The Future of Work Means Rewiring Your Company

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It isn’t just the nature of work that is changing thanks to the web and a generation of increasingly mobile and inter-connected workers, says John Hagel of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge — it’s the entire way in which many companies operate. Hagel, who is co-chairman of the center along with former Xerox PARC director John Seely Brown, says businesses of all kinds are coming under increasing pressure to increase their performance and become more competitive, and one of the ways to do that is by embracing the kind of change they see all around them.

I’ll be talking with Hagel and Seely Brown about these and other aspects of the changing nature of work and what we call the “human cloud” next week, at GigaOM’s Net:Work conference — at the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco on Dec. 9  — along with a host of other great speakers. You can register here.

Hagel said the two factors increasing pressure on companies to be more competitive are “the deployment of digital technology infrastructure” — such as cloud computing, mobile, social software and so on — and economic liberalization, which has lowered barriers to entry in many countries around the world. The combination of these two things, he says, “have made it easier to enter new markets and move within markets, and that tends to intensify competition.” If they aren’t continually improving their overall performance, he said, companies run the risk of being marginalized and possibly even going out of business completely.

So how do companies increase their performance? Hagel said that the most effective way to do it is to improve the skills and efficiency of the employees within your company, using the same digital collaboration tools and services that are transforming many of our lives. Increasingly, however, doing this requires companies to rewire the way they operate internally, he says. “On a fundamental level, they have to rethink their entire work environment and start thinking about how they can make it as rich an environment as possible in terms of skill development, and how they can connect the people within their company with each other, and also with others outside the company.”

The problem, says Hagel, is that many companies are not configured to do this, because it requires experimentation and risk-taking and in many cases failure — and most companies value things like predictability too much to be comfortable with that kind of approach.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Louis

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