The Town Builders Collaborative is a consortium of real estate developers, civic financers, and communitarians transforming economically challenged areas into vibrant neighborhoods fit for the ever-evolving "New Economy."
|Friday, May 13, 2005|
|2005 FUTURE OF WORK WORLD CONGRESS REVEALS THE CHANGING NATURE OF WORK AND PLACE|
The second Annual World Congress on the Future of Work was held April 26th - 28th, 2005 in historic Philadelphia. Hosted by the General Services Administration, the 2005 World Congress focused on the theme of Making It Real / From Vision to Action. As a Future of Work delegate, I participated in the event and presented the process of bringing the vision of the Lemont New Economy Town Center to reality along with the Honorable John Piazza, Mayor of Lemont, Illinois.
Charlie Grantham and Jim Ware are the founders and executive producers of the Future of Work community. Charlie and Jim used World Cafe Conversation techniques to lead Future of Work thought leaders as they honed in on the topics of collaborative technologies, alternative working arrangements, transforming corporate cultures, managing emergent and next-generation workers, the business case for distributed work, and trends in workplace design.
We confronted the rapidly changing nature of work. Knowledge work, creativity, and collaborative relationships are essential to competitive success. To survive in the future, companies will create working environments that attract, retain, and motivate their employees, foster creativity and productivity, and enable work to be conducted whenever and wherever necessary on a global basis.
Charlie Grantham describes what we learned as delegates to this years World Congress that applies to the creation of New Economy Towns:
1. Distributed work may be surprisingly attractive to older workers - and to their employers.
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Several of the early conversations about the future of work began by focusing on the huge number of public and private sector employees who are already able to retire (in his opening conversation with us Kevin Kampschroer pointed out that fully 50% of federal employees are eligible to retire right now).Not only the federal government but many other organizations need to keep those folks on the payroll for the foreseeable future, for the simple reason that there aren't anywhere near enough talented younger workers (meaning anyone below about age 55) available to step into those empty slots.We also remembered that the majority of those baby boomers have saved only about $50,000 towards retirement, and that they probably won't actually be retiring any time soon simply because they can't afford to.
However, some kind of "gradual retirement" might become very popular, including provisions for older workers to work part-time, and from home, thereby avoiding lengthy and unpleasant commutes and perhaps enabling them to live in smaller, more attractive communities, some distance away from major metropolitan areas.
What really struck some Delegates is that the older workforce may need substantial training in how to use online tools for work. But work online and remotely means that people don't necessarily know your age, and generally can't judge you on your appearance (we don't all have web cams yet). That might be a significant reason for more older people to move towards online work.
2. One of the biggest changes in the future of work will be the degree and kind of control that individual workers have over where, when, and what they do to produce value.
A dominant aspect of work in the future (at least for knowledge workers) will be the extent to which the workers themselves will be determining what they do, when they do it, where they do it, and - most importantly - how they do it. This means, essentially, that individuals have major choices to make - and most of us are not yet skilled at making those kinds of choices because we don't have much experience at it. In the "old world" of work we went to a corporate office because that's where our file were, that's where the company resources (including support staff) were, and that's where we would meet with colleagues, bosses, suppliers, and even customers.
Now, of course, we can do that work anywhere, anytime, and we meet all those fellow workers wherever it's most convenient. And all too often we blur the boundaries between our professional and our personal lives. We have a tendency to take our laptops, cell phones, PDA's, and other "tools of the trade" with us just about everywhere we go (including the beach, the golf course, the living room, and the car) because we can - not always because we "have to."
Many knowledge workers also mix and match their "work day" and their personal time, to the extent that they run personal errands mid-day and make up for it by working late at night. That's a real benefit of the information economy, but a major complication as well. We believe that learning how to choose, and how to set limits on when and where they "work," will be one of the biggest tasks facing knowledge workers over next few years as they finally begin to take charge of their work, and their lives. And organizational managers are going to have to learn to operate and exercise influence in a world where the individual workers are "in charge." And that won't be easy.
3. Economic development agencies, and local community initiatives, will be a major factor in creating the future of work.
This World Congress was the first one where we actually had economic development professionals mixed in with corporate real estate executives; that design was completely intentional. It seems clear to us that organizations - both large and small - have a growing demand for talent (workers), while the supply resides in local communities. So, how can we best match supply and demand?
Traditionally, organizations would offer to pay for a new hire's relocation to the area where the corporate office was located. And then, in their infinite wisdom, would transfer people around the country frequently, and at tremendous cost. All of this sub-optimal behavior was driven by the belief that people needed to "live close to where they worked." Well, given current technology, globalization, and several other factors, "work" is no longer a synonym for "place," and people are now able to work from almost anyplace they happen to be.
At the World Congress we heard case studies, testimonials from several people, and some very forward thinking that leads us to conclude that in the future communities will become known for the kind and quality of work that occurs within them. Organizations in search of increasingly scarce talent will reach out to help local communities build and maintain the infrastructures needed to support "remote" workers who will be making independent choices about where they want to live and come home to from work (there's that confounding of work and place again; how could we say it differently).
This perspective implies that in order to be sustainable, communities will choose to promote economic development plans and programs that support emergent workers, help attract for "creative talent," and reduce their dependence on growth through increasing retail sales tax revenues. The future of work will be created by communities and their residents as much as it will be by companies trying to stay competitive in the global marketplace for talent.
4. Corporate office facilities will undergo radical redesign as architects and facilities managers redefine their roles as enablers of work, not as creators and managers of physical places.
This is a major shift in thinking. And a quantum leap in perspective. Now, admittedly we were only dealing with several dozen self-selected thinkers and senior executives. But this is a theme we have also seen in larger professional organizations such as CoreNet Global. In fact, the very terms "facilities manager" and "human resource support" may not even appear in our new dictionary of the grammar of work.
First of all, the physical work structures themselves must be designed and built from a different perspective. We don't design our homes to minimize the cost per square foot and then just let people figure out what to do in them. No, we design and build our residential environments to enable specific activities in our lives. Kitchens are for cooking, dining rooms are for eating, bedrooms are for sleeping, and recreational rooms are for playing. In the future we believe that corporate offices (as well as Business Community Centers and home offices) will be designed to support a number of equally specific and highly varied work-related activities.
This concept immediately implies a shift in the social roles and competencies needed by the professionals who are charged with enabling and provisioning work processes. The World Congress left us with many important, but unanswered questions. What should we call these specialists? What's their job description (maybe another antiquated term)? We suspect that by next year we will have made significant progress on this issue.
5. There is strength in numbers. Change agents are far more effective when they operate as part of a larger community than as "lone wolves."
Finally, it became clear throughout the two days that the Delegates relished the opportunity to share stories, explore challenges together, and learn from each others' experiences.More than once we saw Delegates exchanging business cards so they could keep their conversations going beyond the World Congress, and out of a desire to reconnect in the future around specific challenges and projects. They seemed almost to rejoice in the recognition that they were not alone in struggling to create the future.
There is a real sense of empowerment that comes from knowing that others are facing, or have faced, the same challenges you are confronting. And it's a whole lot more than "misery loves company." It's also about sharing experiences, about learning what's worked (or not) and why. It's about having someone to test ideas on before "going live." And it's about drawing on the collective wisdom of the larger community for advice, support, guidance, and even just friendship.
We've already heard some wonderful stories about Delegates who met at the World Congress getting together back home to keep talking, and even being overnight guests in each others' homes.We believe more strongly than ever that membership in the broader community of future of work change agents enhances individual capabilities. The future of work is a one-and-one-and-one makes five world. And that makes us feel just great.