Some elements of the future world of work are already with us, and the picture is not altogether pretty….

Posted in: Bloggery

A number of thoughtful observers now write about the future world of work, with Lynda Gratton of the London Business School perhaps at the forefront.  Needless to say, those of us working in career transition services need to keep abreast of what is changing.

Here, I just wanted a moment to reflect on the impact on people of emerging trends in how we work.  Those which particularly affect how we operate and think include:

  • major shifts in how we communicate (virtual meetings, social media, instant messaging),
  • the blurring of work and home boundaries,
  • information overload and the huge general impact of technology
  • more pressure on leaders, managers and staff as the organisations we work in are increasingly under scrutiny from business analysts and investors, and their customers, and as we experience  much tougher and more volatile economic environments
  • employment relationships becoming more fragile and organisational loyalty being rapidly diminished
  • more extensive utilisation of outsourcing, and of contract engagement (as opposed to enduring employment contracts) and
  • the support given to those who are retrenched becoming thin and uncaring.

On the other side of the ledger, the advantages of the internet, Google, social networking activity via the internet, e-books and emails are all terrific. We can access and disseminate more knowledge and data more quickly than ever before.  As a result we are ten times more effective in capturing information than we were ten years ago.

But are we wiser – as we are projected into this new world of work, or are our brains becoming changed, or even “cooked” (like those of the frogs who won’t leap from steadily heating water)?

Lynda Grattan writes evocatively about how our lives are becoming increasingly fragmented.  She talks about business activity becoming fast volumes of three minute exchanges.  She goes on to say:  “I believe that fragmentation, overload and compression will decrease concentration, reduce our capacity to really observe and learn, and could make the working lives of our children more frenzied, more focused…and less whimsical or playful”[i]

The concomitant effects of fragmented attention spans and increasing “busyness” are increasing isolation, increasing anxiety and depression in individuals.  I have to say much of this resonates with my experience.

Altogether too many people that I see working in organisations are just too busy to pull back and reflect, and engage in thoughtful conversations.  Relationships are mostly transactional – including and especially those with employees.  And whilst overall engagement scores are taken seriously, the fact is many employees are basically lowering their expectations.

There are new emerging consultancies, offering their services to organisations to try to help restore a sense of teamwork and common wellness, and to build resilience in individuals.  We now incorporate work in this area in our practice.

At an individual level, is there a constructive response: some behaviours and a framework with which to better live in the new world of work?  My thoughts are these:

  • Create a “thinking and reading” compartment in every day, or as a minimum every week, in which to read and also engage with others on the costs and alternatives in how we want to work.  Consciously block out time to step aside from fragmented time and dissipated energy to focus on whether we are living the important values, and what meaningful work should be.
  • Practice active listening with others – it is much more difficult than you think – but will quickly define you as someone with a determination to build and create wisdom rather than just being smarter than others.
  • Work on making relationships more rewarding, and extend them to widening circles of people whose advice and respect you value.

Of course, there are plenty more useful imperatives – such as taking up more physical exercise, learning to practice mindfulness and more.  The key issue for me is to recognise fragmentation when you see it in how you work, to work on its consequences, and to work on taking back control in how you invest time.

Incidentally, I give myself three out of ten in doing these things myself… this is a work in progress!

Hugh Davies


[i] Lynda Gratton “The Shift”