Here are two vignettes for work and life in 2020 – both of which have emerged from the discussion this week of that increasingly wise crowd in the Future of Work research consortium. So here they are:
Scenario 1 – you live in the midst of a large city in a small apartment which is also a working space – fitted it out with all the latest connectivity gadgets. Twice a week at 9.00 in the morning you pick up the work that a project team in Singapore have been working on during their day- and at 5.00 that afternoon you shoot off your work to others across California who will pick it up. And with the latest gadgets you are able to exchange a few words through your personal hologram so you feel sort of connected.
You are feeling great. But there is one small niggle. You work with about five different companies at any one time – either you agree a flat rate or they pay by the hour. Your virtual agent avatar brings the work to you and advertises you out there –so you are never stuck for work. So here is the niggle. You’ve never actually met anyone from these five companies. Sure they have full time employees – but not many – and you are not one of them. Your virtual agent is continuously scanning opportunities for you and comparing the price per hour – so it (it is an ‘it’ by the way – not a person) rather than you does the negotiation and then hands over to you to roam the internet for other opportunities. Sure the work is well paid and some times it’s interesting as well. But you are not engaged or committed in any sense of the word with any one of these companies.
Yours is an independent, autonomous, fragmented life. You live in the city to be near your mates who are people with the same interests as you. Yours is the life of the urban tribe member – connected to tasks – but disconnected from the companies you serve.
Scenario 2 – same city, same apartment, and actually pretty much the same work. The difference is that you work full time for a large corporation. You have worked there since you finished college. At the age of 16 the company had approached you to serve as an apprentice with them and agreed to pay your college fees in exchange for the commitment that you would work for them for at least ten years when you graduated. Once you graduated they made a loan to you to make a deposit on the apartment you now live in which is owned by the corporation. Around you in the same apartment block are many other employees from the same firm and many of you spend time at the company social centre. One of the reasons you will stay in the company is because it runs its own schools and hospitals and the standards are excellent.
You are feeling great. But there is one small niggle. You’ve only ever worked for this company all your life and other companies tend not to recruit from it – the view is that your skills and knowledge are too specialised. Plus there are times when you feel overwhelmed by our work colleagues – it seems it's impossible to get away from them.
Yours is a dependent, integrated life. It’s the life of the corporate tribe member – connected 24/7 to the company – but somehow disconnected from the community of which you are a member.
What’s interesting about these scenarios is that corporate life could go either way. Some companies in the future may well decide to build whole infrastructures either independently or in clusters with other companies – to provide a total life and work experience for their most talented employees. Others will decide to buy talent from the spot market when and how they need it.
Both are possible –which would you prefer? Would you prefer a world of free agents operating autonomously or would you prefer to be cocooned in the life of the corporation?