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Summary:

The latest edition in a series of articles from the BBC on the future of work features thinking from Gartner. The company predicts that a less routine, more spontaneous way of working will emerge, freeing workers from the confines of the office and standardized processes.

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If asked to picture work in the 20th century, many minds would probably leap to guys in greasy overalls churning out automobiles on an assembly line or even rows of secretaries typing away in a Mad Men-style office. Everyone knows that things have moved on since those days, but what does your brain conjure if you’re asked to picture work in the 21st century?

It’s a question the BBC has been asking experts throughout the month, turning to Tom Austin, vice president at research firm Gartner for their latest article looking into the future of work. We’re only just getting started with this century, but already the tech revolution has radically altered how many of us earn our livings, and bigger changes may yet be on their way. So when the BBC asked Austin what he imagines for the future of work, he outlined systems and tendencies far different from those that prevailed for much of the last hundred years.

Some aspects of Gartner’s vision will be familiar to regular GigaOM readers, including a shifting of focus from work as a place to work as an activity we can do almost anywhere. “The workplace is becoming increasingly virtual: with meetings occurring across time zones and between organizations,” Austin tells the BBC. Nor is his prediction of a highly connected future exactly a bolt from the blue. “Hyper-connectedness will lead to more work crossing company boundaries in both formal and informal relationships,” he says. But some of his predictions are surprising and thought-provoking. These includes:

De-routinization of work. The core value that people add does not lie in processes that can be automated. It lies in the non-routine, uniquely human, analytical or interactive contributions that people make, which often relate to discovery, innovation, teaming, leading, selling and learning.

Sketch-ups. Most non-routine processes will also be highly informal. It’s important to try to capture the criteria used in making decisions but, at least for now, Gartner does not expect most non-routine processes to follow meaningful standard patterns, and the process models will remain simple sketch-ups created as needed.

Spontaneous work. Spontaneity will trump reactivity. This implies growth in proactive work, such as seeking out new opportunities and creating new designs and models.

Check out the complete article for full details on all ten of Austin’s predictions. In the industrial age the obvious metaphor for human workers was parts in a machine, as factory workers and office workers engaged in routine tasks creating standardized products at a fixed place and time and as part of a larger process. Like some futurists, Austin foresees a new way of working that seems far more human as business runs not on an arbitrary schedule according to pre-fab rules but instead is governed by the inspiration and unsteady pace of creativity and relies on human relationships rather than bureaucratic systems to get things done.

Does the future of work outlined by Austin seem plausible to you?

Image courtesy of Flickr user krupp.

  1. Same ideas expressed over 50 years ago when I was a child. Less work and more leisure time etc. Never happened!

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  2. This is great, our whole philosophy is Work Less and Play More! We like to try to blur the lines of work and play! We also did a post with some tips to improve your work environment if interested would love some comments: http://damangmedia.com/work-less-and-play-more-10-tips/

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  3. Gabriel Gonzalez Friday, February 17, 2012

    Hi Isaac and Matt, I don’t think this article is about less work and more play, but more about the change in nature of work due to technological advances. We no longer have to be tied to one place and one desk strictly working 9-5. Thanks to improvements in communications, mobile technology and working environments, people can work on the move, flexible hours. They can even work with international teams etc. People can fit in their personal home life with their work life, with neither of them suffering.

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  4. Totally agree with Gabriel. If anything, we’re working more, not less. But the nature of our work and value are continually shifting.

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  5. All great observations, but this is not future. This is my work experience now as a product manager in high tech, and has been for 10 years. Social media tools, mobility, agile development processes, pace of change in tech, distributed and dynamic workforce…these are realities in my world. It works well for developing and managing apps and sites and info tech tools, but I do wonder if it applies to all work disciplines, industries, and product types.

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