Office workers of the mid-20th century would not recognize how we work today. They banged out documents in triplicate using manual typewriters and carbon paper. They had to wait for a live operator to connect their phone calls manually. Their hours were fixed and non-negotiable. How could they have imagined word processors, printers, and powerful hand-held computers delivering live video as a part of their daily lives?
Where we work has evolved in some unexpected directions as well, reflecting the transformation of who we are in the workplace. It began with factory workers moving off the factory floor to the “knowledge floor,” as knowledge work and services grew out of the first industrial age. We designed cubicle farms, with office workers lined up almost like production lines. Then, as collaboration became more important, we moved to open office environments with the aim of becoming better communicators. And now, we are entering the era of the borderless office, a flexible work space not constrained by geography or organizational structure. Virtual teams work together seamlessly all over the world, brought together by video and conferencing technology that is so ubiquitous we don’t even think about it. We have become a more diverse and inclusive workforce, and our workplace is reflects that, enabling greater collaboration and creativity. My own team stretches from the Bay Area to Dubai to Singapore, working together across the globe without a hitch.
As we continue to imagine the future, we see a blending of face-to-face and remote work, flowing together seamlessly. We see technology releasing the physical limitations of disabled workers, opening up a vast pool of talent and providing new opportunities for workers and employers alike. We see communications becoming more immersive and more mobile. And we see a fluid blending of human and artificial capabilities that enables the best of both, elevating every worker into a knowledge worker. Indeed, our workplace both reflects who we are, and enables who we will become.
What’s the next stage in workplace evolution?
This is just one of the questions we will be considering in our next Living Lab on the Future of Work. Share your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments below if you’d like to find out how you might join a cohort of elite companies for two days of rapid innovation to co-create the Future of Work.
Meanwhile, let’s follow our future worker Gail as she continues to struggle with a personal crisis of conscience…
Wondering where Gails journey began? Start here.
The Evolving worker:
Critical training and career development is a mix between digital and in person, focuses on the individual
Technology and the augmented worker:
Technology augmentation allows more people to enter the workforce, boosting employment and diversity of teams