Every day we experience the quickening pace of work. Looking back over the evolution of how we did our work two or three years ago vs. how we work today can be overwhelming as we try to imagine what is around the corner for the coming year and the future.

A Harvard Business Review article by John Boudreau recently caught my attention on the topic of future work planning. Professor Boudreau (who is also a Research Director at USC’s Marshall School of Business and Center for Effective Organizations) was reporting on research efforts produced by CHREATE, the Global Consortium to Reimagine HR, Employment Alternatives, Talent and the Enterprise. Some of CHREATE’s initial work with HR professionals was funded by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the National Academy of Human Resources (NAHR). Together their efforts resulted in a model for future planning for how we will work.

According to Professor Boudreau, we can rest assured that we will continue to work with some number of humans. However, particular attention by organizational leaders (including those in HR) should focus on the way our organizations are structured, the way employment occurs, and the way we get things done through an ever-changing digital work ecosystem. To aid organizations in planning and evolving towards the future, CHREATE suggests leaders begin proactively to understand and design practical actions for a world of work that includes four kinds of future work.

Four Kinds of Work in the Future

  1. Work Reimagined – Here employment models will change much faster than work technologies.  Freelancers may be selected through platforms such as UpWork, larger focus on part-timers, project staff, gigs, and tours of duty.  Performance systems are non-traditional and may be project-related.
  2. Current State – The organization remains somewhat traditional with work, technologies and work arrangements. This kind of work relies heavily on regular full-time employment. These workers may co-locate and have easy access to each other through a physical connection. These arrangements could be dictated by type of work, such as retail, regulatory or social norms, such as work in a lab clean room.  Traditional performance systems are adequate.
  3. Today, turbo-charged – Technology evolves much faster than changes in the workplace.  Faster, better, cheaper technology, personal devices and cloud-based HRIS enable employees to work remotely, i.e., call centers.
  4. Uber empowered – The organization experiences accelerated cycles of technology advancement and work arrangement options are sparked by various options.  New work and technology models include on-demand artificial intelligence, extreme personalization, and secure and accessible cloud-based work repositories. The repositories will reside outside a single employer and provide searchable locations where work and workers can be matched. Systems will be constantly updated with work histories, knowledge and rewards.

CHREATE’s research identified the factors driving how organizations are structured and managed as trends in:

  • social and organizational reconfiguration, and
  • an all-inclusive global talent market.

What’s driving technology empowerment are trends in:

  • exponential technology change, such as robots and autonomous vehicles, as well as
  • human-automation collaboration, i.e., analytics, artificial intelligence etc.

Based on these findings, each of the quadrants describes a different kind of future organization, with different approaches to strategy, talent and work.

In his article, Professor Boudreau (also a member of the CHREATE team) suggests that leaders can apply these quadrants to their entire organization by asking questions such as: “Is there a better quadrant to be in?”  “Where can we create the greatest value?”  Admittedly, it may also be helpful to break the organization down into smaller pockets of work to look for patterns where each “pocket” of work is currently be accomplished, and where it might work in the future.

From an Organization Development and Human Resource Management perspective, examining the organization through the lens of “4 kinds of future work” can aid leaders in their planning efforts, as well as better inform their short- and long-term strategic planning steps.  Reference questions could include:

  • What will define strategic success and stakeholder value?
  • What does strategic positioning look like?
  • What vital processes and transformations must we execute?
  • What vital resources must we acquire, leverage, nurture and protect?
  • What are the pivotal organizational structures, networks, relationships, jobs and talent pools where improvement or change will make the biggest impact?
  • How must our approaches to work, culture, engagement, and human resource management evolve?

Planning is an important task for preparing for the future. The work of the CHREATE shared by John Boudreau suggests that building a navigational system now to position your organization for getting to the future, is essential to not being lost in the fast waters of organizational change.

Jobs for the future

This blog was written by Deborah A. King, SPHR, SHRM-CSP, and RCC. Ms. King is the Founder of Evolution Management, Inc. and an Organization Development and Human Resources Consultant. Debbie and the EMI team are energized about transforming human performance through the evolution of workplace culture. Contact EMI for more information about how we can assist your organization with team development or other consulting project, or call us at 770.587.9032.