As a follow up to my previous post, here are my third and fourth predictions for what 2012 holds for collaboration:

#3. Public Clouds, Private Clouds, Collaborative Clouds

We are all aware of the “public cloud,” the Internet, the Information Superhighway. It is what you log on to every morning. If you are at work, you log onto a private cloud, which is kind of like the TV program Cheers (where everyone knows you name). This might be where you do most of your work.

But just like working only inside a firewall is not enough today, public and private clouds are merging. They are merging to such a degree that the boundaries are not so clear any more.

When you work with clients and customers who are not part of your private cloud, yet you extend them the ability to do ongoing interactions (or collaboration) with you in a secure way -- is this a public cloud or a private cloud? Maybe something in between that I call a "collaborative cloud." This is not to be confused with Collaborative Cloud, the online project management and collaboration tool, but rather looks at the more general case of when you need to collaborate in either a public cloud, a private cloud or both.

In some cases the collaborative cloud is seen as a place for document storage and sharing, making tools like DropBox (which is just file sharing) a collaborative tool. We don't see it that way. A collaborative cloud must provide the same type of person-to-person interaction that any collaborative environment must do (synchronous or asynchronous). Some like Information Weeks' The Brainyard, believe the collaborative cloud is where collaborative applications like Louts Symphony, At Task or SharePoint online reside.

Others think the collaborative cloud is a security threat. It may well be, but the amount of threat compared to the clear benefits result in an equation heavily in favor of working in the cloud, and cloud momentum will continue in 2012.

#4. The Nature of Work is Changing

I know I am not the first to talk about this or even predict it. But with the level of complexity in the workplace and the continually rising torrent of information, it is inevitable that something must give way, and the most likely thing is the way we work.

Lucy Kellaway in a recent article in the Economist, thinks the future is back to the past (to misquote the movie title). According to her, 2012 will require that white collar workers will at least have to look serious. This means,

In 2012 the following will be back in fashion: the landline, the jacket, the commute, the handshake and above all the office itself. Out of fashion will be the virtual office in which employees sit hunched over laptops in their local Starbucks, joined to their colleagues by webcam and e-mail. Instead, working life will start to resemble its old self before the internet was invented.”

Her logic for this is that “The repeated shocks to the world economy delivered over the past few years will bring in a culture of corporate risk aversion: the focus will be more on accountability than creativity.” Her vision of the office of the future (2012) will be rife with gossip and insecurity. With women willing to behave like men being promoted, and those that don’t, dropping out of the work force. The only one cracking jokes will be the boss…and you better laugh!

Being an optimist, I think that the world is continually being “shocked” and those shocks will just come faster and faster until all you have is “shock.” It is either adapt or die. Or as Charles Darwin puts it “In the long history of humankind (animal kind also) those that have learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

Like Darwin, I believe that collaboration and innovation are the game changers. Those companies in denial will pull back and try to avoid risk, which will give the innovative companies a great chance while the dance floor is less crowded. When those risk avoidant companies come back to the dance, they will find it much changed and they may not even recognize the music.

My old friend Dan Rasmus (formerly of Microsoft Research) did a paper for Cisco on the Future of work and sees a completely different scenario called the “Free Range Model of Work.” Listed below are 10 characteristics he gives this model:

  1. The contract between the worker and the organization is changing rapidly and evolving more toward a “freelance economy.” Workers can work for multiple organizations as long as they respect intellectual property rights and do their work on time and under budget.
  2. Companies are much smaller -- a core group of people focused on branding, marketing and product innovation “talent conglomerates” -- with all other functions outsourced.
  3. Corporate organizational structures are moving from hierarchical to more of a mesh-like fishnet organization.
  4. Workplace becomes “workspace” and are not bound by time or geography.
  5. Better collaboration and communication technologies are required to support future work, and individuals will have to develop new social skills to succeed in these environments.
  6. Work and personal time are merging, leading to a higher reliance on commitment-based work.
  7. Change is a part of organizational design. Everyone working for a firm contributes value in support of one or more high-order goals, but they are also responsible for reacting to change.
  8. Innovation requires both diversity and trust (personal, cognitive and work-related).
  9. Corporate data is tagged and encrypted. If it is unlawfully disseminated, it can be traced and when a partnership ends all access to the data is immediately revoked and becomes useless.
  10. Social media is used to create work collectives (similar to a movie or construction project) which assemble, disassemble and adapt quickly based on demand.

You are your brand; reputation and demonstrated influence are required to get and keep work. You are also responsible for all your own benefits.

In future work, some of the work may look like open source software projects that are done today. Anyone can contribute, everything gets peer review, everything is transparent, your reputation is based on the quality of your work and ability to execute, and you get recognized for what you have done.
A 2007 study by PWC on the future of work looked at what work might look like in 2020. Some of the possible changes it theorized were:

  • Large corporations turning into mini-states and taking on a prominent role in society.
  • Specialization creating the rise of collaborative networks.
  • The environmental agenda forcing fundamental changes to business strategy.

Dion Hinchcliffe proposes a variety of work models based on the level of curation. And then there is the ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) which is a management philosophy focused on empowering the employee for productivity and results rather than presence in the workplace.

As you can see lots of opinions by lots of experts, none of whom have a crystal ball. What I believe is, that the divide between those looking forward and those looking back is getting larger. What kind of future organization would you like to work for?

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