The definition of work is shifting—here’s what you need to know

As technology advances and employees demand greater flexibility and mobility, the word 'work' will continue to take on new and different meanings

Technology, employee preferences shift definition of work
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Back in the late 1990s, when I started my career with a job helping to develop IBM’s first ecommerce payment product, the term “work” was rather strictly defined. For the most part, my colleagues and I conformed to regular office hours, stationed at our desks on site. But even so, it was impossible to ignore the signs portending how the workplace was poised to change. My Nokia handset offered an exciting new kind of 24/7 connectivity, audio conferencing was gaining in popularity, and “telecommuting” was on the rise (to name just a few).

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Fast forward to today, and it’s clear that the definition of work is continuing to morph, now even faster than before. Savvy employers realize there is little time to waste and that they must adapt to a variety of cultural and technological changes if they want to attract and retain talent, improve employee performance and maintain a competitive advantage. Here’s what you need to know about this shifting landscape:

  • The drivers are multi-faceted. At a very fundamental level, the way people work is changing, driven mostly by advances in technology, combined with the needs for flexibility and mobility. In 2016, Global Workplace Analytics reported that half of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework and that 20-25 percent of the workforce teleworks at some frequency. What’s more, 80-90 percent of the U.S workforce says they would like to telework at least part time.
  • Employees value choice. Today’s workers want greater autonomy. They want to choose not only where and when to work, but also which devices and applications they’ll use. In response, employers are developing choose your own workstyle (CYOW) programs. According to Gartner 1, “By 2020, organizations that support a choose your own workstyle (CYOW) culture will boost employee retention rates by more than 10 percent.”
  • Collaboration tools are essential— and evolving. Over the years, we’ve all grown accustomed to workplace technologies like email, videoconferencing and messaging applications. But these days, it takes even more to bridge the gap between co-workers increasingly separated by time and place. After all, we know people communicate and learn in different ways and in most instances, context matters. That means an effective workplace includes digital collaboration tools that can simultaneously leverage all relevant elements (like content, voice and video) and adapt to individual and group dynamics.
  • Odds are, your infrastructure needs updating. Can your current infrastructure support the range of applications, endpoints and external services a digital workplace needs? Are you doing all you can to optimize digital engagement, ensure security and enhance employee satisfaction? Recent research from Forrester Consulting 2 found only 26 percent of the workers polled believe their company provides the tools they need to collaborate successfully. But there is a silver lining: Forrester also found that a full 83 percent of survey participants said they can be productive regardless of time or location—if they have the right collaboration tools.
  • Industry leaders are already redesigning their workplaces. A new mindset isn’t enough. Adjusting to the new way people work requires physical changes as well. You’ll need to equip workspaces with technologies that easily connect employees on site with those joining remotely.

As technology advances and employees demand greater flexibility and mobility, the word “work” will continue to take on new and different meanings. Ultimately, though, from the perspective of employers, the goal will stay the same: to bring people, content and technology together in a single, unified content-experience platform that promotes effective team collaboration and improves business performance.

1 Gartner. Predicts 2017: Boosting Business Results Through Personal Choice in the Digital Workplace. Nov. 14, 2016.

2 Digital, Disparate, And Disengaged: Bridging The Gap Between In-Office and Remote Workers, a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Prysm, June 2016.

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