Blog Post

The “Human Cloud” and the Future of Work

One thing we write about a lot at GigaOM — and particularly on our Web Worker Daily collaboration blog — is the future of work. It’s not just about the tools like Skype and Jive Software and Yammer and Rypple that try to make personal interaction easier online, although it is partly about that. It’s also about how working in new and different ways changes our lives, for better and for worse, and how the entire nature of what we call work is evolving and blurring online.

The biggest change, for both workers and companies, is a move toward what we call “the human cloud.” In the same way that high-speed Internet access disrupted the corporate IT market, creating a “cloud” of web-enabled infrastructure, the human cloud is shorthand for how the web has disrupted the way we work. Companies rely on dispersed teams to get the best talent available regardless of location (or price) and many are using crowdsourcing and other innovative means to achieve their goals.

Meanwhile, many people who work in this new cloud have lives that look nothing like they would have even10 years ago: they may have contracts with a variety of clients, outsource themselves and their skills through a third-party service like Elance or ODesk or collaborate with coworkers in opposing time zones. The companies they work for, and with, may not even know what they look like, or where they live. This is the reality of the human cloud and it is changing us (and the companies we work for) in ways we may not fully realize yet.

At GigaOM, we believe that this is such a fascinating and ultimately important topic that we aren’t just writing about it, we’re devoting an entire conference to the subject: Net:Work, on Dec. 9 at the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco (and you can register here). We’ve got some great speakers lined up, including two giants in the field of technology and human behavior: author and consultant John Hagel and John Seely Brown, former director of Xerox PARC, the research center that gave us things like the graphical UI for PCs and the mouse (the full list is here).

If you want to read more about these changes and their implications, and the tools and companies that are making them a reality, you can find some of our recent coverage, as well as recent stories on co-working, the impact of collaboration on businesses and some great analysis from Web Worker Daily editor Simon Mackie in a recent GigaOM Pro report (subscription required) entitled “Opportunities Abound as the Rules of Work are Broken.” Stay tuned to Web Worker Daily and GigaOM, because we will be posting more updates about who will be speaking at Net:Work and the trends we’ll be following. And come to Net:Work to find out how the future of work will affect you and your company.

Image courtesy of Flickr user kevindooley

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22 Responses to “The “Human Cloud” and the Future of Work”

  1. The human cloud helps both companies and the people who prefer to work anywhere. For companies, they can be able optimize their resources and focus only on the cores. While the workers can enjoy freedom while in work.

  2. I think the human cloud is the romantic version of the reality which will see us becomes ‘moths around the light’- yes we are free to fly around but we will be attracted to the lights of the city where all the other moths are. All the activity and network and commercial opportunities will be around the cities so we will fly around this space rather than disperse among the clouds (where there won’t be much in terms of opportunity.)

  3. Lots of people have been skeptical about the Cloud asking, “Will it take place, and if it does, will it only support a few people within the business?” This is similar to the discussion back in the eighties, when the PC started to emerge. Many people said it would never get a role in business!
    The Cloud will change IT forever and it will change how we work. The term and working practice of “IT” has gone. It is no longer about technology, but the flexibility and agility we now will have to access data, applications and other people, regardless where they are, what they do and who they work for.
    It will fundamentally change the way we work. An example, many companies still block Cloud applications like YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Blogging, Facebook etc, regardless that these Cloud applications provide strong value to the employees doing their work. The future will be a mix between work, education and private life and a total mix of Cloud applications to support that.
    Please find my latest blog on the future on how Cloud will look within business here:

  4. Wait until we have the cloud project management tools to control worker resourcing, and management subsequently gets ripped to shreds through automation. Right now we tend to look at the commoditization of less valuable or portable tasks, but the future is about placing value within the entire project or product lifecycle.

    Your role better had value, or you’re going to be looking for a new gig.

    • The value that management will continue to add is goal/strategy development and relationship management. Somebody will always need to tell the “machine” what to do, where to go, and how to get there. In fact, this skill we be more in demand (higher caliber). Wouldn’t trade in the MBA just yet…

  5. The Human Cloud is gaseous, damp, and more difficult to nail to a wall than jello. The new human worker will live in the cloud. The old human workers will live on the ground and mine raw materials for the cloud dwellers. That is until Kirk and Spock arrive and set things straight.