The Future of Work and the Digital Workplace

The world is changing all around us. Even the seemingly little things, like how we wake up in the morning, how we get a ride downtown, and even how we pay for goods and services, have all dramatically changed in the last few decades.

The World of Work is Changing

Similarly, the world of work is also changing. In a recent session at the Smartsheet ENGAGE customer conference, Alan Lepofsky, VP and Principal Analyst at Constellation Research, spoke about workplace change – in culture, technology, and processes – and what it means for employees.

To give us a glimpse into what the future might hold, Lepofsky shared how the who, what, where, when, why, and how of work is changing, and what that means for the future of work.

The “Who” of Work

We’re seeing a shift in who is working. Lepofsky didn’t talk demographics here, but of the rise of the gig or freelance economy. Workers are not necessarily full-time employees anymore. Lepofsky predicted that we’ll see more of this in the future as the number of temporary workers and contingent labor increases.

The “Why” of Work

Lepofsky also talked about the growing importance of purpose at work. Employees are seeking a sense of purpose and meaning from their work – the “why”. Why are they going to work (besides a paycheck)? Why is what they do important? People want to be fulfilled by their work, and Lepofsky predicts this will become increasingly important in future generations.

The “When and Where” of Work

With mobile and cloud capabilities, work now happens anytime, anywhere. “Mobility isn’t about a device. It’s a style of working,” says Lepofsky. Employees don’t have to go into the office to work for or be supported by companies. Whether they’re full-time employees or members of the gig economy, they can work from their home office, while travelling, or in a coffee shop.

The “What” of Work

The type of jobs we do are also changing. Lepofsky shared that while there is fear around job loss due to automation and technological advancement, he doesn’t see it that way. Rather, the jobs that will be available are changing. For example, drone operator was only recently a job someone could consider.

The “How” of Work

Perhaps most significantly, the how of work in changing. For most employees, work is constantly coming in faster and from more places. We’re overloaded with too much information, coming at us from too many places, from too many people, interrupting us too often, asking us to do too much. The future employee will be juggling even more volume.

Employees Need to Get Focused

With the volume and velocity of work, information, and interruptions increasing and accelerating every day, employees need help getting focused. Technology can help employees focus their time and efforts through analytics and quantified work, which give them the tools to see which efforts payoff, and which were not the best investment of their time.

Platforms that help organize work and give it structure can also help employees focus on which efforts matter. “[Smartsheet] is all about organizing and structuring work,” says Lepofsky, “so they’ve done a really good job there.” He imagines a future where a work management platform could serve up a dynamic, prioritized list of work to help employees stay focused without losing sight of fast-paced work environment.

Technology Will Augment, Not Annihilate, Work

Lepofsky paints a much different picture of the future than a robot army taking jobs from humans. Instead, technology will augment work to help employees accomplish more. How we visualize and interact with our work will change dramatically thanks to virtual reality, advances in tangible telepresence, and other technologies that will have employees working at the speed of thought.

Biometrics is another area in which workers might see great advances managing their workload. One example Lepofsky gave the audience was to imagine that a sensor could tell if you were stressed based on your blood pressure readings — and then sync with your other devices to put a hold on your email for the next hour. Lepofsky argues that using physiological and psychological data could help us work more effectively.

Ultimately, Work Will Be Creative

Employees of the future will be more creative as a result of this focused, augmented way of working — and thanks to technological advances that enable everyone to be a creator, a storyteller, and a producer, according to Lepofsky. Not only will employees have more time and focus to innovate, but perhaps they can start to imagine a world in which technology is useful and beautiful.


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