The Way We Work
February 22, 2012 by Erica Benton

With the growth of smartphones, social media and cloud-based services, every aspect of the workplace is evolving. From hiring practices that include Google and Facebook searches to multi-continent team meetings held exclusively online, companies of all sizes are finding ways to adapt to the changing world of work.

And businesses should be prepared for even more radical changes in the years to come, according to Gartner Research vice president Tom Austin. In a recent article for the BBC, he discussed how the changing workplace will affect businesses and workers.

"As the lines between work and non-work become increasingly entwined, it's certain that we are in for yet more radical changes in the years to come," said Austin. His predictions are a smattering of both long-term megatrends and short-term changes, but they revolve around a key idea: that the future of work is less about ordained business rules and more about people, relationships and spontaneity.

"The future of work will be a mix of many styles, evolving in various ways in different environments and cultures." - Tom Austin, vice president at Gartner Research

Recruiting revolution

The concept of people over processes is not new, but Austin claims it will see a resurgence in post-recession business models. Whereas the mantra of the economic downturn was "more with less," the workplace of the future recognizes the need for human creativity and influence to enable discovery, innovation and learning. This also opens the potential for a widespread shift in hiring processes: since the focus is locating the right person for the job, does that person need to be within commuting distance of the office? The rapid growth of oDesk and other online hiring portals already shows that technology has progressed to the point where there is no longer a requirement to limit the talent search to one local area.
Austin seems to agree, stating that "the workplace is becoming increasingly virtual: with meetings occurring across time zones and between organisations, and with participants who barely know each other working in swarms to tackle rapidly emerging problems." With ties to the office cut, recruiters will be able to cast a wider net to find the right talent for open positions, and will attract a more competitive pool of candidates.
Additionally, Austin predicts a shift towards spontaneity — particularly growth in proactive work, and business experimentation with new designs and models. As companies adopt these "spontaneous work" models, hiring managers will increasingly turn to contingent and contract-based workers to access necessary skills on an on-demand basis. This could be a golden age for recruiters, especially those who add online workplaces and social media to the top of their own resources list.

Personal developments

The evolving workplace requires individuals to take a proactive role in guiding their own career path, owning both the development of their skill set and the relationships that will connect those skills to work success. Austin believes that hyper-connectedness within organizations "will lead to more work crossing company boundaries in both formal and informal relationships."

Employees in this model need to take on the mentality of freelancers: leveraging their networks for opportunities and collaboration, adopting a position of self-education for advancement, and aggressively managing their time between work and other (non-work) obligations in order to progress their careers.

Additionally, there will be increased value placed on the results of teams or — more specifically — swarms. "Swarming is a new and different form of teamwork, characterised by a flurry of collective activity from everyone available and able to add value," said Austin. These optional meetings and projects will become key opportunities for individuals to stand out by adding value as part of a larger crowd.

Predictions bring more questions

Many of Austin's predictions align with the concept of Work 3.0 — a world where work is on demand, virtual and remote — but there are still lingering questions about how these will translate into the realities of the future workplace. How can companies effectively balance a workforce between employees and contractors without creating a class structure where one is valued over the other? How will spontaneity and swarming meld with the increasingly global nature of teams, in which aligning time zones can be a challenge? We look forward to finding out.

What do you want to know about the future of work? Share your thoughts below!


Erica Benton

Social Media Guru

Erica Benton joined oDesk in 2009, bringing with her nearly a decade of small business and freelance experience, and a love of all things social. Her passion for startups, technology and marketing was born during her tenure with Kulesa Faul Public Relations, while she learned the art of entrepreneurship firsthand through Equine Alternatives, a business she founded while earning her Bachelor of Science degree from… read more