The Future Workplace

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Very interesting podcast on the Future of Work from PRI as a follow up to a recent Time Magazine cover story exploring among other things, generational shifts in the needs and demands of labor.

Apparently Alvin Toffler was on the right track as far back as 1971 when in Future Shock he predicted a future workplace not of bureaucracies, but ad-hocracies. Of loose, impermanent associations between highly specialized individual contributors.

When I first read the book, I remember assuming that it would be the corporations that would lead the evolution toward increasingly complex, specialized networks of human resources. It seemed such an efficient, attractive prospect to the managerial mind. I don’t remember imagining that labor would be the catalyst for dissolving hierarchical institutions into interconnected resource networks. What would be in it for them? No retirement, no paid vacation, no management training, no career path.

But it turns out to be the preferred avenue for labor exchange among the young. Gen Ys are less interested in perks like health care and paid vacation and less interested in the long-term security of corporate ladder climbing – all the things corporate bureaucracies have traditionally provided. Looks like tomorrow’s work force will be negotiating mostly for increased flexibility, which smart employers will learn to use to their advantage.

Of course, a networked labor force only works if each individual contributor is strongly accountable. The good news is, lack of accountability has no place to hide in a management-labor relationship that is entirely pure. No perks. Just work.

That we can look forward to a more entrepreneurial workforce willing to take on more risk in ad-hoc relationships with employers is good. That we can look forward to a workforce who assumes personal responsibility by paying for their own health care, vacations and retirement is good. And that, by it’s very nature, this evolved workforce is more accountable – marvelous!

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