The future of employment?22 February, 2010
I’m currently reading two books, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution by Ken Wilber and The Miracle Of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, and being still quite a novice to the real world having left a religious cult just under two years ago any philosophical text is an eye-opener and helps me see the world in a new way.
The main thing I want to talk about which I’ve taken away from both these books is the notion of connectedness and interdependence; the idea that there is no such thing as an individual, that everything is networked and part of a structure.
I’ve been thinking the past few weeks about my career. I understand that I am part of a new breed of worker, that I work differently from many other people. The future of the workplace and employment is changing and I am one of those who is part of that change. The difference is subtle now, but in a decade or two the difference will be significant.
There’s only one attribute of the future workforce that I want to discuss now and this is the theme of connectedness and interdependence.
My employer has a contract with me that I will provide 37.5 hours of service per week for 3 months. That’s the legal side of it. But in reality my employer has not just engaged me but my peer network of colleagues and my 10 years of experience and everyone who has contributed to me being the person I now am. Where past, current or future my employer has indirect access to that wealth of knowledge and experience beyond me.
When I need help with a challenge at work or need to run some ideas past people I don’t turn to my co-workers, I look to my network of colleagues beyond the walls of my workplace. Whilst my co-workers might be competent at their job they can’t hope to compete with the hundreds of people I have access to through my social networks.
That access is only very limited now because of the immaturity of technology, our culture and narrow-minded views on social networking which mean I have to invest some effort in order to reach my network and the results can take some hours or days to come back … but the gap is closing.
Eventually social networking tools will be made available (again) on our desktop computers, the technology for networking and collaboration will improve, organisational structures (power hierarchies) will become skeletons that are ignored by employees and we will be free to access at will a shared cloud of knowledge and thought that is collectively millions of times smarter than each individual added up together.
But in the meantime if I want to access my peer networks I have to take my personal laptop outside of the building to get a signal, use my own 3G modem to access my social networks like Twitter which are really quite inefficient for collaboration – but it is the most pervasive – in order to consult my peers. Yes it’s a pain in the arse but this is what I do at least every couple of days. Of course I should add a disclaimer that I never disclose confidential, classified or otherwise sensitive information – they’re just general non-specific queries. But as we enter a new era of transparency why shouldn’t I be allowed to ask my colleagues for assistance with specifics? As long as I give back to them (or my employer compensates them with micropayments, for example).
The silly thing is that the reason I get the work I do and why my employer pays me a salary is in part due to my peer network who have contributed to my knowledge, experience and skills and will continue to do so even on-demand … yet my employer actively blocks me and discourages me from accessing it. Instead I’m expected to work in relative isolation.
It might not be a major problem now but think of where this is going and how such future connected workers fit in a traditional employer-employee model. As I said, this networking is just one attribute of the worker of the future and there are many other reasons why recruitment practices and employee engagement models need to change and they need to change now because already they’re failing us.
I’ve also written an article on my UX design and social media blog purecaffeine.com on staff collaboration that you might find interesting.