying off their employees.

5. Workers will start forgetting about work and will think more in terms of finding work that needs doing:
All of the points raised above can in some way be summarised by this last statement. In a time and place where the old notion of job security has changed, an attitude of it can’t happen to me has to be seen as reckless and irresponsible; in the words of Bridges, all workers have to become what he referred to as vendors - marketers – of their own goods and skills. The first challenge one has to meet is staying in touch with changing trends and demands in the workplace. Therefore, one needs to identify what could be described as unmet needs. Secondly, one needs to position yourself in such a way that the market you are addressing, will see you as the supplier of their demand. This is perhaps the tricky bit?

In conclusion, I think the original work of Bridges has shown tremendous insight. The final challenge remaining at this time, is to ensure that all employees are able to anticipate the shifting landscape, and that they take some kind of control in these tumultuous times.
Let us see if we are able to further identify some of the markers on this new road.

Based on the work of Sunny Hansen: Integrative Life Planning: Critical Tasks for Career Development and Changing Life Patterns

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your insights, comments, and suggestions in response to the posting. Balanced Life SA aspires to be helping and respectful community. Irrelevant and obscene comments will be removed by moderators.