A New Way to Work

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The next time you go into the office, you may notice something different about your environment or your co-workers. That’s because, little by little, changes are happening to the way we work.

It was bound to happen. After all, this isn’t our parents’ office any more. Desks are disappearing, along with those cubicles and rows and rows of people shelling out work that computers do now.

Yes, the culture of work and the application of talent are morphing, whether or not we are ready for the change.

What are the new work buzzwords? Flexible, adaptive and collaborative–methods that are bringing a tsunami of change from the outdated operations of the twentieth century to the twenty-first century.

Undoubtedly this is also bringing uncertainty front and center for every one of us. So why is this happening?

The majority of workplaces are still designed around a mid-twentieth century lifestyle, with an outdated approach to where, when and how work happens. Talent in the twentieth century mainly consisted of men, and the majority of women stayed home to raise the family and look after the home. The work day was typically eight hours, topped by a train ride home to suburbia. Well, we all know this is not the case today.

Plus, talent is transforming into a vastly different new breed of employee. Our jobs don’t have as much to do with word or number processing anymore, because computers are replacing us for these tasks. Workers should no longer be too competitive, but collaborative, since every major management school study has shown this improves performance. Instead of relying on an individual’s strength alone, we are working in collectives.

We are learning to tolerate–and embrace–differences among our co-workers, even going to diversity training seminars to gain a better understanding of people. Co-existence has replaced domination. And inclusion rules over exclusion. Management wants us to work as a team, collaborating on a shared goal.

By 2019, Generation X, born between 1965 and 1978, will be in charge of the workplace, and management across the globe is intent on getting ready for them.

This new way to work is stressful–think video conferencing while at the dinner table. It is also fraught with deadlines, which only makes matters more intense. Instead of hanging around the water cooler, discussing last night’s television show, workers find that these new work situations will demand more work in less time. And less work in traditional office space, too, with more collaborative decision making with teams around the world. Team leaders may never meet in person, but will need to be globally cultural enough to deal with anyone from China to Canada.
This non-traditional office/work style could also work in favor of families, helping alleviate some of the problems associated with work-life balance. This is good news for women, because they will inevitably play a key role in this new working world. Since women’s management styles are quickly becoming essential to today’s marketplace, pioneering companies are focusing on results, not time spent in an office chair. If a woman gets her work done at midnight, after cooking dinner and putting the kids to bed, what difference does it make if she isn’t at the office?

As an added bonus, companies see less need to spend money on office infrastructure. Companies without mandatory office time translate into companies without walls.

This flexibility doesn’t just make families happier; productivity goes up. Best Buy had a system called ROWE, Results Only Work Environment, and in some cases their productivity went up 40 percent. When the company CEO cancelled the program, employees found it difficult to go back to the old way of working.

Deloitte, the mega accounting firm, is perhaps most famous for their creative experimentation with reduced hours, unpaid furloughs and lateral movement instead of the old-fashioned “climb up the corporate ladder.” They tend to focus on life goals instead of career goals. Employees can choose to “dial up” or “dial down” during their tenure, seeking flexibility and perhaps moving laterally in a way that may or may not result in a pay cut. Referred to by Deloitte as a “lattice” instead of a “ladder,” this system doesn’t mean falling off the grid; it’s just another incentive to offer employees who desire flexibility.

And it’s not only women who are taking advantage of these career moves, better known as maneuvering the “mommy track.” More and more men are seeking a way out of the “up or out model,” in which you either keep getting promoted or get gone. Millennials (born from 1980 to 1995) are demanding better balance, too. Not only are they sharing child-care duties; they want time off for meaningful vacations, philanthropy work or to pursue a passion.

At the end of each working day, we will be paid for our work, instead of our hours. HLM

Sources: deloitte.com and forbes.com.