The past, present and future of Work

Prof. Tom Malone of MIT wrote the seminal book The Future of Work in 2004. When I interviewed him for my book about ways work has changed in the years since, he honed in on the phenomenon of communities and crowds and shared the research he and his colleagues have done to break down the “genomes” of these new organisms – what makes them tick, who “works” for them, why etc.

When Time magazine interviewed Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook a few weeks ago they did not ask him about “future of work” but his comments put our friends bang in the middle of future business processes – and of course work:

“most applications are going to become social, and most industries are going to be rethought in a way where social design and doing things with your friends is at the core of how these things work.

If the last five years was the ramping up, I think that the next five years are going to be characterized by widespread acknowledgment by other industries that this is the way that stuff should be and will be better.”

Yesterday, Tibco announced tibbr and next week IBM’s Lotusphere will be dominated by how such social design is influencing enterprise collaboration thinking. You cannot get Marc Benioff of salesforce.com to quit talking about how his Chatter is reshaping “work” at his customers.

If you had gone to the Gamification Summit in San Francisco last week you would have heard Jane McGonigal tell fellow game designers to a) bring the game metaphor to enterprise processes and b) to make work tasks more challenging – after all, what’s a golf course without sand traps and other obstacles?

Four other interviews in my book focused on other ways work has evolved:

  • Gunjan Bhow of Platronics talked about how they used to sell to the aviation/space vertical in the 60s and 70s (Neil Armstrong used one of their headsets to speak his famous words from the moon). In the 80s, call centers flourished as toll-free lines appeared and provided a big new market for their headsets. In the 90s as companies downsized, the small and home office became a new focal point. In the last decade, mobile phones and Bluetooth headsets mushroomed. Now the market is moving to IP based devices and “unified communications” as companies struggle to bring together the multiple ways workers communicate.
  • Francisco D’Souza, CEO of Cognizant, brought a global perspective. We used to “bring people to work” as he was growing up and saw the world as the son of a diplomat and we now “take work to people” as he diversifies his talent pool around the world. Impressive the technology and tooling Cognizant is investing in to make results consistent for clients irrespective of where the talent is.
  • John Dean, former CIO of Steelcase who has used a tablet since 2003 on how iPads and other tablets may change white collar work

“Organizations need to redefine what is a “ good – enough ” deliverable. I wish I could just share what I sketch out on my tablet. But today I have to translate it into language of the Word and PowerPoint world. Ideally, those tools should be used for a limited number of formal documents and external presentations.”

  • Oliver Marks, who writes the Collaboration 2.0 blog on ZDNet summarized the past, present and future of work with this quote

“It is a jarring contrast – today’s office is more likely to be mobile technology from a car, or a VoIP call from a home office, but with the continued popularity of Dilbert comics and the TV hit The Office , the old world of cubicles, monitors, fax machines, and water coolers seems to be frozen in time. ”

Crowds, friends, tablets and games – yup, not our father and mother’s world of work anymore. What we do for work, where we do it, when we do it, who we do it for is all different.  Huge opportunities for talent managers – and technologists – as “work” continues to evolve.

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CEO of Deal Architect, a top advisory boutique recognized in The Black Book of Outsourcing, author of a widely praised book on technology enabled innovation, The New Polymath, prolific blogger, writing about technology-enabled innovation at New Florence, New Renaissance and about waste in technology at Deal Architect.  Previously Analyst  at Gartner, Partner with PwC Consulting. Keynoted at many business and technology conferences and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, The Financial Times, CIO Magazine, and other executive and technology publications.