As many working professionals know, the way people communicate with each other and conduct their daily jobs has taken a dramatic turn in recent years. The introduction and development of mobile technologies, wireless Internet and cloud software gave birth to a workforce that can perform tasks from anywhere, at any time, from any device. Amid these rapid technological advances, many workers and business leaders wonder: Where will we go from here?
On June 16, Microsoft hosted an interactive panel discussion entitled "Future of Work" at its New York City office. Bryan Goode, Microsoft's senior director of product marketing for enterprise social, facilitated the conversation among the seven speakers, whose companies are at the forefront of the new American workplace.
Based on their own internal operations and experiences, the speakers identified four major areas that they believe will change the status quo for how people work. While some of these trends have already started to enter modern workplaces, the panel agreed that their full effects will be seen over the next three to five years. [What the Workplace of the Future Will Look Like]
Today's workers are inundated every day with more information than they know what to do with. Companies know that analyzing the right data is the key to harnessing its power, but it's often difficult to get started, especially with limited resources. David Peterson, enterprise collaboration manager at bicycle manufacturer Trek, believes that the answer lies in stepping out of the departmental silos that often exist within organizations.
"[Companies need] internal collaboration across departments," Peterson said. "It's about the marketing person who can help the engineering department, or the salesperson who can help the marketer."
"Effective collaboration is about getting strangers to work together," added Alan Lepofsky, collaboration software analyst with Constellation Research. "The biggest change is that we'll be getting answers from anywhere."
Related to the increase in collaborative work is the development of beneficial internal company relationships through technology. Encouraging these relationships will create a networking system from which the company can pull the real-time feedback and insights necessary for effective strategic planning.
While some companies discourage nonwork conversations via workplace technologies like chat services and message boards, it's going to become increasingly important to allow friendships to flourish via social networks and internal communication tools.
"People share [information and ideas] because they like the people they're sharing with," said Charlene Li, founder of research and consulting firm Altimeter Group and author of "Open Leadership" (Jossey-Bass, 2010)."You have to have relationships."
Grace Chanpong, manager of communication and technology at Jamba Juice, said that internal feedback has been especially beneficial in helping her company make its processes and operations more efficient.
"We're collecting feedback from Jamba Juice stores in the field," Chanpong said. "We're asking questions and using knowledge from across the franchise system to improve."
Cubicles and landlines are quickly becoming a thing of the past in many offices, where workers are opting for remote or flexible work locations. In an age when the desks at headquarters are frequently empty throughout the day, it no longer makes sense to build and design traditional office spaces.
"Twenty years ago, you would build [an office] for the number of people you had," said Ryan Anderson, director of future technologies at office solutions provider Herman Miller. "You knew the return on investment because people had to come into the office. Now, people aren't doing all their work at their desk."
Anderson noted that, in terms of office structure, companies will move toward mobile-ready spaces focused on work "modes," such as chatting or creating, rather than individual workstations. While the physical environment of a workspace still matters, companies will need to prioritize and determine what infrastructure they will need to accommodate for face-to-face and digital interactions.
The rise in the number of mobile workers also means that many employees within the same company are scattered across different geographical locations. The challenge in the coming years will be figuring out the best way to get work done efficiently and well, wherever employees are located.
"Companies will need mobile-ready platforms, especially for travelers and [employees who] work from home," said Andrea Siudara, vice president of information technology at automotive technologies provider Delphi."The cultural norm of, 'I need to be at my desk,' is starting to break down. It's not about desk time, it's about results. Younger workers are comfortable with and expect that kind of work environment."
As this type of distributed work environment becomes more commonplace, a subsequent shift in leadership mentality will have to occur for workers to truly succeed.
"The consistent 40-hour work week doesn't work for anyone anymore," said Adam Pisoni, co-founder of enterprise social network Yammer. "There needs to be trust for the boss to say, 'I don't need to see your punch card.'"
While this may be a difficult transition for some leaders who come from a more structured work background, Anderson believes it will ultimately lead to a more productive, innovative workforce:
"Distributed work is going to be the biggest catalyst for breaking down barriers, and shifting from the world of information to the world of ideas."
Originally published on Business News Daily.