The future of work and workers

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Over the last few weeks been thinking of the radical changes in the workplace. No, not just SAP/SuccessFactors and the hype around that. More macro trends

a) My two nephews, on either side of 30 years, visited over the holidays. One came with his wife and 2 year old. There were, of course, my kids, 18 and 20. My wife and I were the “old ones”. It was fascinating to watch the 4 generations. The 2 year old has to be the cutest kid in the world. She loves purses and constantly carried a grown up’s purse or bag around. Even more impressive was her adeptness with her personal iPad and the various smartphones we left around. My nephew gave my wife, Margaret a tutorial on her iPad. Next thing I know she wanted my Amazon password to download a medical reference ebook. “Much lighter” to carry around than the hardback. My nephews wanted to watch digitized videos of themselves when they were younger (I have converted our VCR tapes going back to 1990 to JPEG files). My kids wanted to hear about my nephews travel (both are in outsourcing sales) and how they stay productive on the road all the time. Wi-Fi on planes, GPS and bluetooth on the highway, hotel technology comes up. I salivate about HR managers optimizing these multi-generational trends.

b) “it probably shortened the budget cycle by 25 percent because there was far less confusion” says Gordon Coburn in an interview in my next book. He is CFO at Cognizant and is describing the impact of telepresence within the organization. It is also the standard for how Cognizant does senior management calls. It also has become the preferred approach for early-stage interviews with recruits. More impressively, Cognizant is rolling out telepresence out to major clients. Two areas with high payback have been during transition and training.

c) Plantronics recently moved into a cool new HQ. “…the team responsible for the re-design lowered cubicle walls and created a number of “free spaces” unlike the conference rooms seen at most companies. You won’t find any oversized conference tables here; instead you’ll see brightly colored ergonomic chairs, plush couches made from sustainable materials, and walls and flooring designed to muffle sound.” says Pat Wadors, SVP of HR. What’s fascinating is Plantronics has astutely aligned its headset and other products with mega labor trends over the last few decades – the growth of call centers, then those of home offices, then those of mobile phones, now increasingly unified communications. It’s HQ reflects the jumble of workplace choices most companies are balancing.

d) I walk into a Brookstone and see their catalog with 5 QR codes, and it hits me how much “work” is now being done by customers. Walgreens allows me to scan in my prescription refills. Home Deport allows me to self check-out. Home for sales signs allow you to scan a code and go to a site with walkthrough videos, eliminating initial work agents did a few years ago. Banks and airlines have long mastered the art of customer self-service, and some even charge us for the privilege. This “customers as workers” trend is another evolution of contractors, crowdsourcing and other forms of non-employee labor we have been seeing.

e) I talk to a client and they want to bring home offshored staff. Ideally they would like to build a rural, university town workforce in the US – close enough for HQ staff to visit, far enough to get a loyal and qualified workforce. I speak to another and they want to swap out China based staff for some in Brazil. I see another move into Poland. The initial plan was to leverage the labor, but now the excitement is the customer opportunity.

f) I see the last minute maneuvering in Congress about the payroll tax – and a 2 month holiday. I see a USA Today report on quirky employee benefits – “Pet insurance, at-your-desk meditation services, jewelry discounts and funeral planning”. And I wonder what chaos each will bring to payroll and benefits processing.

All these shifting tides! It is a fascinating – and frustrating – time for talent managers. I chuckle at folks who say HR is the most boring department in an enterprise….

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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.

One response to “The future of work and workers”

  1. Elaine

    Its interesting. Two of my best friends and my niece’s husband now work from home offices even though they don’t have sales type jobs. One works in IT for Sprint and pretty much only goes into the office once a month for a staff get together. One works for an on-line legal reference literature provider as an project / operations manager, even though most of her colleagues are in another state. And one works doing financial modeling at Accenture. He was told over a year ago now to start spending more time working from home since they were downsizing the physical office space. None of these have jobs that normally would be considered things done outside of the office but increasingly, where you are matters far less than how you connect. And why not? Even when I am in the office, most of my communication is via email, chat, collaboration software like Sharepoint and conference calls. Most of the face to face meetings these days devolve into social time when everyone is in the same room so sometimes I even “call into” those from my desk to avoid the urge to stay and chat.