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2013: Make Work Suck Less

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.

 

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