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Three ways organisations are changing

Sensemaking / Three ways organisations are changing

Joy Green shares insights from Forum for the Future's project with Kyocera, exploring the future of work.

By Joy Green / 27 Sep 2016

The world of work is changing rapidly.

Recent work we have done in partnership with Kyocera has highlighted three areas in particular that stand out – and really interesting things are happening where they converge. We call these areas the ‘un’-organisation, the hybrid organisation and the intergenerational organisation.

The ‘un’-organisation is about the new forms of organisation emerging in an increasingly networked world where you can work from anywhere with an internet connection. Businesses can increasingly connect to talent rather than ‘owning’ it, and flatter organisational structures are emerging that enable quicker decision-making, more self-direction and faster innovation. Many companies are experimenting with reducing hierarchy or discarding it altogether, and the ‘gig economy’ is spreading into knowledge work. For example, the start-up Smarties offers access to a ‘virtual, scalable, on-demand workforce of hundreds of the smartest young people on the planet’.

The hybrid organisation is about the integration of autonomous systems and machine intelligence in the workplace, alongside humans. This sounds like something far-off, but algorithms are already being used to aid legal work, journalism, and recruitment and to expand human capability. Management processes in particular can now be codified and then run efficiently by machines, raising the prospect of the unexpected reversal of the human-machine relationship and the rise of the ‘robo-boss’ or even ‘self-driving companies’ run by autonomous systems which employ humans. Gartner has made the disconcerting prediction that more than 3 million people will be supervised by a ‘robo-boss’ by 2018.

The intergenerational organisation is about the simple fact that by 2020 it will be common to have as many as four or even five generations working alongside each other, each with different needs and expectations. Millennials’ values will come to dominate the business mainstream and the proportion of the workforce over 50 will soar to around a third in developed economies such as the UK, necessitating age-inclusive strategies at massive scale. Millennials are already reshaping the world of work in their image by driving growth in social enterprises, B-corps and Benefit corporations – and experimenting with new forms of corporate organisations such as The DAO, a leaderless, blockchain-based, decentralised organisation.

Each of these themes is fascinating in itself, but where they overlap, it is clear that there are significant opportunities and challenges, particularly from a sustainability angle. The convergence of distributed organisation models with a globalised knowledge sector, autonomous systems and radically different expectations of the world of work points to a rapidity of change that society and traditional institutions may find it hard to keep up with. A number of pressing questions emerged from our project workshops, namely:

  • How can we organise to adapt for change?
  • What does it mean to move to more fluid work patterns, for people, skills, and the technology to support them?
  • How can we keep humans at the centre – so that technology serves humans rather than vice versa – and helps us to be more human at work rather than more machine-like?

Over the next few weeks we will explore these themes and questions in more detail, and use prototype concepts to illuminate some of the possibilities for the organisations and workers of the near future.

Read more from the Future of Work series:

Part 2: 'The 'un' organisation'

Part 3: The Intergenerational Organisation

Final: The Hybrid Organisation

For more information, get in touch with Joy Green at

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

Just what I was thinking this afternoon! Is this realistic? - Gig wants to make it easier for millennials to pick up casual work in catering and hospitality - "As well as enabling you to find and book work through the app, Gig’s headline feature is that once a shift is completed, workers automatically get paid within 24 hours. “Millennials want instant gratification, they want and get it with travel (Uber), takeaway (Deliveroo) and retail (Amazon same day delivery), but they are yet to get it with work,” says Gig co-founder Antony Woodcock."
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interesting signal and very relevant! we'll look a bit closer at the gig economy in the piece in two weeks time. It will be interesting to see how Gig manages the power relationship between employers and employees
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I guess things like Task Rabbit come close to this 'instant gratification' for work? I remember Alisha's excellent blog on the downsides of the sharing economy, which is the first thing I think about when I hear of an example like Gig. I'd like to point to Momo Central as an example of the 'new-age intermediary', which serves the function of project design and management at the start of a web development engagement - diagnosing your needs and recommending an individual/ team from a network of qualified talents (i.e. freelancers) - and quality control in the delivery phase, ensuring customer service/ satisfaction. Probably biased as I know the founder and a lot of her clients. It'll be fascinating if we can do a series of interviews with a range of businesses trying to do the same thing across different sectors to see what different types of challenges they face - I expect it's much more intuitive to people who are working in the tech/ digital graphic design space.
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The gig economy is nothing new for us. We started our company specializing in business and project startup, restart and turnaround in 1984. From the very beginning it has been a virtual company without employees. In 1988 we acquired our first cell phones and laptop computers. From that point on we no longer had offices. We relied on working from home or at client sites. Unlike much of the current "gig" economy we do work on a project basis. If a team is required we staff teams with other independent professionals who work on a project basis. Each of our contractors have their individual corporations and are required to solicit other business. In this manner we can always provide a top-notch professional who is expert in the appropriate field. This allows our teams to hit the ground running and deliver quality, focused results with a minimum of time. As with any business model this approach has its pros and cons. In our mind the pros far outweigh the cons. By being able to use the appropriate professional for the clients needs we save our clients money and time. Since we are in dealing with independent professionals when we have not had active engagements we haven't had any overhead. The downside of this is that our first choice for a team member is not always available. But they are generally willing to help us find someone in their field who can be a first-rate performer. We have had only one case of the situation where we had trouble collecting from a client. This is in part because we insist on a 20% upfront payment and we understand the client's accounts payable systems. Our experience has been if you are a competent professional you will model you make very good money but you will be as busy as you wish to be. One issue that is good to have is that when you perform you can have a 45 day engagement that the client extends for 10 years. This has happened with multiple clients so is just not a one-off occurrence. Over the period of a long-term engagement you may frequently change the composition of the team depending on the client's needs. Again being able to draw on a very large pool of qualified personnel this means we can meet the client's needs with great flexibility.
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Sounds like you were ahead of your time! The application of the gig economy to knowledge work is a particularly interesting area at the moment which we will explore next week, and it'd be great to get your thoughts on it - particularly the new models that are starting to emerge
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