Faith Forster interviews Stowe Boyd on work futures

When I was in London a few weeks ago, speaking at the Change Management Institute’s annual event, I was interviewed by Faith Forster of CMI and Pinipa. It was fun, and they recorded and transcribed it.

One snippet:

Faith Forster: you talk about looking at some of the tectonic forces that are driving the future of work. Can you talk to us about what are some of those forces?

Stowe Boyd: Actually in the session I did not too long ago, I had talked about some of the deeper aspects of the mobility trend. So, mobility — enormous trend. Lots and lots of people have, on a personal level, changed how they connect with their friends, interact with media, what they do when they’re waiting for a bus. But more importantly or relative to the world of business, we’ve had a number of aspects of that trend that have already started, but are going to have even larger impacts in the future. One of the ones I write about is the “incommunicados”. That is the people in today’s workforce, who have mobile devices and now can be communicated with; whereas until quite recently, the company would communicate with those workers by putting a notice in their pay envelope or putting up some announcement on a corkboard in the canteen. And as a result, it’s a quite different set up.

One of the immediate impacts is that [for example] a retail chain can say, “Send a message to all the employees that work at a particular department store saying, ‘don’t come to work, we’ve had a pipe burst and the building will be closed today’”. And as a result, those people aren’t in the situation of coming all the way to work, or trying to call them all on their home phone numbers, like people do in the past. So, that’s a major change and also provides a mechanism for those workers. Like two shift workers at a restaurant can actually swap shifts, and it’s done in such a way that the managers know about it, not just something that’s informally done passing them the quarter or something.

So, those kinds of changes are really major, especially when you think about how many people are involved. You know, it’s hundreds of millions of people who are in that category, people that work for companies until quite recently could not be communicated with reliably, in a deterministic way, but now a company could send out a notice to people, saying “Read this document by the end of the month”. And they can be certain that the people actually read it, not just check a little box saying, “I said I read it”, but they can actually see that they’re scrolling the document, and in a way that would suggest they actually did. So, these things are very significant. That’s only one example, this of the impact of mobility in the business context, and almost every one of these trends, you could pull it out to the side and get nine threads of things that are very important.

So, one of the things that’s important is that companies spend the time thinking through these various scenarios and then making forecasts about how things might change in the next few years, so they can in fact rehearse the future, rehearse their responses to hypothetical futures and not be blindsided by them.

Written by

Work ecologist. Founder, Work Futures. The ecology of work and the anthropology of the future.

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