Facing the Future of Work

A recent roundtable discussion, hosted by Dell and Axios, predicts how we’ll work and live in the near future

It’s become clear to many of today’s top business leaders that the office doesn’t work like it used to. How, where and who we work with are being radically altered by a technological revolution. Whether your company can benefit from the shift, rather than being left behind by it, depends on your flexibility and willingness to try new solutions. To illuminate this change, Dell and Axios assembled a meeting of tech and social thought leaders for the ‘Future of Work’ event. Seated around a breakfast table in New York City, the conversation was eye opening.

Facing the future of work

THE SHRINKING OFFICE

As an answer to the event’s prompt, ‘The Rise of Remote Working: Are the Suburbs the New City?’, Allison Dew, Senior VP at Dell, kicked off the discussion with a stunning statistic: “The average office is now 60% smaller than it was just 8 years ago.”

Echoing Dew’s comment, Daniel Newman, Principal Analyst at Futurum, stated that, “Over 50% of the economy will be freelance in only a few years.” If true, this would be a radical shift from today’s majority full-time employee dynamic. Remote workers, contractors and temps would be the norm. That means training and communication protocols would need to be quick, understandable and adaptable. “With a huge amount of the population going freelance or becoming solopreneurs,” Newman added, “we need to rethink the way we educate people.”

However, not all the attendees agreed that remote working yields the best results. Isaac Oates, CEO of Justworks, believes the best ideas still come from being in a shared location. “People do more interesting work in teams, and teams that meet in the same physical space perform better.”

CHANGING THE WORLD AROUND US

As technology improves and automation becomes more prevalent, we’ll feel the effects everywhere from job markets to supermarkets. As Ron Brachman, Director of the Jacobs Institute at Cornell Tech, succinctly put, “Technology is implicit in everything we do.” From food to energy to city planning, the internet of things and automation are already changing our world.

While new technology can offer benefits for mobile or highly educated workers, the attendees discussed the possibility of negative effects: Small towns, traditional retail employees and truck drivers will feel the pinch. According to Don Clinton, a partner at Cooper Robertson, one solution may be to create offices, shipping and tech centers in these “forgotten” locations. “If sophisticated companies go into marginalized areas,” Clinton suggested, “it will allow people there to live an integrated life.”

USING THE NEW TOOLS

For those managers who are afraid of losing the spontaneous teamwork that happens in a physical office, Michael Pryor, Head of Product at Atlassian, acknowledged that, “with remote work you have to invent serendipity.”

New collaboration tools can unite your workers and give them a place to share ideas. “Where is the center of your work?” Pryor asked. “It has to shift to collaboration tools like Trello.”

While these tools are a game changer for many businesses, Allison Dew believes a collaborative culture is still paramount. “So much of the time the conversation is about the the tool – Slack, Trello, Chatter –as opposed to the culture.”

“From the top down, you need to be explicit about creating a culture where employees can ebb and flow,” said Dew. “If you don’t have that, you’re not going to be effective as a team.”

Overall, attendees agreed that one of the major benefits of a remote office is an improved talent pool. “We were able to cast a wider net for recruiting,” says Pryor. “Suddenly we could look for engineers all over the country. It doesn’t matter where you live. Opening yourself up to hiring people who aren’t in the same physical location can be a huge advantage.”