The APQC Blog

6 Surprises about the Future of Work

Something that surprised me at APQC’s 2015 Knowledge Management Conference was the audience reaction to six “future of work” trends futurist Andy Hines shared during his keynote. Andy described six potential surprises on the horizon, from generational shifts in the workplace to the rise of machine learning, the decoupling of work from physical offices, and the need to relax HR policies to attract the best talent. However, when he took a poll to find out which trend people thought their organizations were least prepared for, the movement away from full-time employment in favor of hiring people for short-term, project-based contracts received the most votes.

Obviously, the potential demise of the full-time job has many implications for our lives, especially in the United States where many of us get health insurance and other key benefits through our employers.  But when I sat down with APQC’s CEO Carla O’Dell to debrief, our conversation focused on what the new structure might mean for the balance of power between large global organizations, smaller firms, and independent contractors and the potential impact on knowledge management.

One thing is clear: With fewer employees sticking around for 10, 20, and 30 years, it’s even more important for organizations to continuously capture and codify knowledge. If a new set of people comes through the door every few months (or even years), then well-documented processes, best practices, and lessons learned are some of the only ways to ensure the effective reuse of knowledge and solutions across projects. However, there’s also a dark side to all this for KM. If workers are only engaged for short-term sprints, they’ll probably be less invested in the fate of their employers and less motivated to document and share what they learn on the job. This is especially true if they fear opening up will make them less valuable commodities to hire for new projects down the road.

Carla’s view is that it’s all going to come down to negotiations and the understanding between the parties involved. Without vertical alignment of incentives between the sources of knowledge and the entities that want to capture and transfer that knowledge, KM as we know it may lose momentum. When larger firms hire smaller ones on a contract basis, the two may be able to work out mutually acceptable terms for what knowledge will be shared and what will be held proprietary. It’s harder for independent contractors to negotiate favorable terms for themselves, but organizations still need to create the right incentives if they want those individuals to contribute to corporate knowledge bases and share their expertise.

Is your organization moving toward a future with fewer salaried employees—or do you think this is an isolated phenomenon? And if you are seeing a shift toward project-based work, what are the implications for KM?

Check out the rest of my conversation with Carla here: Preparing for the Future of Knowledge Management

You can also read summaries and descriptions of all the conference sessions here: Overviews from APQC's 2015 Knowledge Management Conference

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