Businesses need to prioritise flexible working and information ownership if they are to control organisational change over the next 10 years and drive the character of their workforce, new research has argued.
A new report from the Orange Future Enterprise coalition (OFEc), "The way to work: space, place and technology in 2016", sets out the challenges to businesses at a time when social, economic, political and organisational pressures are set to increase at an ever greater pace.
OFEc has designed four future 'worlds' of work, scenarios depicting what organisations will look like by 2016. The scenarios, defined by the relationship between workers and employers, argue that it is the ownership of information and ability to determine where and when work takes place that will create the character of future workplaces.
The first scenario, 'Disciples of the Cloud', explores a world where geography, place and the simultaneity of working time matter more than ever.
Living and working in this world would be a similar experience to life at many large companies today, with most employees commuting to work in large centralised office and strong divisions between work and personal time. The working environment would utilise IT to enable new ways for individuals to collaborate as well as maximise efficiency.
Much of what employees do here is visible and is measured by others in the organisation. All work is tracked, but this brings the benefit of being looked after and provided with a range of facilities and amenities in the workplace.
In contrast, the 'Electronic Cottages' scenario paints a picture of a very different world in which a large number of employees either work at home or commute a short distance to a small hub office, where they meet with colleagues.
As the notion of the workplace as somewhere people gather and work alongside one another shrinks away, working and everyday life becomes more integrated and working schedules more flexible.
Employees' work activities are still monitored but now there is a greater emphasis on individuals' lifestyles, and they are more connected to their local communities.
'Replicants' is a scenario that would not seem unfamiliar for today's growing number of freelance consultants. Few individuals would be directly employed by companies and most would work for two or three companies simultaneously.
Working life would be much less predictable, routine and secure than it is now, with the flip side that people are free to choose where, when and how much they work.
Since work is unpredictable, people often work intensely for part of the year before taking periods of time off. This is a world in which people must look after and find work for themselves, and in which companies take little responsibility for staff, although they must work hard to be attractive to them.
Finally, 'Mutual Worlds' postulates far more emphasis on local communities and working lives dominated by a cooperative style of working rather than by big business.
Commuting would be a thing of the past with people preferring to work in small local ventures, often connected to networks of similar ventures elsewhere. Working life is here is cooperative - indeed, not cooperating is bad for your reputation and for your business.
The report states that the reality will be that organisations will adopt some elements of all four scenarios to a greater or lesser extent. But the most successful will also be able to balance their business imperatives with the requirements of their workers.
"This report is not about predicting or forecasting the future, but rehearsing for it; creating and exploring multiple possible futures, with the purpose of taking responsibility for what the future holds," said Robert Ainger, founder member of Orange Future Enterprise Coalition (OFEc).
"Change in business is happening so rapidly, arguably at a faster rate than at any time since the Industrial Revolution," he continued.
"The rate of change can be intimidating, but it creates opportunities. The challenge is asserting some control so businesses can use the situation to their advantage."