Date posted: 5/04/2017 2 min read

Virtual workplaces and the future of work

They way we work is changing beyond recognition, and so are workplaces, according to global business guru Lynda Gratton.

In brief

  • Leaders need to change their management style as the workplace becomes more complicated by employees working remotely.
  • In an era where workers are living longer than ever before, it's important to create goals and remain healthy on your work/life journey.
  • Leaders who are thinking about the task rather than the hours an employee is present compliment the changing virtual landscape.

By Leon Gettler.

Lynda Gratton, an organisational theorist and professor of management practice at the London Business School, has a very clear view about how business leaders should prepare for the new world of work.

She says there are opportunities in what is likely to be a very different environment and the world of work is changing faster than we thought.

“There are two big changes happening. One is that people can now work more virtually so that is changing the place that we work in. People can now work from the home, they can work from a Starbucks. The workplace has changed.”

"Anything that is easy to do is done by a computer or Google and what’s left is more complex work."
Lynda Gratton, organisational theorist and professor of management practice, the London Business School
“Anything that is easy to do is done by a computer or Google and what’s left is more complex work."

She says the other big trend is what she calls the “hollowing out of work”.

“The skills have gone, really,” she says. “Technology and big data can do it so what’s left is work that either has to be done, like caring or cleaning, or work that is more specialised.

“Anything that is easy to do is done by a computer or Google and what’s left is more complex work so, in general, work is becoming more complex and it’s becoming more virtual. Those are the trends reshaping work. That creates challenges for leaders.

“At the moment, this idea of being able to work ‘whenever’ hasn’t taken off because people still like to see that you are in the office and they like to see you are being supervised and they think if you are not there you’re not doing anything.

“I think the idea of that will change. It will take some time but I think it will change.

”The other big change, she says, is that more people will be living to the age of 100. And that will change work forever.

“It means they will have to work until they are about 80, so the rhythm of work will change. The industrialisation of work happened during the industrial revolution.

Suddenly work was separated from home and you did the work from nine to six. I think that will begin to change. There will be much more diverse ways of working as people decide for themselves how they want to work.

A 100-year life

“We see this 100-year life as one of the big disruptors for how we think about work.

“It’s amazing how many people think they can retire at 60. If they live to 100 or 90, most people will not be able to do that in terms of the amount of money they earn. When people realise they have to work until 80, what that will do is change the way they think about work, because you can’t work flat out until the age of 80, you have to have a rhythm, you have to educate yourself, you have to think about your health.

“The industrialisation of work is coming to an end. The future is about a much more personalised approach to work. That’s the big change in work. And the type of people who will be working will change.

”What should business leaders do to prepare for this? Right now they should be doing a number of things, she says.

“They should be saying to themselves right now, are we letting go of people in their 50s and early 60s who have skills that we need for the future and do we have to reconfigure the way we pay people?

“Secondly, they have to really look at the way they are managing virtual teams because what we know from our research is that managing a virtual team is much more difficult than managing a team in one place. They have to learn how to do that.

“They have to think about their performance management systems and ask themselves: Are we putting too much emphasis on people being with us all the time, and could it be better if we thought more about the task rather than the hours worked?”

Leon Gettler is an independent journalist, author and public speaker.

This article was first published in the March 2015 issue of Acuity Magazine, which can be read in full online here.

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