Designing Agile Organisations Part 1: The Changing World of Work

Lisa Ashton
Part 1: The Changing World of Work

Over the years, we have seen the workplace go through a number of dramatic changes: The dress code has shifted away from the suit and tie. There are entire jobs devoted only to the strategic use of social media. People are “job hopping” every year or two, rather than committing their careers to one company.  

Much has been written about the impact that artificial intelligence (AI) and robots will have on the future world of work. There seems to be consensus that manual-labour jobs will be most at risk, while jobs that require empathy, such as social workers and caretakers, are least at risk. It is of course entirely possible that new technology could also create new jobs, and that humans and robots will work side-by-side in the future (where new jobs could include operating artificial intelligence-based technology, and old jobs could be augmented by it). 

Over the last decade we have also seen the rise of the “Gig/Freelancer Economy”. When used correctly and effectively, freelancing is a win-win situation for the company and the freelancer. Organizations can hire people for specific projects and avoid paying permanent salaries and covering the costs of benefits packages, while freelancers are free to set their own general schedule, take on however much work they want, and choose projects and clients that meet their interests and fully utilise their talents.  

The way we traditionally plan for retirement is also changing. People are living longer, and the cost of living keeps increasing, which means many people need to continue working much later in life. Younger generations also are not saving money for retirement the way their parents’ generation did, because they simply cannot afford it. 

It is predicted that people will continue shifting away from the “one life, one career mentality” — this is an already observable trend among millennials. Workers will follow their passions as they change, and for many, that also means changing careers. 

Another driving force behind this phenomenon is a demand for social consciousness: Are companies ethically minded? Do they care about their customers, their environment, their employees? Corporations have to have more of a social purpose than ever before, because people are now much more ethically aware, and will not invest in companies that do not have strong ethics. In order to attract and retain employees, companies have to prove that they are worth the time of their workers — that they have missions and values that they are invested in, as well as goals for becoming socially responsible. 

The way organisations are structured is also changing in response to these macro changes. Co-working spaces are becoming more and more popular, not just among freelancers and entrepreneurs, but also corporations that can apply this way of working to relocate employees. Dissolving the traditional office headquarters enables companies to hire the best candidates all over the world regardless of proximity to a central company hub. 

We are also seeing a reduction of the number of layers of management in organisations. There is a move towards a flatter, more grid-like management structure. Traditional roles are going to disappear because many workplaces are going to disappear, so the whole structural hierarchical system is going to disappear. 

Finally, we have witnessed the shift from “Work-Life Balance” to “Work-Life Integration”. Just a few decades ago, the dream for most employees was to achieve the elusive work-life balance. However, a consequence of the growth of technology is that most employees are almost always accessible, which in turn has led to a shift away from separating work life and personal life. In its place is the blurring of the two areas, with flexibility to work during non-work hours, and taking short personal breaks during the traditional workday. Instead of work being a place one goes to, work is now a thing one does. It has become an integrated part of most employees’ lives and personalities. This means that work-life balance is redundant and is being replaced by work-life integration.

The changing world of work, and the macro changes discussed above directly impact upon designing agile organisations.

Part 2 of this series of blogs will explore the principles behind agile organisations and make recommendations for creating agile structures in light of these macro changes. 

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