How many devices do you use for work? The classic mid-careerist that I am uses the holy trinity of the laptop, iPad and smartphone. These three things allow me to work anytime and anywhere, but, if truth be told, I like to work in the office. Perhaps the more interesting question is where do you like to work and are you able too, because it provides a cultural signpost in how an organization sees the future of work.
With all the media chatter about the death of the UK high-street you cannot have missed the explosive growth of café work culture or the continued rise of the shared co-working space across the UK. According to new figures over four million of us Brits like to work at home on a regular basis, and “home” doesn’t necessarily mean the kitchen table: Home means the freedom to choose where you want to work when it suits you. So far, so good, and not very exciting.
In my recent Space Matters report I investigated how our workspaces were changing to reflect the changes in how modern work gets done. The study wasn’t done to figure out a (yawn) work at home policy; the premise of the study was to test how a massive step change in technology (digital) shifts how work is organized, the tasks employees do and the places where work gets done.
Yes, work is being organized very differently; the tasks people do for work are radically changing (check out 21 Jobs of the Future to learn more) and the places where work gets done are hugely important. It might be a surprise, but the modern organization needs people to come together, work, and make the future. Clever interior design helps but a fundamental examination of work culture must stretch from work styles to the reality of modern digital workflow, and even confront the big questions concerning corporate location and industry direction.
Our survey found that the rise of digital tools and technologies were indeed changing workflow but were also triggering an even bigger change in a company’s work culture. The reason is digital and intelligent products and services are no longer standalone entities, but work as interactive components within an extended ecosystem. And that eco-system “play” changes the talents firm need and the structures in which they put to work. Workflow is now shape-shifting all over the place.
If you want to understand the power of the ecosystem and why teams are being reorganized and blended around them, then look at the world’s car manufacturers as a great example for what is coming down the road (forgive the pun). The worlds car manufacturers are busy organizing into commercial consortia to capture the opportunities from the predicted rise of autonomous, intelligent automobiles. This is triggering an industry mashup of financial services players, as the business model switches from owning to sharing automobiles, and disrupts revenue flow as well as the dynamics surrounding how teams work together. Workflow is now reconfiguring around the torrents of data that now pour from the cars we drive and is being co-opted (shared) with other partners and suppliers that can make meaning from it. The network effect continues as city planners start to rethink metropolitan road infrastructure, to ensure fast and efficient traffic flow, while even tollbooth manufacturers are involved to recast automated billing for road use. As a result, people just have to work very differently to reflect the changes in how modern organizations capture value from work.
The success on getting people ready for these changes hinges on culture. Not all previous work cultures are now outdated but there are some which are over command-and-control/rigid/hierarchical and are simply resistant to the change. And it is worth remembering that culture isn’t really one thing. There can be different aspects of work culture, some of which are more productive than others—one company may encourage innovation but not collaboration. And another may encourage collaboration internally rather than open to the energy/fire happening at the edges of the organization, in a start-up or talent cluster, in another city or country.
My take is this: work cultures haven’t always been consciously developed – they tend to just “happen” and the problem is they can work like zombie organizations, staggering on in ways that are simply not fit for the modern pace of work. The issue is the astonishing pace of business today demands an activist approach to nurturing culture. I’ve said it before, but crossing your fingers and hoping people adapt to the radical changes in how a company gets work done won’t work in an era predicated on speed. It is now incumbent on leaders to make sure the right culture is nurtured to anticipate and proactively propel how work now needs to get done. New report alert…