Over the last couple of months I’ve presented my vision of the future of work to thousands of people at large events, small private sessions and boardroom meetings around the globe. While the presentation evolved from meeting to meeting, the underlying message remained unchanged: work should be fun.
In fact it should be so much fun that you don’t feel the difference between personal time and work hours. I even went so far as to say that the lines between the two should be eliminated in order to empower and engage your employees. So, why aren’t all companies striving to make the workplace fun?
All You Need is Love
Why is it more fun to coach your kid’s soccer team than to work? The answer is simple: it isn’t -- we just have a different emotional connection to the activities. Just ask some of my founder buddies about their companies. They might not say it at home, but there is no way they’ll blow a pitch to a VC for an afternoon at the soccer field.
Others argue that as companies grow larger, the bureaucratic overhead makes them uncool places. Again, this is not the case. Check the 100 Best Companies to Work For list; you’ll see that many of them are huge.
One thing we can learn from both the startups and the market leaders is you need to commit to the cause with all your heart. If that happens in our personal lives (e.g., our team, our friends, our band), then we do everything possible to make things thrive and succeed. Likewise, research shows that when employees have an emotional relationship to their work, they are more innovative and have fewer sick days. In fact, surveys of people who leave a company show the majority simply felt under appreciated. Sound familiar?
Social -- The Great Unbundling
I encourage you to read more about the war for talent and the fact that companies are not able to fill key positions even while unemployment is higher than ever. And while this isn’t exactly a new topic, a parallel development might take this issue to a whole new level.
A few days back I read a short post from Andy Weissman over at Union Square Ventures about what he calls The Great Fragmentation. The post looks at different ways the Internet is fragmenting things that used to be offered in bundles, e.g., the single vs. the whole album, the writing vs. the entire book.
Reading this, I wondered: what if the same unbundling is happening in the workplace? Maybe companies are just bundles of services that are provided to employees. While some are great -- like pay, access to healthcare, access to great people, brand recognition -- others are not what many of you signed up for, like politics, outdated tools and bureaucracy.
If that idea holds true, companies that don’t empower and engage their employees are in deep trouble. In fact, if the war for talent continues we might see companies struggle to stay competitive not because they have no customers but because they have no people to get the job done. Don’t believe me? Read about the impact of unbundling to higher education.
Sucking is Not an Option
While social enterprise solutions gained its buzz among early adopters, this year has seen a breakthrough to the mainstream. We are still early, but awareness is finally starting to reach the management level. However, I still find many in management who misjudge the forces at work here, and how this change will blow away people, companies and entire industries if underestimated.
As the talent war plays out, the need to drive human productivity and the elevated expectations among workers for a great workplace will compel a dramatic shift in power. An employee’s market is emerging and social will accelerate that shift.
I see the general culture change created through social technologies as the great unbundler of the workplace. If you look at the employer as a bundle of services exchanged between YOU as the end customer and YOU as the provider of those services, you might ask: why don’t I do this by myself?
Well, it would be tough to build your own car, and I guess it’s easier to complain about the delayed flight than to become a pilot. So, while we might not go back to subsistence farming where everybody tries to do everything for and by themselves, we might require more value from the bundlers (the companies) to stay with them.
Future of Work
2013 is the last year to join the new way of working bandwagon. As this unbundling unfolds you will have two options: pay leadership and quality leadership. Translating this to the workplace: you can either provide the most money or the best work environment to your employees. For the last decade we’ve seen that the first option doesn’t work if you ignore the second.
Wall Street pays insane amounts and yet this high salary hot spot is also home to the fastest growing startup incubator in the country. Believe me, I was a banker and started my own company, and people are not looking just for money. They want to believe in what they do. This brings us to quality leadership. You need to inspire people and you need to provide a working environment that lives up to their expectations.
Life not Work: Engaged people work more. Many complain about work creeping into their lives with emails on mobile devices. You don’t hear that from happy people. They adjust to the new way of working. You can fight this, but I predict that soon people won’t distinguish between work hours and personal hours. If you are told to work certain hours, take your talent elsewhere: remember, it’s a buyer’s market for skills.
Supported not Controlled: I play the piano on Monday morning -- not really well, but that is my time to learn something new. Providing a networked workplace is the only way you can support that work style. Work should follow your schedule. You also want to make real connections with your colleagues so you can know as much as you can about them, which will help facilitate that flexibility. If your boss doesn’t get this, leave. Remember, it’s a buyer’s market.
Beach not Cubicle: If you work 24/7, you deserve some downtime. Not just a few weeks a year, but also the extra day after that conference. The NewsGator executive team went dune buggy racing after the SharePoint Conference. And you know what, the company didn’t go under. Why ... because we’re all committed and connected -- anywhere, anytime. Work should allow for more location and schedule flexibility. If your boss doesn’t get this, leave. Remember, it’s a buyer’s market.
To be competitive in an unbundled market, people are not just looking for a place to work. They’re looking for a way of life and a home for their ideas and creativity. I know that my view of work is not for everyone and I also know that not every industry is ready for it. That is fine, but we should at least use 2013 to continue to make work suck less!
Editor's Note: Interested in reading other contributor's visions for 2013?