A poster designed several years ago by futurist, Jacob Morgan, is making its rounds in media circles. It compares how work experiences have changed for employees. Morgan listed characteristics of past work and those of future work. Many of them, on either side, are still part of current workplace cultures or have become part of the workplace for some time now.
The problem with this poster is it simplifies the workplace and makes workplace change look less complex than what it is. It could encourage some people to implement them without any consideration as to how it will be for the workplace, the employer or the employee.
For example, the past side establishes the workplace setting in a corporate office and workplace hours as 9-5 and Morgan suggests the future is work anytime or any place. Those characteristics from either side may not describe all workplaces. Some may work in a factory. Some may work in a hospital. The past hours listed of 9-5 may not be their work hours. On the future side, the setting and hours are even broader with any place and any time which may sound great but, again, may not suitable for all workplaces. In addition, does that mean a boss can call employees on a beach during their vacation or in the middle of the night if that employee does work during the day? Or could it mean horrible working conditions and the working any time may only be some times that may not help pay the bills.
On his website, Morgan does provide a little more information as to what “work anytime” or “any place” means. What he describes is flex time and telecommuting, which some workplaces have already been doing, but he doesn’t mention the workplaces, such as an auto plant, that may be unable to do that which makes his idea of the future workplace somewhat limited. Also, when it comes to flex time in some workplaces managers and workers have agreed on placing parameters around hours to be flexed to be fair to workers and also help customers with their needs.
Morgan also identified “Use Any Device” on his future list. Once again this sounds great that personal devices can be used but it also raises some serious workplace concerns which are identified on a web page of Society of Human Resource Management. On the page, concerns such as privacy, proprietary issues and other legal problems are listed for both the employer and employee. Plus, is it really the employees’ responsibility to provide the type of technology the workplace requires? What if a workplace strongly encourages employees to purchase or lease a specific smart phone that may be unaffordable especially for an employee who may be starting out with few financial resources?
The comparison list of the old and new workplace may appear to be nice and maybe somewhat exciting when the future is addressed but it’s important to understand it’s not the features alone that make a great workplace. It’s more about workplace values that benefit both employers and employees. Once those have been established and demonstrated by both, then those workplace features suggested by Morgan can be tackled and that takes trust, respect, and mutual understanding which occur because of those values have been demonstrated.
Each workplace may have its own set of values based on what it’s about, the employer, the employees and some other things but generally there are five values that help most workplaces. They are employee involvement, employee investment, flexibility, customer focused quality and supporting and empowering leadership.
Those kind of values lay foundation to develop Create Your Own Ladder, Customize Work, Become a Leader and other future workplace features listed because they become part of the culture. Maybe Create Your Own Ladder is more about being a leader on a specific project which leads to other projects instead of being CEO. Customize Work is allowing teams of workers to look at workplace systems and possibly redesigning those systems. But before those or any other workplace characteristic can happen, the environment has to allow it and that’s where it takes time for employers and employees to create. It’s much easier to look at a poster and say “I want that” but it probably won’t create a great workplace.
It’s not to say the features Jacob Morgan developed are wrong. It’s just about putting things in place first that will enable those features to work better.
Also, those items of the past workplace, they still may be needed, too, and some good workplaces still follow them. A great workplace can require employees use company equipment instead of personal equipment because of the reasons above. Climbing the corporate ladder isn’t a bad thing because it provides opportunity. Some people may start at the bottom and realize later they are interested in moving up.
Workplace amenities and practices such as those on the future list may sound nice but they can also be superficial in comparison to an organization that demonstrates a strong culture of supporting its employees. One workplace that’s been cited for modern amenities and practices is Google. Cafeterias, game rooms, and dry cleaning and other services to help employees are just some of the things provided. But even with all of those, employees have concerns and have staged walk-outs over harassment and other issues. Others fear reprisals if they’re recognized for speaking out against the tech company. They believe more protests will happen until the organization displays better treatment to employees.
So creating the workplace of the future is a little more than literally using ideas off a poster. It’s not as simple as implementing those features to create the workplace of the future. It’s more about employers and employees working together to developing a climate where people are respected, feel valued and are important to each other and the workplace. That may take longer than picking those things off a poster to implement but much more will be gained from it. After that, everybody can look at both sides of the poster and determine what’s best for the workplace, or, what’s more exciting is identifying a the workplace’s own list of future features!