future of work in law firmsI have been fascinated by the future and what it holds for all of us for a very long time. As a child, one of my fondest memories was going to Disney World in Orlando and riding on the “Carousel of Progress.” This was my favorite ride because  it gave visitors an opportunity to peer into the future and imagine what life could be like. I went back a few years ago with my kids and made sure they had an opportunity to ride it as well. To my amazement, a lot of the things Walt Disney had predicted back in 1964 had actually become a reality.

My fascination with the future is one of the main reasons why I decided to help my long time friend Stowe Boyd set up the New York City chapter for his new Future of Work Community. The vision behind the community according to Stowe is “to create an open community investigating the future of work, cooperating to find and advance new ways of working together, to redefine our connection to work and each other, and ultimately, through that, to change the world.

In December 2013, Stowe published his Manifesto for a New Way of Work in which he pointed out two main themes

  1. Business leaders are hoping for an additional round of productivity improvements to remain competitive in an accelerating economy, but they are uncertain how this will be achieved, given rising uncertainty, ambiguity, complexity, and volatility. It seems clear that automation — Watson-level AI and autonomous robots — may account for some of that, but something unknown needs to be added. The machines alone cannot do it.
  2. Employee engagement is at an all-time low, with Gallup reporting that only 29% are actively engaged with work. This is an indictment of the present form factor of work, and those that advocate it.

Through our work with clients and partners we are beginning to experience this shift away from traditional ways of work towards a more collaborative and team oriented culture. Certainly technology is playing a major role in this shift, as new tools and platforms allow people to work in a more collaborative manner even when working remotely. But technology alone is not the driving factor. As Stowe points out in his manifesto, “We need a revolution in our thinking about business, and how we organize ourselves to accomplish work, as individuals, networks, and businesses.”

Social technologies and business processes are allowing business professionals to think and organize themselves differently when it comes to work and business. Savvy organizations are getting away from traditional organizational models that are function based and hierarchical in nature and moving towards organizations that are flat and transparent. Allowing individuals to organize themselves based upon their knowledge and experience rather than by whatever function they belong to, is allowing employees to engage with projects in which they can make a difference.

In order for new technologies to be effective, they need to be adopted and adoption is all about, “what’s in it for me?” Every employee needs to understand how these new tools can make their work more interesting, less tedious and help them become more productive. Therefore it is imperative that business integrate these new tools into their existing business processes in order to enhance those processes. In addition, in many instances, new processes need to created in order to replace dysfunctional processes that are no longer effective or relevant.

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