No one predicted in 2007 how the iPhone would transform both society and the workplace, sparking an age of mobility that changed the way we talk, share and connect. Yet here we are in 2018, with apps creating billion dollar businesses and millions of people paying $1000 a pop for the iPhone X.

We sit at the precipice of a new era of disruption in the workplace. Pundits and technologists have talked about the future of work for years, and 2018 may be the year that future finally arrives. The next massive transformation, however, will not rely on a single tool or device.

Reconsidering Work

Before diving into the future of work in 2018, we need to acknowledge that the nature of work has changed. It is no longer a destination but rather a unit of productivity shipped to people, teams and companies. It’s not constructed in a cubicle or silo but through impromptu brainstorms, huddles and workflows. And as much as technology facilitates this new kind of work, it remains anchored in the employee experience. It’s the employee after all who determines which products and tools survive, morph and evolve.

As 2018 gets underway, organizations must figure out how to create, adapt and preserve company culture in the workplace while evaluating the impact of new technologies. Those are tall challenges for any size organization, but they are absolutely essential for future innovation and company survival moving forward.

In this context, I reached out to a number of colleagues and influencers who are focused on collaboration in the workplace and posed a simple, yet broad question to see how they envision the enterprise shaping up: How will technology impact the future of work in 2018 and beyond?

Not surprisingly, I received a variety of answers, but a few common themes emerged. 

The End of the (Work) World as We Know It

First up is the idea that the workplace as we've known it for the past 20 years will no longer exist. It is being replaced by a new paradigm as David Wiener, chief product officer of Voicera and Tamara McCleary, chief executive officer of Thulium both shared:

“The future of work will be a place with three key characteristics. First, administrative tasks will take a back-seat, and machines will take a primary role in accomplishing mundane and time-consuming tasks. Second, the employee’s role will transition from being the producer to the curator and overseer, placing larger emphasis on creative and outside-the-box thinking. Finally, machines will replace some mundane roles, but will not ultimately seek to replace humans — instead, machines will augment users with an AI-exoskeleton, increasing human productivity exponentially,” said Wiener.

McCleary offered this vision, "In the short-term future of work discussion, we are coming to terms with the end of the world as we know it. The battle cry is 'Let it go!' Release any attachment to what was in order to reinvent and innovate, and ditch being left behind dragging the millstone of legacy systems and processes around your corporate neck.

"We are called to cultivate and nurture our relevance by embracing a life of never-ending learning. Our cubicles have been disrupted by co-working spaces, and our coveted titles replaced by flat lining organizational charts. Human creativity is the commodity for sale on the street. The gig economy is exploding along with remote workers replacing onsite workers, and previous water cooler conversations replaced by digital dishes shared over social media.

"Work will be judged not for showing up and measuring clock time at a desk, but rather, the future of work means we will be judged (and employed) for the quality of work as is measured by our ability to execute on our ideas.” 

Bringing the Human Element Into Collaboration

Another major theme that emerged was how technology could be used as the mechanism to unite and collaborate in new, humanizing ways. 

According to Amy Barzdukas, chief marketing officer, Polycom, “A lot of technology today is essentially and reductively ‘personal’ — that is to say, so focused on the individual as to isolate her from the community. We certainly see this in social media/tribalism, where people are wearing blinders against anyone with a different point of view. In 2018, I believe — or perhaps it is hope! — that technology will focus on bringing people together to collaborate and build community and real innovation.” 

Learning Opportunities

Bryan Kramer, chief executive officer at PureMatter had this to say: “Communication experts will require a new set of skills where virtual collaboration is at an all-time high, and emotional intelligence is a requirement to engage globally. Learning will also be at an all-time high as new skills are needed, pulling education to the forefront and moving teachers to a higher level of importance. And an overall adaptability will be required for everyone to remain open to how we communicate and function as humans.”

Ted Rubin, co-founder of Prevailing Path spoke to the importance of employee experience to future success, “Social has completely altered the business landscape. Now is the time to use employee advocacy to your advantage, or pay a steep price in diminished return. Employees are the best way to humanize and personalize your brand. The truth of the matter is that the social evolution is a business evolution. Only by changing our old frameworks can we possibly hope to succeed.”

The Impact of the Cloud

Any discussion about the future of work would not be complete without considering the role of the cloud. Mike Quindazzi, managing director at PwC and Jo Peterson, vice president cloud services at Clarify360 both touched on some interesting points:

Quindazzi said, "While tomorrow is uncertain, certainly the future will be different. New products and business models will develop at increasingly faster speeds. More intuitive and predictive digital clouds will not only match workers with employers, skills with demand, capital with innovators, consumer with suppliers but will also further augment human productivity.

"Smaller organizations comprised of key individuals leverage technology, rather than human effort and physical assets to generate value. Specialization, leadership, creativity, problem solving are the most valued skills in the workforce." 

Peterson spoke to the flexibility and accessibility the cloud is providing businesses, as well as the challenges: “Ever visit one of the Walt Disney Theme Parks and head through the 'It’s a Small World' attraction? Well the cloud has made the world a smaller and more productive place for workers around the world. In fact, the workforce is only becoming more diverse and spread out. Companies have to account for employees on the move, those who work remotely, and those who work at home in multiple countries around the globe. Most of these employees and companies already embrace the cloud computing environment without realizing they’re even accessing cloud applications.

"Moving forward, we’ll see tools that span multiple applications and browsers and that provide communication across platforms. We’ll move towards fully integrated social technologies and platforms.”

A Banner Year for Productivity

With 2018 upon us, I believe this will be the year we will redefine how teams are conceived and bring out the best of human and machine capabilities to further innovation. AI has come a long way. It can now be directed and applied to rid hurdles to collaboration and productivity. This will enable truly efficient communication to take place and ideas to transform into reality. Alexa, Siri and other yet-to-be released assistants will simply become part of the team, helping to accomplish previously impossible goals in record time.

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