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Reimagining work

We've seen this movie before. Whether it's Tom Cruise in Minority Report or Oblivion to Lynda Gratton describing the work of the future – we're trying to predict what work will be like in years to come. Article by Perry Timms: Chartered MCIPD, Founder & Director at PTHR and a prolific blogger for theHRDIRECTOR

All the changes we see around us though often don't even take years, they can take months. What's the point in looking into the future of a few months though? Hardly exciting and easily proven false when those months pass. So we either predict utopia or dystopia and go all sci-fi to look ahead to 2030 or 2050. This also gives us some wriggle room and allow us to be a little more outlandish with our predictions. Instead of going that far ahead, I'm looking only at the next 4 years to take us to the eve of the next World Cup 2018.

What WILL work be like then? Here's my fake story: 2018 – four years of active experimentation in learning and work/ Off the back of the World Economic Forum's “Future World of Work Forum (FWWF) and the EU's own “Europe's Working Future Committee”, (EWFC) we have seen some shifts in the management of talent migration schemes for specialist workers in demand across the EU and a coming together of the European Education into the Future (EEF) action group. FWWF, EWFC and EEF all combined and converged on one thing.

Technology and the impacts on education and work. A cross committee group of educators, researchers, economists and technologists all came together with workplace and workforce professionals to map out a plan for the reimagining of work in 2014 and we're looking back at the key catalysts behind this. Starting with education INTO work, the UK and Finland led the way with greater use of internships, study breaks to work and vocational on-the-job learning. Turkey and Romania joined forces to bring more teaching staff into the technology-enabled methods successfully piloted across their upper and university institutions. France, Belgium and Switzerland piloted extensive uses of remote teaching; of online education and of student generated content all being made available to smart TVs and mobile devices. Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands combined on the use of 3D holographic projections for teaching and learner interaction. Poland, Italy and Norway pioneered the use of 3D printing and smart boards in homes and libraries to help students interact with physical items and each other.

All told, we've seen students spend 8 days less per month AT school and more time studying from home or from local study hubs. Wherever they have been, it is all remote study but connected to tutors, other students and learners through technology and as it suits them. The extension to work has already started to kick in. Working parents have also been granted up to 10 days per month to work from home or where their children are (the study hubs – many of which are former library buildings, community centres and entrepreneur hangouts). The commute to work now has already seen a 40 percent reduction in traffic between 8 and 9am and 3 and 4pm. The 5.30 drive time has been affected even more with many EU countries reporting a 55 percent reduction in drive time traffic, accidents and emergency call outs.

This has not quite been offset with noticeably less carbon emissions, but the new way of working and studying has seen less traffic congregate on city centres and out of town office parks. Instead, the journeys have been to more localised hubs where parents can work; children can study and they can travel to and from the places together. These work hubs also cater for pre-school children so that parents can bring the family with them instead of spreading them out across multiple sites. Many workers had to invoke the EU mandate as their companies were reluctant to let them work offsite. However, many companies IMMEDIATELY downsized their premises or rented out their newly found space with as many as 30 percent of their workforce no longer turning up to the office everyday. Productivity has increased, companies spend on IT decreased, consumer IT spend continues to deliver more profits to tech companies and the rise of the family working and learning hubs has brought a renewed sense of community spirit with many bringing village life back together again. Rail companies are having to slash prices to attract people back on the railways though as commuter numbers dive literally overnight. And to think this all started in the autumn of 2014. Where next we say? Well read next week's article where we talk to the inventor of augmented reality wearables which will see us able to interact with ANYTHING in the physical world. THE END

OK this is a bit utpoia-esque as would we REALLY see a third of the workforce decouple from the office and no longer turn up at work? Some companies have seen this happen over the last 10 years with – arguably – lower standard technology. Technology. There it is again… that word. It is absolutely critical that any reimagining of work uses technology. We simply cannot connect and work without it. Unless we are a pastoral farmer and even then, the majority of their admin, banking etc is probably done using connecting technologies. Yes a lot of work needs to be from a place. Caring for the needy; rescuing people; being part of a production line; serving people in a restaurant and driving a bus.

Yet so much knowledge based work can be done from anywhere. It feels like we've been warming up to remote working for a while and whilst IBM and BT have been championing it and doing it to a larger not lesser degree, we still find ourselves commuting with the masses. Working from home is starting to become a more recognised means as we have broadband connectivity that matches and in some cases exceeds the offices capability. We have consumer technology that in most cases way exceeds the office issue. We also have skills and awareness of using social media and a pool of supporting apps which help us run our lives and now our working lives.

“We don't need your corporate IT as much as YOU think we do” is the silent exclamation behind all of this. The combination of portable devices accessing an ever faster mobile internet and the explosion of small applications running across the platforms has created an ecosystem we understand, utilise and prefer to our corporate programmes and massive databases locked behind firewalls and access privileges. Social Media has – quite literally – disrupted work to such a point we can see how social technologies can radicalise the workplace. Whether you're a project team working on a huge rail programme converging on Yammer to a smaller team of experts using Podio to work in the open space to a charity huddling around Facebook pages or a small social business of consultants using a Google+ community, it's social technologies that are enabling ALL of this.

The writing's been on the wall for a few years but corporations have been uneasy at embracing social media EXCEPT as a promotional/broadcast marketing channel. Now, as consumers have demanded it, email for customer issues is dying right before our eyes in favour of a blog post or a tweet. It's consumer activism of the most instant, visible and impactful order ever. If that's how consumer activism is going, it's only a matter of months before employee activism goes the same way. Oops it's already here. Glassdoor.com for a start is a place where you – as an employer – are rated by past and present people. It could do for employees what Trip Advisor is doing for hotels. Not only that, the more discerning employers know that opening up an internal channel for people to express views via an enterprise social network is a far better way of keeping any “dirty laundry” away from the entire watching public but still allows for individual expression and free from persecution where founded on evidence/experience and where improvements are suggested as part of the outcry.

No need to do a once a year engagement survey. You will have what I call “forever engagement” scores. Something that means you can check everyday if you like, how people are feeling about working for your organisation. You can, of course, aggregate or even stimulate responses but instead of guessing or allowing on trades union representation to speak for and assess the state of people's mood in working for you, it is there in every post. Data will drive decisions; and may even drive the nature and timing of communication so we can have personalised messaging for maximum impacts. No more ALL STAFF emails to cringe over. Most excitingly, social technologies can enable innovation. Capture innovative thoughts; turn them into quickly deployed experiments and then new products and services. The bringing together of customers, customers' insight and your own people could make sure you have a regular and healthy network of tinkerers, imagineers and advocates.

Imagine that. Work could be fun, filled with ideas, and rewarding because it becomes social. Who'd have believed that when sending that nervous first tweet? The writing is most definitely on the Facebook wall and the playlists are lining up on YouTube around whether you're an employer of the future or the past. So are you going to get with the programme and post your ideologies to your Pinterest board or hope that someone downloads your corporate PDF from your website? The future of work is social. I know where I'm going to be. See you on a Google hangout soon.

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