At the Net:Work 2011 Conference in San Francisco this week, speakers and panelists discussed their thoughts and insights into the changing landscape of work. The conference explored how our work environment and work patterns are evolving due to the advances in digital technology, what we can learn from the changes, and what are the new business models that emerge due to technological capabilities. Changes are already happening and affect individuals and companies. The way we work, play and learn has transformed with the use of laptops, smartphones, and tablets, connected over cloud computing and numerous communication technologies.
Today, many offices employ remote workers around the world, where location and global boundaries have become a lesser issue to produce work, collaborate, and get results. Advanced desktop capabilities, network and wireless communications, shareability of applications, enterprise social collaboration tools, and telepresence-type options are already here and have begun changing the work place as we knew it just a few years ago. Both companies and individuals benefit from these shifts, which help reduce operative costs, save on office space, reduce personnel expenses, improve efficiency, enhance and improve teamwork, and more. Today, there are sixteen million people in the US who work independently. Freelancers, consultants and other independent workers are expected to grow exponentially in the next decade, introducing an evolving reality of solo-type work models, requiring both employers and employees to adapt.
Nonetheless, these new frameworks of employment also present challenges. As the work culture changes, enterprise collaboration systems create a wealth of data and extracting business value from data streams require clever filtering, context-based evaluation, and various models of analytics. Workers are increasingly empowered to access and use the company’s social collaboration tools, which may present an overload. Furthermore, some internal groups or teams in the enterprise may create silos of knowledge, perhaps, resulting in a separate ‘company’ within the corporation. ‘Right balancing’ is key here to foster user exchange, protect proprietary ways-of-business, and maintain the Intellectual Property (IP) of the enterprise.
Web-based technologies are growing continuously and frequent evolution is expected. Internet browsers will have more options and workability, as well as improvements in operating systems. For example, Google Apps in the enterprise has evolved rapidly. Companies, user teams, various social and personal groups, and more have enthusiastically adopted Google Docs, while this app is still ascending.
Telepresence through robotics implementations present another option of collaborative work modes. These robots enable communication between remote locations, but also help reduce costs by enabling businesses to not only connect employees, but also minimize establishing full office presence in locations that do not require such operations. The robot can actually reduce the need for the physical presence of the attendees. Communication robots also help to easily bring specialized services. In case of staff training, the technological ability through the telepresence-robot will reduce training and traveling costs tremendously. For example, training all workers on safety and health standards won’t require flying employees into a central location to conduct sessions. The robots will also reduce the need to hire education specialists to provide training in the numerous company’s locations. Anybots Inc. of Mountain View, California has developed such teleconferencing robot. Anybots is a mobile communication company, providing a controlled telepresence for businesses through a ‘friendly’ avatar robot. To read more about Anybots, click on “Reshaping the organization: the future work environment“.
Another emerging trend is to develop toward and transform the business culture to approach customers similarly to how the consumer technology companies engage their markets. Several exhibitors demonstrated content management systems to support this modus operandi. In one of the sessions, Alfresco presented their open platform Content Management System (CMS) for the enterprise, which provides management of documents, records (business, legal, compliance, etc.), web content, publishing content, and collaboration capabilities – all utilizing open software application standards. Alfresco have customers in fifty-five countries, including Home Depot, Michelin, and the New York Philharmonic. SAP has recently announced the selection of Alfresco as their global standard in documentation and content management for the SAP Global IT team.
Another well-funded startup in this space is Box. Box provides a secure, scalable content-sharing platform for companies and individuals. Seventy seven percent of their users are from Fortune 500 companies. Their flexible content management solution helps workers access and share content, while providing visibility into the content/information flow throughout the organization. Box can be accessed anywhere, using desktops and mobile. The platform also enables entities outside the company to access and use permitted content. Box CEO and co-founder talked about his company’s principals in developing their software product: simplicity, easy of use, and meeting users’ needs. The software design was geared toward individuals and keeps ‘in mind’ how users actually work. Box focused on making their customers successful first (“delighted”, in the CEO’s words) by providing a customer centric business model. Here, customer adoption comes first and later the customer is charged for the usage. This way, Box was able to innovate on demand and built the software to address actual customer needs. Furthermore, the Box platform enhances supply-chain as well as partners relationships, and helps align customers and suppliers more effectively.
The truly mobile workforce of the future will use smartphones, crowdsourcing and even GPS (general positioning system), enabling independent and freelance workers to view, apply, and select projects (or gigs) in their geographical area. Some experts estimate that the number of independent American workers, unlike traditionally employed workers, will grow from sixteen million to over twenty million in a few years.
The concept of a resume is also changing. While traditional resumes are originated by the job-seeker, the idea is that instead of putting a resume together and updating it often, or instead of using newer job hunting platforms like social media (for example Linkedin), project or task performance will be rated on crowdsourcing sites and the ratings will be based on the employers’ evaluation. One of the project-based (or gigs) sites is gigwalk.com, which offers various jobs in pre-selected geographical area to independent consultants, freelancers, and other independent
work seekers, utilizing the concept of jobs on the go. Based on the contracted person’s performance on the task, the worker’s reputation builds up automatically. This can apply to a wide spectrum of gigs from generic to professional tasks that require specific skill-sets.
The conference brought together influential thinkers in technology and human resources, disruptive innovations, and analysts, representing large corporations to small startups.
Anybots – https://www.anybots.com/#front
Alfresco – http://www.alfresco.com/
Box – http://m.box.com/pc_site
Gigwalk – http://gigwalk.com/
GigaOm Net:Work 2011 Conference was held on December 8, 2012 at the Mission Bay Conference Center at UCSF.
Click here for Net:Work conference information and click on the collaboration live-video-coverage.