3 Trends That Are Changing The Way We Work Today

Does your boss let you have flexible time, focus on results instead of hours, and encourage collaboration? No? Then your workplace is ready for a change.

Businesses have talked about becoming more flexible in their work culture, open in their leadership, and collaborative among teams for practically as long as the Internet has existed (and probably longer than that).

But with the rise of mobile technologies and the shedding of 9 to 5 norms, instead of paying lip service to these ideas, corporate cultures are now finally being forced to adapt or face losing their competitive edge with both customers and employee recruits.

At an event held at Microsoft’s Technology Center in New York City, experts in work culture gathered to talk about these changes. "We’re seeing huge experiments now in major companies," says Adam Pisoni, co-founder of the office social networking site Yammer, which Microsoft acquired in 2012. "For years, there’s been increased tension between the old and new ways of working without translating into action. Thirty to 40-year-old ideas are now coming to fruition."

Truly Flexible Workspaces

An organization with 1,500 people used to build an office for 1,500 people, with 1,500 desks. Now, employers can get away with less, but they need to think differently as workers adopt different work schedules, and stay at home and travel more. Even when in the building, they may want to move around, rather than being chained to a dusty cubicle. This kind of "out of the box" office design thinking used to apply mostly to tech companies, but now it’s all companies. Take Delphi, an automotive parts supplier with 126 sites worldwide that is piloting flexible work spaces. "We’re trying to be more flexible to improve from a retention and burnout standpoint. We want to integrate tools and workspaces into people’s lives," says IT vice president Andrea Siudara. "It’s more about results than it is about desktime."

The physical space is still crucial to productive work but it needs to become more adaptable, says Ryan Anderson, director of future technologies for Herman Miller. He says Herman Miller is creating a new taxonomy in the way it designs furniture, recognizing that people want their physical setting to match their style of work. "We’re moving beyond work function to work modes," says Anderson. "When someone says, ‘we need to collaborate,’ that could mean 20 different things ... we need a new vernacular."

No More 40-Hour Weeks

Companies are becoming more and more driven by outcomes. "It’s not about what did you do for 40 to 48 hours this week, it’s about results," says Alan Lepofsky, collaboration software analyst with Constellation Research. "The concept of a consistent 40-hour work week doesn’t for anyone anymore." Trust is the new currency. "For your boss to say, I don’t need to see your punch card anymore, that’s a really big change."

A Flatter, More Collaborative Hierarchy

Office social networks have made it easier for CEOs and executives to seek feedback from employees and for teams to collaborate from far away. "Front-line team members are now talking directly to the senior VP," says Grace Chanpong, communications and technology manager for Jamba Juice. "These are new waters for people to navigate."

On the other hand, there are challenges in getting people to participate and making them comfortable. Jamba Juice is offering one-on-one coaching to some staff. It’s particularly hard for middle managers, says Charlene Li, founder of the Altimeter Group and author of the bestseller Open Leadership. They are used to being "gatekeepers." "Instead of being gatekeepers, they need to become facilitators," she says.

Li also notes it’s a mistake when some offices try to shut down non-work-related interactions online. She says that serves a useful purpose of allowing intimacy and friendships to form, even remotely, which will in turn encourage people to share their knowledge with coworkers who they don’t work with directly. "People don’t share because they like a project or brand ... they share to help people who they want to see succeed."

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  • Denise DiNorscia Williams

    I have been shackled to desks in cubes for the first 15 years of my career. I then joined the ranks of the remote worker, setting schedules and client business appropriately and productively, generating good outcomes with less stress and minimal overhead (a.k.a micro-management). I like the notion of being driven by outcomes versus punching the clock. Satisfaction on the job seems to be few and far between. The greater issue is leadership and willingness to train, mentor, coach employees to produce better outcomes.

  • The recent surge in the number of people going freelance is a direct reflection of the desire for a more flexible work/life balance. The problem with 'flexible working' within a company is that you feel like you never go home. You are always 'on call'. The difference as a freelancer is that you are your own boss.

    Millennials are demanding more from their work week than their parent's generation. They want to make an impact but maintain their freedom. Technology allows them to do this. Today's graduates have been brought up online: they shop online, date online, organize and publicize their social lives online. To work online and remotely is second nature to them, which is why freelancing is not just an attractive option, it's a logical one too.

    If employers want to entice the next generation of talent they have to start thinking about how they can offer them the flexibility, freedom, creativity and autonomy the freelance lifestyle supports.


  • jcrocks2008

    This doesn't address that because of technology, the 40 hour work week has become the never-stop-working week. I am expected to be reached by cell phone and by email no matter what the day of the week or time of day. It's exhausting and the idea of personal time seems non-existent. I just told my boss, "Sorry, I'm going on vacation in Maine. We're camping and I won't have Internet or cell reception until I come back." I think that I may not have a job to come back to.

  • I'm finding myself planning more vacations outside of the US just so that my phone doesn't work. It seems that even when on vacation -- if my phone has a signal -- I'm still working. Fortunately, getting out of the US from Austin isn't all that tough.

  • Having more flexible work policies is a start but it will really take political will from the top. Many companies offer flex options to employees but if the work and management culture is still about putting in the desktime, employees may steer clear of using those policies in the best way. Andrew M. Jones talks about these challenges and more in his book, THE FIFTH AGE OF WORK.

    There are also tons of opportunities in redesigning the physical spaces of offices. I'm not talking the either-or debate of open plan vs. offices, but more a balanced approach that you see with concepts like corporate coworking. In fact, companies can learn a lot from the freelance/indie world of coworking: the collaboration, creativity, autonomy.

  • This article, and most all similar to it, fail to address the most substantial barrier to workplace flexibility: The fossilized Fair Labor Standards Act of 1932. This dinosaur remains the law of the land and the the Department of Labor is preparing to promulgate rules designed to DISCOURAGE flexibility by making the duty rules and salary level for exempt status even more stringent and costly.

  • A major part of the problem deals with the age difference between the employer and the employee. Employers are often caught in the "I was taught to do it this way; therefore, this is the way we will do it". The generation gap is now being forced to come closer together. Traditionally, it has always been "if you aren't at our desk you aren't working". We now know this is not the case, but again, the older generation must accept the new facts. The 40 hour work week is dead...long live the 40 hour work week! Today, all of us have the physical capability to work anytime, anyplace. I was just in Spain and was able to work each day without difficulty. Between my cell phone and my iPad, I was able to communicate by either email or phone without missing a beat.