16 May The future of work is now
I just returned from attending the 2nd Annual Future of Work World Congress, an energizing two-day forum in which people from business, government and community economic development came together to envision the future workplace and develop action plans to make it real.
The historic Society Hill district and Independence Mall area of Philadelphia where the conference was held includes an attractive mix of the old, the restored and the new. This part of the city is the cradle of liberty – home to the site where the U.S. Constitution was signed and Liberty Bell still resides. It provides a wonderful example of how a community can preserve its heritage and character while allowing for change and growth.
Contrast this with the state of work and the working environment in corporations today. How well have they changed and adapted to the times? On the surface many things seem updated or new. Facilities, furniture and furnishings, computers and support technology often reflect the latest advancements in their respective fields. And of course management practices and policies are always evolving, products and services are constantly changing and organizations seem to be in a perpetual state of restructuring.
But beneath the facade, is the workplace a better and more fulfilling place than it was 10 years ago? The prevailing view of the Congress attendees was that it is not, and much time was spent discussing how to accelerate positive change – remove obstacles to improvement, make work more flexible and environments more human-friendly and harness the power of technology to free workers to be more creative and productive rather than hold them tethered to the electronic equivalent of pick axes.
Today, the majority of workers still go to offices everyday even though information and communications technology increasingly allows them to work from anywhere. They still work in facilities that are designed to minimize operating costs and preserve hierarchy and status not inspire creativity and fuel collaboration among workers.
Their level of satisfaction with their jobs and work environments continues to slide downward. According to the latest Conference Board report, (see headlines from the report) only half of all Americans say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from nearly 60 percent in 1995. The largest decline in overall job satisfaction occurred among workers 35-44 – dropping almost 12 percentage points. The second largest decline took place among workers aged 45-54, with the satisfaction level dropping just under 10 percentage points.
Additional results from the supplemental survey conducted by TNS showed that 40% of workers feel disconnected from their employers; two out of every three workers do not identify with or feel motivated to drive their employer’s business goals and objectives; and 25% of employees are just “showing up to collect a paycheck.”
The cube farms of America are not happy places in which to toil. Many are seeking escape. For example, a study of workers across the U.S. recently conducted by Spherion Corporation and Harris Interactive indicated that 7 out of 10 workers are ready to change jobs. But if a large number of them work for companies that do a lousy job of engaging them, what are the odds of finding a better opportunity and a more fulfilling environment? Regrettably, most of these individuals may be jumping from one proverbial frying pan to another or worse. Some workers will find better jobs and more fulfilling places to work, but simple math suggests that many will end up not much better or even worse off than before. The only alternative for these workers is to stay put and face up to the challenge of making the job and work environment they already occupy better.
To ensure that the future of work is a compelling one, the largely negative workplace momentum of the past two decades must somehow be reversed. What can individuals and managers do to make this happen? The challenge at hand is in many ways an individual one – to create the future one person at a time.
The next generation workplace will be built from the ground up far more than by top-down interventions. It will evolve through experimentation – trying new things, implementing new practices, doing work differently, interacting with colleagues in innovative ways and managing people with the vision and belief that companies can be places where passion is inspired and talent unleashed. It might begin in a few cubicles, with the odd team, workgroup or perhaps even in a department or business unit of a company. Talent can change the workplace for the better if enough people devote their hearts and minds to making it happen. The most important thing is to make a start because the future of work begins now.
Are you interested in joining with other like-minded people to create next-generation companies and workplaces? Whether you already work in a progressive company and workplace and want to make it better or labor in an uninspiring organization, we invite you to join us in building an active community of workplace change agents. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me the issues you are most interested in discussing with your fellow Next Generation Company and future workplace pioneers.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.