Work patterns will change drastically over the next 10 years as the boundaries between personal and professional life continue to blur, activity becomes less routine and more ad hoc and collaboration across enterprise boundaries becomes the norm.
According to a report by Gartner entitled ‘Watchlist: Continuing Changes in the Nature of Work, 2010-2020’, organisations need to start planning now for how to deal with increasing moves from more structured, bureaucratic ways of working to ones characterised by less direct organisational control.
Tom Austin, a vice president and Gartner fellow, said: “Work will become less routine, characterised by increased volatility, hyperconnectedness, ‘swarming’ and more. By 2015, 40% or more of enterprise work will be ‘non-routine’, up from 25% in 2010.”
Non-routine skills consist of those business processes that cannot easily be automated such as information analysis, leadership, learning and selling. “For example, we cannot automate the process of selling a life insurance policy to a sceptical buyer, but we can use automation tools to augment the selling process,” Austin explained.
Most non-routine processes will be “highly informal” but are unlikely to be based on any standard meaningful patterns that can be understood at the moment as they will mostly be created on the fly.
An important example of such informal work patterns, meanwhile, is swarming. Swarming comprises “a flurry of collective activity by anyone and everyone conceivably available” across a range of time zones whether they work for the organisation or not, but who can add value to a given endeavour.
Swarms form quickly and spontaneously, tackle an ad hoc problem or opportunity and then dissipate just as swiftly when the task is complete. They may be either reactive or proactive in nature, seeking out new openings and creating new designs or models. Current examples of swarming include activities such as crowdsourcing.
Swarm members may know each other well, only a little or not at all but they will get together via personal, professional or social networks in order to solve business problems. Such ‘hyperconnected’ informal groups may be bound together by a common interest, fad or historical accident, but managers are likely only to be able to influence rather than control them.
“Hyperconnectedness will lead to a push for more work to occur in both formal and informal relationships across enterprise boundaries and that has implications for how people work,” said Austin.
One of the implications, particularly as organisations progressively adopt flexible and remote working practices, will be that “work will increasingly happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week”, he added.
This will result in the lines between personal, professional, social and family matters starting to disappear, which will require individuals to manage the complexity generated by overlapping demands.
“Those that cannot manage the underlying ‘expectation and interrupt overloads’ will suffer performance deficits as these overloads force individuals to operate in an over-stimulated (information overload) state, Austin said, which means that HR professionals will need to manage the situation.
But Gartner also expects to see a significant increase in the number of internal teams created to detect and evaluate emerging patterns of change in order to understand how various potentially disruptive scenarios might play out. Such teams will likewise be expected to advise senior executives on new ways of either exploiting or protecting the organisation from such change.