What is YOUR Future at Work?

How to Predict the Future of Work
(Photo by Wyron A)

What is the future of work? More importantly, what is YOUR future at work?

These are questions my Columbia University colleagues and I have been discussing with increasing frequency as we design our research projects, as well as courses for our students. Because the more we understand emerging trends, the better we can equip our students for a brighter future at work.

But how to identify and interpret emerging trends?

Many years ago, a colleague at my law firm told me that he was leaving his seemingly secure place on partner track to work for a small venture capital fund. He said that the fund’s founder had “noticed” that as baby boomers were getting older they were also getting more invested in fighting their aging. So that founder decided to engage in their fight by investing in the new wellness industry. Over the next few years, he invested in companies that made supplements and other healthcare items and then he shifted into organic wellness products. The founder was well ahead of the curve, thanks to his ability to understand the logical outcome of current trends.

Emerging AI and Automation trends

If you look past the hype about AI, you will see that many businesses are changing the way they work as they explore the potential of this technology. In the process, we are also seeing some shifts in employment patterns emerging. With AI and automation comes dislocation. Unfortunately, according to a recent report on Automation and Artificial Intelligence by the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, the negative impacts of automation and AI are going to hit some groups harder than others:

  • Routine physical and cognitive tasks are most likely to be automated. This has tough implications for people in office administration, production, food preparation, and transportation roles.
  • Smaller, more rural areas will be harder hit by automation than the largest cities. (The higher the level of worker education, the less likely those workers are to lose ground to automation.)
  • Men, youth, and under-represented groups will be most negatively affected by automation.
Education is your insurance for your future at work

The authors of the report propose several policy approaches to mitigate the negative impact of automation. In addition, they recommend some crucial actions for organizations and individuals that come straight out of the playbooks of knowledge management and organizational learning. In their view, the most important thing we can do is promote a learning mindset by taking the following actions:

  • Invest in reskilling incumbent workers
  • Expand accelerated learning and certifications
  • Make skill development more financially accessible
  • Align and expand traditional education
  • Foster uniquely human qualities

Clearly, the keys to employment success and security are to keep ahead of automation through education and to double down on the things that humans do better than machines.

Join us to learn more about the future of work

My Columbia University colleague, Dr. Ed Hoffman, will be speaking about the Future of Work on Thursday, May 2, at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC. After his presentation, Ed, our colleague Jordon Sims, and I will lead an interactive discussion with the audience on the issue. For more information on Thursday’s session, see this post by Ed Hoffman: The Future of Work: Intangibles, Machines, and Cultures of Excellence.

If you are in Washington, DC on Thursday and would like to join us, go to https://dc.alumni.columbia.edu/hoffman for more information on how to attend.

We look forward to seeing you there.


Upgrading Your Digital Workplace

Some organizations seem more tactical than strategic when it comes to their technology. What does this mean? They focus more on individual software or technology platforms than on creating a well-integrated, high-functioning digital workplace. What’s the difference? Well, is your main project a particular Microsoft upgrade or are you operating with a holistic view of how all your technology operates together to give your knowledge workers a seamless workplace they can use no matter where they are, what device they use or when they choose to work?

Paul Miller of the Digital Workplace Group has been studying how we work online for a very long time. As he and his colleagues shifted their focus from intranets to the entire digital workplace, they learned some interesting things about what makes a truly productive digital workplace:

  • first and foremost, the digital workplace must be human-centered rather than technology-centered
  • a well-designed digital workplace makes it easier for everyone to focus on (and measure) outcomes rather than mere presence
  • online collaboration becomes the de facto (and seamless) way of working
  • it includes all necessary business processes and workflows, each of which is properly designed and connected (where necessary) in intelligent ways
  • it is built on consistent information architecture and metadata across the board
  • it integrates all necessary applications via a single gateway interface
  • it begins and ends with an excellent user experience

In The Digital Renaissance of Work, Paul Miller makes the following observation about the way many of us are forced to work:

Based on the fragmentation my colleagues and I in the Digital Workplace Group (DWG) observe in organizations each day, if your digital workplace were a bricks-and-mortar building, the chances are it would be condemned right away on health and safety grounds.  Once you’ve got online, you follow a link, only to find you are being prompted for your password for the umpteenth time. What was it again? Now it’s time to leave the ofice to go to a client…OK, I can review the meeting notes in the taxi … but hang on, I can’t access them on my iPad…

Does this sound familiar. If so, you may need to spend time thinking about how to upgrade your digital workplace. To learn more, see Paul Miller’s webinar on hbr.org: How to Create a Digital Workplace. Alternatively, see these downloadable resources provided by DWG. If, on the other hand, you think your digital workplace is in good shape, consider benchmarking it against DWG’s Digital Workplace Map. No matter what you choose, do something. Your colleagues are desperate for a truly productive digital workplace that serves and delights.

[Photo Credit: Geralt]


Taking an Agile Approach to the Digital Workplace #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description:  Organizations are looking beyond a sea of separated systems, with the goal of delivering a seamless digital workplace for staff. This brings together intranets, social and collaboration tools and business systems to provide radically better workforce solutions. While the vision is becoming increasingly clear, the question remains: How to get there from here? Robertson explores how to take an agile approach to delivering the full vision, sharing real-world examples from leaders and innovators.

Speaker: James Robertson, Founder, Step Two

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2015 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Three Key Elements of the Digital Workplace.  The hard part is not defining the digital workplace. The hard part is planning (and taking) the journey from where we are to the digital workplace of the future. To take this journey, we need to address three key elements:
    • Technology
    • Business – how we work in the new way that meshes with and supports the digital workplace
    • Design — use design as the “force multiplier” of the digital workplace
  • Coles Case Study. Coles is a large retailer in Australia that had a significant number of employees who were not connected digitally. They did not set out to deliver an intranet, but they did that. They did not set out to deliver Office 365, but they did that as well. The project was owned by the Staff Engagement team. Although the initiative was entirely voluntary, they achieved 100% adoption within the first month.
    • Their approach: they adopted an agile approach that they called Walk, Run, Jump. This means they had a lot of smaller subordinate work streams
  • Robin Partington Case Study. This is an architectural firm that moved to a digital workplace by aggregating a series of small, well-executed projects. The workforce was highly visual and had great design expertise. So these projects are attractive and well-designed. They built this digital workplace from the beginning of the firm. Each piece was built at the point of need and seamlessly integrated into the pre-existing resources. Best of all, they spent a relatively small amount (100 pounds sterling). [James Robertson put this in context by saying that other organizations spend at least this much on a month or two of SharePoint developers and consultants!]
    • their approach was to deliver small solutions deployed an incremental way
    • the challenge is to keep a firm view on the big picture throughout this iterative process
    • part of keeping the big picture in mind includes careful data architecture that is coherent
  • Telstra Case Study. When they created a new HR intranet presence, their goal was to reduce significantly the number of requests for help with HR information and processes. Part of the secret of their success (i.e., significant reduction in help requests)
  • Technology.
    • Take an agile approach — IT is familiar with this and can be a great partner in your efforts.
    • Use the intranet as the test bed for delivering high-value incremental improvements. In other words, test on staff before you try something new with your customer-facing site.
    • Prophet case study: they are constantly looking at what is in the consumer world and then trying to bring the best of the innovations back into their intranet. For example, they have taken the best of the Pinterest and crafting it to fit the work needs and work flow of the organization.
  • Business.
    • Get out from behind your desk/computer to find out how the organization really works.
    • Use true field research to understand how the business operates and how staff work.
    • Prestige Financial case study: they used SharePoint 2013 search to dramatically improve their business processes.
  • Design.
    • Build a strong internal design capability within the digital workplace team.
    • This means usability and information architecture expertise.
    • Commonwealth Bank case study: they have customer experience teams that have completed redesigned how the bank interacts with its customers. They have changed everything from the layout of physical bank branches to the  client-facing mobile applications. This is the ultimate in customer-centered design. (If stodgy, conservative, risk-averse banks can to it, so can the rest of us.)
  • Lessons Learned.
    • Quick wins are not good enough. Low-hanging fruit are not good enough. Instead, focus on small projects that you can deliver rapidly and iterate PROVIDED that they keep moving you towards your ultimate goal AND generate momentum to carry you towards that ultimate goal.