The BBC recently published an interesting viewpoint by Tom Austin, Vice President of the analyst firm Gartner, on the changing nature of work. Tom outlined some changes he expects, such as work and non-work time becoming intertwined.
Tom lists 10 key trends that are changing the world of work and I would not disagree with any of them - for example, collective teams, spontaneity, and increased simulation - but if I was going to describe the key trends changing work today then I think there are some more immediate areas - and several of those are explicitly related to technology.
The 'permanent' employment contract is on the way out.
Many people are already seeing this, as employers choose to create time-bound jobs that are explicitly stated to exist only for a limited period of time, however this trend will go much further.
Take a look at an online skills marketplace like oDesk or eLance. These tools connect together an individual or company with a project that requires particular skills to a company or individual who has the required skills. It's entirely global - not limited to who is working down the road from you.
I used it myself recently because I wanted to build a new ecommerce website with payment mechanisms and a built-in social community. Experts from all over the world were bidding for the contract and each one was bidding less to win the project than the previous one - it's a reverse auction where you can choose a supplier based on price and their track record of delivery.
Now imagine applying this in your company at present. All companies have peaks and troughs of activity. Why not just maintain a skeleton crew and then buy in the additional resource using a global auction whenever you need people?
The attraction of the permanent contract was always about retaining knowledge, security, and loyalty, but with job tenure getting shorter and shorter, there can be no doubt that these flexible short-term teams are the way many companies will go.
People will be paid by result, not by time at their desk.
If you do have an employment contract, take out a copy and have a look at it. It probably has some approximation of what you do, but no specific details of expected targets and things you need to deliver to the company. But it will almost certainly have details of how much time a week you need to spend at work and how many days of holiday you are permitted to take.
When a company writes a contract with a supplier they will have the formal legal contract that is signed and then filed away, but the agreed Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will be visible and regularly checked and updated. The KPIs are the measurements made regularly that show how the relationship is working - is the supplier delivering to the client to an acceptable service level? Check the KPIs and it should be as clear as a red, amber, or green traffic light.
Why don't more companies in knowledge industries do the same with their employees? A person who is self-employed does not measure the success of their day by how many hours they spent at their desk, or how many emails were sent, or even how short their lunch break was. So if the self-employed person needs to achieve certain business outcomes, then why isn't this more common practice with the employed?
It will be. Obviously this doesn't work for someone hired to sweep the street or sit behind a supermarket checkout, but there are thousands of types of job where the company can define what they want on a weekly or monthly basis and they just allow the employee to get on with it.
No more checking to see if someone has arrived by 9am and no more begging the boss for an extra day off. So long as the work is being delivered, the rest should just be up to the employee to decide.
The tools are out there, and are mostly free.
The biggest challenge to the established way of running a company now is that it is incredibly cheap to bootstrap a new organisation of your own. Anyone with a PC, some open source software, and the desire to take a risk and to see how it works out for a few months can start their own company.
Computer hardware is now ridiculously cheap compared to the hefty investment each PC used to be even just back in the 1990s. And robust industrial-quality software is largely free, thanks to the open source movement.
Think for a moment. If you were starting your own firm today then what would you need? A website, an email address, office tools like spreadsheets, word processing systems, and a telecommunication strategy? Just about everything on this basic list can be provided by Wordpress, Google, and Skype - at no cost.
It has never been easier to have an idea and then to just go and test it on the market - and I don't just mean in IT. The Imperial College students who built an electric car and drove it from Alaska to Argentina put their project together on a shoestring with laptops and software anyone can easily obtain.
The message to employers is serious. The freeflow of information that social media has created in the past few years is about to seriously impact the employment market in many regions. Tools like LinkedIn make it easier to find people with skills to hire, but there is a cultural shift in the behaviour of people who are not used to rigid hierarchies any longer.
Young people will not enter the workforce and submit to the rules being just as they always have been. And how can they be expected to if it is so easy to go and try out their own business idea? The tools are out there already and with fewer companies offering any pretence to a job for life, what is going to stop them?
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