Reflections about the future of work

Reflections about the future of work

Considering some of the big questions about reinventing organisations

Last week I had the pleasure of leading a lunch ’n’ learn at The Eleven, a London-based startup studio home to startups like Born Social and Charlie HR. Around twenty people had gathered to hear me talk about one of my favourite topics: the future of work. Afterwards, in the Q&A, we discussed some really deep and interesting points. I wanted to share some of the big questions that I was asked:

  1. The world is in need of some big changes and big changes require f**king good people. How are big corporations going to make the changes we need if all the f**cking good people aren’t attracted to the idea of working for a corporate?
  2. What about education? If we agree that work needs to be reinvented, how will we reinvent education?
  3. I graduated a few years ago and was excited about the prospect of working for a company where I could do meaningful work but was shocked that many of my friends went and worked for big firms and corporates. Why are people still attracted to these kinds of companies?
  4. In a paradigm where we all do meaningful work that we’re passionate about, are we in danger of not having a healthy work/life balance?
  5. How can we make sure in a self-managing company that people have enough direction and structure to have clarity and purpose in what they’re doing?

I attempted to offer my thoughts on all of these questions but I thought the questions themselves were fascinating. How would you have answered them?

The audience I was speaking to was largely young people, like myself. Some had worked in corporates before, others were fresh out of university or had only experienced employment in a startup. I felt really hopeful and optimistic that these people represented a piece of the future of work — future leaders and bright minds that would shape the landscape of things to come. People already asking the big and important questions that need to be asked.

Let’s hope we look back at films like ‘Office Space’ in years to come and laugh at how sad and silly work used to be.

My presentation touched on ideas from Frederic Laloux’s ‘Reinventing Organisations’ and what I think are three key skills for the future of work:

  1. A coaching leadership style — for me this means relating to people’s potential, treating each other as adults, giving and receiving honest and open feedback and being outcome-focussed
  2. Collaborative decision-making — in a world of distributed teams, flexible work and flat organisations, we need structures more than ever. But structures that liberate and enable us rather than control and restrict us. Between top-down and consensus is a happy middle ground rich for exploration.
  3. Perpetual learning — the rate of change is increasing exponentially so being an adaptable and skilled learner is essential. The new models of work are going to require us to do some unlearning, too, as we replace old habits that no longer serve us with new ones. I’m really excited by the democratisation of learning — there’s so much great stuff out there that there’s simply no excuse for waiting for learning to come to you.

A side note about culture

I always think how you’re treated as a visitor is representative of a company culture and in this case, I was impressed. There was no ‘receptionist’ at The Eleven and several people at different times attended to me, asking if I needed anything and chatting to me in a genuinely curious and thoughtful way. Everyone told me how much they looked forward to their weekly lunch ’n’ learns, an hour every Wednesday where people break for lunch and participate in a shared learning experience led either by someone in the organisation or someone external. Before I spoke, two people stood at the front of the room and presented, in show and tell fashion, pages of a scrapbook. Anand, my host, told me that every two weeks people are nominated to document what’s happening in their team (or lives) on the pages and present it to the group. The energy and attention this ritual received was hugely positive — I loved it!

For startups, scaling culture is a big challenge and I’m curious to see how The Eleven navigates it. I definitely got a strong sense of commitment from those I spoke to for creating a positive, collaborative company culture as they grow.

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