We've been hearing about the workplace of the future since the advent of the cubicle, and likely before. But there's no question that the accelerating pace at which technology is evolving has made the discussion much more than theoretical. The Internet, social networking and collaboration platforms, the consumerization of IT, advances in mobility -- technology is changing the way we work and that change will only get faster.
On that note, research firm Gartner has issued a list of ten ways in which the workplace is going to evolve over the next decade. These aren't new ideas, but it's a nice summary of what appears to be coming down the pipe. Here's a brief rundown:
De-routinization of Work. When routine tasks can mostly be automated, that leaves more time for staff to focus on "uniquely human" contributions like innovation, collaboration and selling. Gartner estimates that non-routine tasks will make up 40 percent or more of an organization's work in 2015, compared to 25 percent now.
Work Swarms. Personally, I'm not fond of the term "swarm" in this context, but I'll set that aside. Gartner defines swarming as "a work style characterized by a flurry of collective activity by anyone and everyone conceivably available and able to add value." Ad-hoc activities are displacing structured, bureaucratic situations, which means that "people will swarm more often and work solo less," says Gartner VP Tom Austin.
Weak Links. In a swarm, people will "work with others with whom they have few links," says Austin. Weak links, according to Gartner, are the cues staffers take from their colleagues who know someone they don't. When you're thrown into sudden working groups, those weak links can be as important as the strong ones, which places an emphasis on developing connections through personal, professional and social networks.
Working With the Collective. The collective are informal groups of people outside the control of the organization who are bound together in some way. "Smart business executives discern how to live in a business ecosystem they cannot control," says the report, which stresses the importance of using the collective to gather market intelligence and help define products and business strategies.
Work Sketch-Ups. In the short term, the move toward ad-hoc activities means less-standardized work patterns. For most non-routine processes, the model will be sketch-ups created on the fly, says Gartner, adding that "over time, we believe that work patterns for more non-routine work will emerge."
Spontaneous Work. Swarms pop up as ideas occur to their component parts; they aren't planned months in advance.
Simulation and Experimentation. No more Excel abuse, says Gartner. Instead, we'll be directly interacting with and manipulating virtual representations of data. Hello Minority Report.
Pattern Sensitivity. As the business world grows more volatile, it's harder to make predictions using models based on past performance. In response, Gartner sees companies creating teams charged with sniffing out divergent patterns, evaluating them, figuring out what direction they're heading in, and then telling senior execs how to react.
Hyperconnected. "Hyperconnectedness is a property of most organizations, existing within networks of networks, unable to completely control any of them," says Gartner. That state of reliance on internal and external elements (parts of the supply chain, for example) will lead to more work -- both formal and informal -- across enterprise boundaries.My Place. With the workplace going virtual, work will continue to head in the direction of 24-7. And, of course, many staffers will work remotely rather than in the office. That spells problems for balancing that ever-precarious work-life balance. "Those that cannot manage the underlying expectation and interrupt overloads will suffer performance deficits as these overloads force individuals to operate in an over-stimulated (information-overload) state," says the report.