Because Sitrion focuses on the broad mission of making work better, we sometimes get asked to share our views on the future of work. The major themes I see going forward are that humans will need to focus on problems where the human brain has advantages and this will happen against a backdrop of ever-increasing pace of work (and life in general). If I take those assumptions, then it’s pretty clear to me what technology will need to do in order for this to be an enjoyable future. Here’s how it looks to me.
In 10-15 years, the distinction between work and personal life will be almost non-existent. Knowledge workers will add value by using their minds to create and make decisions that software cannot do as well (frequently because humans are part of the equation). This knowledge work will have greatest value when it is performed quickly. So the notion of an X-hour workday will be at odds with being competitive. Conversely, however, it will be critical to let people enjoy their lives and have a sense of control. This means that companies will likely compete based on their ability to simultaneously maximize human output and satisfaction.
Many individual workers lack the discipline to manage their output effectively. The always-on nature of work will make it easy to burn out, and the constant distractions of non-critical inputs will make it hard to stay focused on high-value work. On top of this, many forms of knowledge work will require effective collaboration. If everyone’s availability and focus is constantly in doubt, synchronous working (e.g. meetings) becomes very difficult. All of these things (burn-out prevention, personal productivity and group coordination) are actually cases of needing to apply focus for an appropriate duration on the right priorities. So the workplace of the future will solve those problems.
In terms of priorities, the future workplace will focus even more tightly on how a particular activity affects the broader tactics and strategy. This not only leads to greater satisfaction, but it also gives greater clarity on what is the most important thing to do. In terms of focus, the future workplace will do a great deal to carve out chunks of time for specific activities. This will happen at the individual level as well as for groups. Something like the Pomodoro Technique will likely prove to be optimal (where people will focus intently on an activity for a relatively short period of time with a break afterwards). The workplace of the future will strive to create opportunities for both individual focus and focused team collaboration.
This is not to say that future workplaces will be giant machines where everything is scheduled. It’s likely that there will become “focus periods” where the norm is that everyone is actively engaged on a priority. But it’s also likely that future workplaces will have even more mechanisms to encourage the serendipitous interactions that happen today in the break rooms of many companies (Because when you and another employee are both grabbing a soda, it’s likely that you’re not interrupting thoughtful, focused work with your question.)
Making all of this work out will require a great deal of input and very intelligent systems (the equivalent of a choreographer or a conductor). Given the increase in sensors that people wear (phones, watches, fitbits) and the likely proliferation of other sensors in the environment (e.g cameras), it’s likely that the workplace of the future will be able to tell a great deal about your personal state. Data like heartrate, your posture in your chair, how frequently you are checking your phone, what applications are open on your computer, what applications are in use right now and for how long, how much you slept last night, etc could easily power very interesting software to help you pick and focus on the most valuable things. Clearly, there are cases where people may feel uncomfortable with giving systems this level of information, but the trade-off here is that the company proves that they not only use this data to help you be productive on an individual basis but also make sure that you have sufficient downtime. In the ideal case, workers learn behaviours that work best for them and the system understands this (maybe some developers work best in 90-minute stretches).
With this kind of knowledge, systems can be in a good position to coordinate both the synchronous and asynchronous work among groups of people. This problem is quite a bit more complicated than the individual level, but at least the system being able to proactively tell other people that someone should not be interrupted allows for people to make better decisions on their collaborative work.
The world will not slow down as we move forward. Either we find systems to help and provide those systems the data they need, or we ask people to continuously rise to higher levels of performance. The metrics on information overload suggest that software has a better chance than evolution to keep up with the pace of change.
In the meantime, check out our products to learn more about how Sitrion can help you today.