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What’s next?

What took us here?

It can no longer surprise anyone that the modern organization is undergoing a pervasive redesign.

Over the past 30 years, a handful of megatrends have changed the business world, leadership, customers’ buying patterns, the approach to corporate culture, and our expectations and demands for the workplace. The future of work is changing and new things are coming.

Rapid development in technology. The need for a meaningful daily life. Economic polarization. Globalization and urbanization. Climate crisis. The need for diversity in leadership. A desire for fairness and transparency. Millennials. And on top of that, we have a pandemic that – in addition to being pathologically dangerous and even ultimately deadly – causes worry, stress and depression, and has forced us to work from home and with virtual leadership.

We don’t need to look for answers to those challenges, because we’ve got them: A paradigm shift is underway. And it brings agility, digitization, flatter and more self-led organizations, frequent conversations and a whole new leadership culture.

It is underway, and it only just started … but even before we are completely in place with it, new things are on the way. Specifically four areas in the future of work that are worth keeping an eye on and experimenting with.

What signals from the future of work are there?

Disruption in corporate, compliance-heavy companies

About ten years ago, the term “disruption” was used by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen to describe the drastic changes facing the business world. Until today we embraced the word and used it to an extent where we got tired of it.

Back then, it was a particular type of businesses and companies that was either hit by change or exploited the opportunity in the violent disruption. Those companies were (a) able to transform their products and services in days or weeks because they were typically based on software, either for their production, their delivery, or as the product itself, and (b) not under strong regulation or compliance. They threw themselves into Agile and Scrum, flatter hierarchy, self-leadership and more fluid forms of collaboration.

The first new signal from the future is that disruption is now affecting industries that have a slow, sluggish core process and are highly regulated. This second wave of disruption hits (and is exploited) for example by companies in the life science, biotech, pharma and infrastructure segments. In fact, they are experimenting with self-leadership and agility to an unprecedent extent, and it is happening very fast! They not only look at the obvious gains in their IT departments, but take that thinking very close to the core processes and in all parts of the value chain: Strategy is made in sprints. Marketing and PR work Agile. R&D is done with self-leadership. The same happens in Supply Chain and Production. Even in the support functions such as HR, legal and finance they rethink how to stay relevant.

And relevance is precisely the aim and the goal. To stay relevant to the market and to the employees. Otherwise, both disappear.

Micro-communities in enterprises

The second signal from the future is about micro-communities in enterprises. In modern companies, there is an increasing need and desire to feel a sense of belonging. You want to be part of the tribe. There are two things that drive it.

First, there is a need for a high degree of dialogue, mutual understanding, social capital and psychological safety in our teams. This means that we become “filled up” relationships. We call it “interaction fatigue”, meaning that teams by themselves have an upper size limit. They break in two if they become more than 5-7 people. We will therefore see companies with many small teams working together in networks-of-teams.

Secondly, human beings need recognition and involvement. We need to be part of the tribe and not just a resource. Belonging and social relationships are a crucial factor for our well-being, and for a long life.

All in all, this means that in the future we will see micro-communities in the companies which have “cultural dialects”, their own slang, their own ways of working, their own budget, and which could almost be an independent company.

The old way of reacting to this kind of diversity and divergent development is to counteract it with cultural programs, areas of action and a unification of values ​​and behavior. In the future, we will instead directly encourage you to create your own, local understanding of exactly how you want to work.

Self-management, even as a spiritual human being

The third signal is that we are going to rethink our lives.

You have one life. What do you want to use it for?

Maybe you want to change jobs. Change career. Maybe you want to work three days a week. Or have multiple jobs at the same time.

Maybe you want to look at your career in episodes instead of as one long coherent development. Maybe you want to be a digital nomad for a few years. And maybe have a sabattical.

There is a growing interest in yoga, meditation, healthy eating and sleep among the progressive leaders and employees. Clearly, there is a development in the way people take responsibility for their own lives. They are not just a resource in a business.

There is a search for meaning and personal development. Mental balance and hygiene are criteria that applicants judge companies by when looking for a new job. If they do not sense it is present, they slip away to somewhere else.

Software in leadership and management

The fourth signal is about software in management.

Software, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence are about to step into leadership, and as part of the collaboration and culture of teams, with tremendous force.

It will be positive for us because it can help us see blind spots. Thus, it can help us to be even better colleagues and leaders for each other. At the same time, there are both legal and ethical issues that we need to address.

For a long time, we have worked with e-mail, with shared drives, with automation of processes and with Excel to create overviews. The pandemic made us embrace video conferencing, Trello boards, and virtual whiteboards in 14 days. And we are used to filling out electronic questionnaires maybe 1-2-3 times a year to shed light on our well-being and work environment.

Now, add to that data about our emotions, e.g. via tiny weekly questions. Add data about our work rhythm from our mobile phones. Add artificial intelligence that can see patterns, recognize good teams and less good teams. Artificial intelligence that can advise colleagues along the way on how to conduct meetings, and how to communicate with stakeholders in the best designed and individual way.

It is software that can coach you as a human being. There can be blind spots and it can come up with hints and suggestions you would never see for yourself. It will see opportunities in the future beyond your imagination.

It will be both exciting and difficult. Overall there are four questions we need to juggle: What is needed? What is possible? What is legal? And what is ethically right?

Futures thinking
Curiosity
Prosperity
Climate Creation
Resourcefulness

Shape your own future of work

My clear advice is to take the lead of your futures with some clever, deliberate experiments.

Create conversations about what you want and do not want. Create your future of work.  Build it, measure it, and learn. And then change when the timing is right.

The future is here now. It’s just unevenly distributed – and more is coming of it.

Listen for the signals. Go to our signal database for a start.

Should we talk? Drink coffee?