The Future of Work

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not fighting the old, but on building the new.

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The clock is ticking to a world without employees

Imagine a world without employees. The same commercial world we live in now, but where everyone works for themselves and chooses who to contract their time out to.

As extreme as it sounds it feels as if this could be a reality if you look far enough into the future. The generations which are starting to dominate the global working have a passion for freedom. In recent surveys 27% of students planned to start their own business before they had even finished university, and another found Alice Weightman, founder of freelance platform
recent article for Minute Hack
that 65% of the UK labour market will consist of contractors by 2020. Thats just 5 years away.

But change like this obviously doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time, infrastructure, process review and overall a change of mindset about how businesses are run. So what are you going to do in the next 5 years to adapt to a future without employees?

Creating autonomy whilst retaining specialism

In a previous post I wrote about the death of the job description and how skills are becoming far less important than attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. In order to capitalise on this, business need to rethink their ideas on business structures.

Traditional tree structures and departments don’t lend themselves to this new reality of business. Departments by their nature put people into boxes and facilitate a skills based recruitment approach.  

For most businesses of course, there are certain skills they need to make sure exist within the business.  Those that are core to the service they are delivering and without which, they wouldn’t exist.  Technical skills such as development, knowledge based businesses such as legal services.  Complex, learned skills or information which isn’t easily replicated on scale.

But moving away from skills based recruitment doesn’t mean you have to lose this.

A future of smaller, autonomous teams delivering projects is far more effective, you just need to give them the skills or knowledge base to call upon when they need it.  This is why matrix structures are becoming increasingly popular with businesses looking to move away from traditional hierarchies.

Groups of people can deliver on projects with oversight from multiply stakeholders bringing specific views and expertise.  Taking guidance from operational and skills based functions from either side of the matrix.  

It takes a while to get used to, and everyone needs to fully understand and buy into the new way of working for it to be effective, but the autonomy that such a structure allows creates a dynamism which is often lacking in more traditional organisational structures.

matrix management structure

The Death of the Job Description

I am starting to foresee a world where the traditional job description becomes redundant.

A few specific examples aside, one of the key capabilities of the employee of the future will be adaptability.  The ability to wear multiple hats depending on the scenario.They will be expected to add to the business in a multitude of ways and not just through the constraints of a job description.

Skills and behaviours over specific roles

So rather than a job description in the traditional sense, it will become about bringing in people with particular traits, attitudes and behaviours. Skills can be learned, attitudes and beliefs are far more difficult to change.

More likely, in the future, a personality profile will replace the job description to attract candidates, and responsibilities and roles will be more fluid in the day to day delivery of products and services.

Of course, in some specialist areas there will be the requirement for specific capabilities. But even the web developer and the accountant of the future will need to be adaptable to delivering in other areas in order to continue to add value.

Future proof your career

So if you are looking to future proof your career, think about how you can make yourself more flexible and adaptable, because ‘thats not my job’ is not going to be a phrase that will be applicable in tomorrows workplace.

How Can Flexi-time Work in a Service Business?

Flex-time is not a new phenomenon.  But in some sectors it is starting to become more widespread and more of a draw for potential employees.  I know of at least a handful of occasions where individuals have pulled out of an interview process I was running as they decided they couldn’t leave behind their flexible working hours.

What I have never been able to get my head around however is how flexible working can function within a service environment.  I work in the world of marketing and advertising agencies, it is a people and service business.  Our clients are contracting us for our expertise and delivery of their marketing objectives.  They also expect us to be available.  On phone, on email, in person, sometimes at very short notice.

How then can we deliver against these expectations if we don’t have an element of control of when our staff members are available?  This is the conundrum I have never managed to solve.

I can absolutely see how flexible working, and incentivised output work in piece work or where there is tangible product being produced.  Where there are volume targets to be hit, or a physical piece of work to be delivered.  So long as targets and deadlines are hit, it matters not at what time of day the work is done.

But how can you transpose this to a service based company? 

Imagine the most architypal service industry of telecoms.  How would you feel if you called your supplier only to be told nobody was around to help as they’d decided to come in late? 

Id love to be proven wrong, and if there are examples out there then let me know, but I can’t honestly see how it would work.

Future Leaders Won’t Need Authority

The common belief, the the historical view, around leadership is that it comes from the top.  Ask for examples of strong leadership and you will hear stories of company CEOs acting as figure heads for their business and employees from the top position. 

But a forward thinking, progressive business off 2015 needs leadership in all areas.  You don’t have to be in a position of authority to lead change.  You can lead through initiatives, innovation, new ways of thinking, or culturally from any position within a business.

And more than just being possible, it is critical for businesses operating in 2015 and looking to build structures and ways of working which are suitable for the future. Having people with leadership capabilities at all levels of the business.

Take David, one of our recent recruits into the Tecmark development team. From a position of no direct line management, David has shown leadership which has had a positive impact on our business.  He has arranged knowledge sharing sessions between the creative team which allow designers, developers, and anybody else who wants to be involved the cross skill and develop themselves. The effects been contagious and has spread to otters departments.

Then there is Salma, from a similar position she has embodied our mission statement “to deliver results out of the reach of our competitors” and has brought an air of perfectionism to the team that is great to see.  Constantly encouraging peers and challenging them to do better, without any need for traditional authority over their work.

If business structures are to become more fluid and non-traditional in the future, then it is critical that there is leadership from all levels.  And for the employee of 2020 it will start to become the number one requirement to be successful in their role.

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