What Will the Future of Work Look Like?

As a self-proclaimed workplace futurist I get asked all the time “What will the future of work really look like?” And it’s an appropriate question to contemplate at the end of the year, which is always filled with both looking back and looking forward.

But rather than pretend that I can tell you anything definitive about the future of work, instead I  want to offer some observations about why predictions of any kind are difficult, and could even be dangerous.

Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

At home my wife and I have a “simplistic” refrigerator magnet that keeps us on our toes:

Think about it; each of us creates the future one moment at a time, one day at a time, every day.

The future unfolds as a global group exercise in decision-making, learning, and responding to other people and external events. Each day and every event comes into being as a complex combination of natural occurrences, millions of
individual choices, and secondary responses to
what has just happened.

Of course there are many recurring patterns and experiences that we can anticipate reasonably well even 10 or 20 years in advance. The American humorist Mark Twain reportedly once said “History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” Read more

Defining a New Vision and Role for Facilities Management

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to a large group of facilities professionals at the June luncheon meeting of the Houston Chapter of IFMA (International Facilities Management Association).

My topic was “Raising the Bar: Enhancing the Strategic Role of Facilities Management.” That’s the title of a research project that Paul Carder and I led in 2o12 for RICS (The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors). We did the research in our respective roles as Managing Director (Paul) and Global Research Director (me) of Occupiers Journal Limited, the publisher of Work & Place .

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Sodexo Workplace Trends 2013 Report Due out January 24

Be on the lookout for Sodexo’s annual report on workplace trends; it’s due out this Thursday, January 24.

An online summary of the report identifying its 12 key trends for 2013 is already available online at this link:

And from there you will be able to access the full report once it’s published.

I am pleased to tell you that Trend 8 was prepared by yours truly and Paul Carder, my colleague and fellow director/co-founder at Occupiers Journal Limited. [continue reading...]

Becoming Strategic

James Ware, PhD

This is the third installment of a series of observations about how an organization’s operational capability impacts business performance. In Part One (at this link) we explored the basic concept of strategy and suggested that operational capability is an absolutely essential component of business strategy.

Then in Part Two (at this link) we expanded on that idea and offered a history lesson showing how information technology exploded out of the “back room” a decade ago to become a strategic resource.

Here in Part Three we personalize these ideas, and suggest how senior facilities and corporate real estate professionals can/should “make the case” to the business that they too deserve a seat at the table.

Can a facilities strategy and operational capability impact a business strategy? Clearly, we think so, and so do the most experienced facilities professionals we know.

Just for starters, consider this: rethinking and redesigning your workplace strategy—including flexible workplaces and flexible work arrangements—can produce an ROI of more than 40 percent, and double profit margins in many businesses. We’ve seen it happen many times, and we even suggested a few years ago that CEO’s who aren’t implementing flexible work programs and reducing their real estate footprint should be called on the carpet by their shareholders (“What are You Waiting For?” – July/August 2009).

But we also know that making facilities strategic isn’t just a matter of cutting costs. We’ve also pointed out that there are at least five additional ways that effective management of facilities operations can enhance workforce and business performance:

  1. Increase workforce productivity;
  2. Help to attract and retain talent;
  3. Increase organizational agility;
  4. Reduce the business risk of disruption; and
  5. Reduce traffic congestion, air pollution, and environmental impact more generally.

We’ll expand on each of these strategic impacts just briefly; we’ve written much more extensively about them elsewhere (for example, see “How Come Distributed Work is Still the Next Big Thing?” Work Design Collaborative, 2006).

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Is “Operational Strategy” an Oxymoron? (Part Two)

Jim Ware

This is the second installment in a series of observations about how an organization’s operational capability impacts business performance. In Part One (at this link) we explored the basic concept of strategy and suggested that operational capability is an absolutely essential component of business strategy.

Here in Part Two we expand on that idea and offer a history lesson showing how information technology exploded out of the “back room” to become a strategic resource in almost all commercial and public-sector organizations by the beginning of the 21st century.

[An “Oxymoron” (from the Greek ὀξύμωρον, “sharp dull”) is of course a figure of speech that is self-contradictory. Common examples include “jumbo shrimp,” “living dead,” and “open secret.”]

Last month (at this link) we cited Professor Michael Porter of Harvard University, a widely recognized expert on business strategy, to highlight what makes a business activity or resource strategic. Based on his analysis we suggested that there are nine different ways that an operational activity can affect business performance. However, for now let’s just focus on the six most important factors:


(inspired by Porter’s seminal article in Harvard Business Review, “What is Strategy?”)

Strategic business success is measured in many different ways: market share; customer satisfaction; revenue and profit growth; employee attraction and retention; and public, or brand, reputation. Note that none of the six factors shown above is inherently strategic; it is only when a factor is central to a particular business strategy that achieving it makes a specific function strategic in its business impact.

To understand how these factors can affect a functional area, recall how the IT function (and technology itself) exploded out of the back room and landed in the board room between about 1975 and 2000. Let’s consider how IT impacted just three of these factors, and how those changes dragged senior IT executives into the executive suite.

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Is “Operational Strategy” an Oxymoron?

By Jim Ware (with assistance from Paul Carder of Occupiers Journal Limited)

[Oxymoron (from the Greek ὀξύμωρον, “sharp dull”): a figure of speech that is self-contradictory. Common examples include “jumbo shrimp,” “living dead,” and “open secret.”]

(This is Part One of a two– three-part series on how facilities design and management affects business success.)

In my role as Global Research Director for Occupiers Journal Limited I am currently in the early stages of leading a research project focused on how large organizations structure and govern their facilities management activities.

We are exploring the current management practices, organizational structures, and performance metrics being used to ensure that workplaces and other facilities are meeting the needs of their occupants (for more detail about the project, see the overview of the GRID program on the Occupiers Journal Limited website, or send me a direct inquiry).

The study has given me an opportunity to explore the role that facilities management, or “FM,” plays in a broad range of organizations across several different industry sectors. To date the participants have all been U.S.-based companies, although most of them have global operations.

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The Future of . . . (April 2012)

This is a monthly newsletter feature:  a  collection of recent stories and news articles that have appeared elsewhere; this is our way of helping you stay on top of developments in the worlds of technology, workplace and facilities design, the workforce, and work design – any and all of which will likely affect the future of work, often in ways we can’t begin to imagine.

How Leaders Kill Meaning at Work

This article, from McKinsey Quarterly, describes how many organizational leaders engage in four specific destructive behaviors that kill their subordinates’ creativity, productivity, and commitment to helping their employers succeed.

Authors Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer are convinced that the single most important thing that leaders and managers can do to foster employee engagement is to create opportunities for meaningful work—to help employees understand how their personal activities can make a difference for customers, for the company, and for society at large.

It’s an important concept, and the article is a good summary of the authors’ research.

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The Power and Potential of Peripheral Vision

This is a reprint of our “Compass” article from the October issue of Future of Work Agenda, our free monthly newsletter. You can also read the article within the newsletter, at this link, or download a .pdf version, at this link.

Pay Attention! To What?

by Jim Ware and Charlie Grantham

“Predictions are really difficult, especially about the future”—Yogi Berra.

How many times have you heard the term “uncertainty” in the last year? We preach  about the importance of corporate agility precisely because the future is so uncertain, and virtually unpredictable.

Just think about how many “experts,” pundits, and industry analysts didn’t foresee the economic implosion of 2008 or the failures of “rock-solid” firms like Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and General Motors (among many others).

We’ve all heard about the importance of having an explicit business strategy and an aligned, engaged organization fully capable of implementing your vision, but what good are well-defined goals when you are (metaphorically speaking), in a windowless car hurtling through a dark night with no compass, no x-ray vision, and no sense of the outside geography? It’s way too easy these days to be blind-sided by completely unexpected events or unknown competitors.

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Concentrating on Concentration

By Charlie Grantham and Jim Ware

Here we are at the start of a New Year and everyone including “No Drama Obama” is saying it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Now that we’ve gotten right with our expectation state, what do we do? For the past three months people have been asking – no, begging – us to give them some hope. To let them know what they can do in the face of disaster.

But hope is truly an audacious idea when people sitting right in front of us are getting Blackberry messages that their company has just gone into Chapter 11. Last month we published an article on taking control of your personal destiny by doing things as simple as writing out a one-page business plan (“Compass: Taking Charge of Tomorrow”).

This month we want talk about what companies must do today to prepare for the future – and why it seems to be so difficult. Because, quite bluntly, if you don’t anticipate the future, your Blackberry is going to buzz too. We can all whine on and on about why we are where we are, how we got here, and who didn’t do what, but that doesn’t do much to foster survival.

Let’s face it, the United States’ (if not the whole world’s) economy is currently about 30% over capacity, over-priced, and over-extended. We have more than we can digest – and that goes all the way from calories in our food to big office buildings that are (or soon will be) vacant. It’s time to “cowboy up” (see the Urban Dictionary for an explanation of that term – it’s slang for “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get to work” – an idea we enjoyed hearing in President Obama’s Inaugural Address).

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