We stand today in a very different business landscape from even ten years ago. New global dynamics have shifted the ground beneath our feet. New technologies and a hugely expanded global workforce – and the rising skills and aspirations of the major countries – are driving a global economy.
Irrespective of industry sector or geography, organisations are now operating in this new era and new business environment, which has radically changed how value is created. In this environment, the organisations that are thriving today are adapting fast to build skills and deliver high value products and services to a global market place.
The changing nature of work
It's worth taking a moment to reflect how far the world of work has changed in such a short period of time.
Ten years ago, there were no social networks – MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Bebo, Blogger didn't exist. Yet, these seemingly innocuous technologies today have the power to send governments into turmoil and frenzied panic.
In its short lifespan, social networking has demonstrated the potential to change political landscapes and muster sweeping social change campaigns. It can also undoubtedly change the way organisations think – by simply reaching beyond traditional organisational boundaries and amplifying weak signals – those previously unlistened-to changes to the corporate wind.
Twenty years ago, we didn't have the web – and it's beyond question that the people of the internet are shaping a new world order. If you work in the web programming, online marketing, or mobile phone industries (to name but a few), then your job did not exist twenty years ago. Against the hothouse of change, who knows what jobs will exist in twenty – or even ten years from now.
What is absolutely certain is that the people who find themselves out of work today, will soon find jobs again. But we can be confident that the work won't be the same as today.
The future of work is flat
Work used to be considered a 'place'. The mantra for siting corporate headquarters used to be location, location, location.
Financial services organisations have historically huddled adjacent to each other in city centre financial zones. Technology organisations would typically nestle cheek-by-jowl in silicon valleys. While the work mantra is communication, communication, communication, this was constrained by landline phones and snail-mail.
Today, project teams can be drawn from any part of the world and transcend time zones with consummate ease. They have access to amazing unified communication tools to allow contributions from any part of the world. And the net result of this is an immense flattening of previously cumbersome organisational structures.
A simple example of changing organisational structures can be seen at call centres. Previously, call centres used to be located in large megalithic institutions built in rural areas or offshore in countries such as India. Now, contact centres are increasingly decentralising and allowing their staff to work from any location.
Staff are working individually or in small self-managing teams. They are often working for multiple organisations, contracting to spend a percentage of their day delivering airline bookings, then delivering financial services, and finally wrapping up their day delivering mobile phone services.
These are highly talented call agents capable of delivering untold of levels of productivity, and the only common cause is that location does not matter.
The future of work is competitive
If it's not already happening, it is highly probable that in future, employers will be decreasingly likely to pay you merely because you have a university degree. The phenomenal growth in university attendance across Europe is at the heart of this conundrum – this is effectively making university the new high school. However, it does show the remarkable human appetite for learning.
Putting the growth in university growth into hard statistics – in 1990, just 13 per cent of Europeans had a university degree. Ten years later, by 2000, this had risen to 16 per cent. By 2007, this had leapt to 29 per cent, and is anticipated to exceed 37 per cent by 2012.
This is a remarkable 240 per cent growth in just the last ten years!
Education is also becoming more accessible than ever. In the late sixties, the UK's Open University pioneered the concepts of distance learning by using radio and television to disseminate its academic content. To-date, this university has seen over three million students graduate, and it is consistently rated in the top two places for student satisfaction.
More recently, web sites such as AcademicEarth.org have emerged to offer free online courses and lectures from some of the worlds' leading universities such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. The bottom line of this explosion on web learning is there's no longer any excuse "not to know how".
Ultimately, this opens up the world's foremost knowledge and learning sources to the world's student population – which, in turn will only serve to increase the focus on, and availability of global talent.
A prime indicator of this is the increased prevalence of outsourcing. According to our recent interviews with some 1,200 executives, half of organisations are planning to increase their spend on outsourcing by more than 25 per cent this year – and the key driver isn't saving money, it's to increase innovation.
The future of work is on demand
As we emerge from the spectre of global recession, any thoughts of a guaranteed lifetime career has been firmly condemned to history. It is not just employers that are unwilling to offer career security, following the traumas of restructuring and the perception that HR approached matters on an unsophisticated lottery basis, employees are also unwilling to commit to a single organisation.
Research by the UK's Office of National Statistics and supported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has shown that 60+ per cent of professional people losing their jobs have invested their redundancy settlement in becoming entrepreneurial and starting their own business.
The reality is the word "career" is as outmoded as the word "typewriter". Today, project teams across organisations more closely resemble movie production teams than the previous sterile silo'd ranks of corporate staff. Just like in the film industry, talented individuals with unique skills get together to work on company's projects, and when the project finishes, they mostly go their own ways. They might work together again – but equally, they might not.
The new mantra of corporate life is virtual working and virtual teams – groups of individuals spanning time, space, and organisational boundaries to innovate, create, and inspire. With fewer people in corporate employment following restructuring, significant increases in outsourcing, plus global talent availability, corporate staff will spend less than 5 per cent of their time in the same location, working on the same project at the same time as their colleagues. The other 95 per cent of their time will be spent working virtually.
The future of work is talent – the future is you
We know that the jobs of the future will be in talent-based, knowledge-intensive industries. Talent is the one natural resource that organisations and even countries have – and it is the one resource that businesses and industries have to reinvent themselves to succeed in the new global economy.
Today's commercial scenario is one where sustainable business success depends upon seizing the opportunities arising from linking environmental and social drivers as well as economic imperatives.
This 'triple context' – economic, social, and environmental – applies equally to nations as it does to companies. The ability to create favourable conditions for both businesses and society will be a determining factor in the future ability to inspire, grow, attract, and retain the talent.
Value creation is no longer just about competing but is now increasingly about competing through collaboration and co-creation – continued prosperity is wholly dependent on the capability of organisations and its people to move into increasingly higher added-value areas.
This means a new view of talent is needed – a view that talent is abundant. It is abundant in the sense that it is not a rare quality, but diverse and multifaceted, which everyone has, to some degree and in some form. And taking this view means that there is a wider pool of talent for companies to work with, if they know how to unlock it.
But just having a view that talent is abundant is not enough – nations and organisations will have to work much harder to find, grow, and apply the talent it needs and look further and deeper to uncover it in new places and new generations.
Individuals will have more freedom and power than ever before. Their earning potential will be wholly based on merit and not location. And forward-looking organisations will benefit from having access to a larger and more skilled workforce – a global talent pool.
To summarise, the nature of work is changing at a faster pace than at any previous time in history. The future of work is flat, the future of work is competitive, the future of work is on demand, and more importantly, the future of work is YOU.