We all work, and we all realize that technology and the Internet are changing the way we work. Work is no longer something we go to from 9 to 5. Work is all around and over us! The distinction between work and leisure, or work and family life, is also blurring. As the pace of business has increased, so have the demands on us in the workplace. The combination of email, cellphone, voice mail, PDAs and the global marketplace is ensuring that work has become a continuum. We no longer “go to work” at specific locations and times, but do work all the time and wherever we are, and fit the rest of our lives around work.
Aryae Coopersmith writes about some of the trends impacting work in the San Jose Mercury News:
- Talent has replaced capital and natural resources as the primary source of wealth
- Technical workers have become the athletes in a global free-agent job economy
- Globalisation has created a growing army of nomads and expats and a multicultural workforce.
- The gap between the number of new workers with the most critical, and highly paid, skills and the number needed by high tech companies is still growing
- The stock option gold rush has created major economic and social discontinuities
- Housing prices, and the difficulties in getting workers to live here [Silicon Valley], have accelerated the trend toward a distributed, virtual workplace
Perhaps, the single biggest challenge in the workplace today is how to be more effective with email. Writes Louise Kahn in the Financial Times on email overload:
Office workers now receive an average of 30 e-mails a day and spend about two hours reading, forwarding and replying to them, according to a research report published last year by David Ferris of Ferris Research in San Francisco. “On average, people spend more than five minutes to process each message. Do the math. By 2002, corporate staff will use over four hours each day just on e-mail,” Mr Ferris says.
While on one hand email has perhaps been a great productivity enhancer in terms of interactions with co-workers, it has also increased the information that makes our way, since it is so easy to be cc-ed on various emails. Also, unlike post which would arrive once a day, email comes round-the-clock, and demands a near-instantaneous response. wireless devices like Research In Motion’s Blackberry are filling in to minimise “dead time” – when one is not connected to the network.
While the future for email management may belong to Jeeves-like digital butlers, the immediate solution is to make better use of filters and other email management tools available in programs like Outlook Express.
In today’s networked global village, the need for senior management to travel has also become greater, not less. Competition is global and so is the market. The driver in this is the need to be closer to customers, and for many businesses, customers are everywhere. This also means keeping up-to-date with information from many different sources, and being able to react faster to developments. What this implies is that we need to manage by exception, such that the more mundane, routine tasks can be automated. This is what is driving the huge growth in investments in business automation software which helps companies better manage relationships with customers and suppliers.
Hopefully, we will be able to use technology to better manage our time and work. An optimistic scenario of work in the future is presented by Michel Andrieu of International Futures Programme:
Increased prosperity brought about by progress in information technology will result in a major increase in leisure time, which in turn will translate into more fulfilling lives. Not only will individuals have more time out for themselves and more money to enjoy it with, but also work itself will become more rewarding. Indeed, for some workers the distinction between work and leisure will become blurred as they find they are able to work at what they enjoy doing. This is because “intelligent” machines and systems will do the dirty, dreary work, replacing manual labour and some of the more mundane intellectual work too. Decision support programmes will provide essential help for more complex intellectual work, allowing individuals to focus on the most satisfying tasks. In this vision of the future, work will increasingly become a means to satisfy higher order needs, part of one’s self-fulfillment. In other words, work could become a hobby for more and more people.
Tomorrow’s organisation may never sleep. The big question is, will that extend to its workers?!