3 Predictions About the (Digital) Future of Work

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There’s a joke we used to say in the military: “We’re always ready to fight the last war.”

It means that we’re never quite ready when we begin a new fight — we’re informed by our experiences with our previous engagements, and we’re not always as forward-thinking as we should be.

Of course, the digital workplace is hardly anyone’s idea of a battleground, and it shouldn’t be. But whenever I hear conversations about the digital workplace, I go back to that joke. Sometimes I feel like organizations are just catching up with Web 1.0 solutions that are for yesterday’s problems.

If you want to build the ultimate digital workplace, you’ve got to think ahead to the fronts that will chart the future of your organization. Here are three trends that are top of mind for me when I think about the workplace of the future.

Remote Work Isn’t Going Away

To some people, remote work is a fad. But it’s not.

Let’s start with what exactly remote work is. I estimate that maybe 10-15% of enterprise organizations have a solid strategy for remote work. But most think the idea of “working from anywhere” means accessing your email and Google Docs on your phone. That’s a great start, but it’s more the ante to play than really raising the stakes.

It’s my belief that by 2030, “anywhere” work will be the default for teams. Why? First of all, it’s generational. By 2030, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce. They’ll look for jobs that offer telecommuting options, and with more millennials in the workforce, the demand for remote work will only grow.

Teams are also becoming more global (see point three below), meaning that the talent you work with on a project may not be halfway around the world. For these teams, all work is going to be at least partially “virtual”: you may work every day with colleages you only physically meet a few times in your career!

If we’re going to all have the ability to work remotely, we need to have the ability for the local coffee shop to feel as much like our office as our actual office does. That means you’ve got to look at everything: file management, project management, digital communication and even just getting to know each other. Figuring out the solutions that work for your organization will be essential to your future success.

Business Is Going Global

Do you remember when GM was bailed out? The company announced it would put quite a few iconic brands to pasture. But one of the brands that it kept caused quite a bit of confusion: Buick.

I remember thinking “Just who drives a Buick these days?” But GM wasn’t concerned about America. It was thinking about China, where Buick is an iconic brand and was what Chairman Mao drove — and there are a lot more people in China than there are here in the U.S.

It’s those emerging markets where organizations will be expanding their reach: places like China, India and Brazil. And there will be plenty more markets emerging. Think about this — only 43% of the world’s population is currently online. By 2030 that number is expected to be 90%.

There’s more opportunity out there than ever before. But if you don’t have the ability to share your office with your team in Rio then you’re going to have trouble.

The Gig Economy Is Coming to Your Organization

The world economy is rapidly growing, but it’s highly unlikely that the talent pool is going to grow at the same pace. This is going to put more pressure on organizations, and roles are going to be much less defined, and for talent to be shifted more internally. Specialists with deep areas of expertise will hop from project to project, working with cross-functional teams across the globe.

It’s almost like freelancing, internally. How do you build a working model for an entire organization of agile freelancers? It might sound crazy, but I think we can look to the military for inspiration. The U.S. military keeps extensive records of members’ training and areas of expertise, and it uses that database to create agile, fast-moving teams with an efficiency that large organizations can only dream of.

So create the processes you need to put your teams together quickly, no matter where they are. Some of the biggest organizations in the world are already doing it — and you should be, too.