6 Surprises about the Future of Work

Lauren TREES's picture

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

Follow me on Twitter @LTrees_KM



Anonymous's picture
Great article Lauren!
abtharayil@kockw.com's picture
I think, though I can’t substantiate with any data, as we progress towards a project based work structure, the credibility of references of previous employment /project history would come to the main stream when hiring a candidate, or even re-hiring. Therefore, automatically a set of behaviors expected by the employee will be evolved and knowledge sharing would turn out to be one of prominent behavior that would be expected. Just a top of the mind opinion.
Lauren TREES's picture

Great point Abdul—in thinking about the rise of project-based employment, we should take a step back and rethink how we evaluate job candidates more generally. Personally, I would love to see communication, collaboration, and willingness to share knowledge higher on the list of core competencies for both full-time and contract employees. However, in a world where filtering and prioritizing of candidates is increasingly handled by search algorithms and multiple-choice personality tests, I am concerned about our ability to hire for these “fuzzier” elements of performance—and if we’re hiring for shorter periods, my fear is that candidate evaluation and selection will become even more automated. Hopefully we can work out some solution... Perhaps aggregated ratings from past employers on things like teamwork and knowledge sharing, similar to restaurant and hotel review data?

Lauren Trees, KM Knowledge Specialist, APQC

Anonymous's picture
I think, in not very near future, employment, specially for knowledge workers, will be replaced with individual subcontracting. In this regard employers will be considered as clients and an individual freelance knowledge worker may have several clients at the same time. Projects resourcing will be based on crowd sourcing. Each freelance knowledge worker care for his/her own financial, tax, insurance and other welfare issues. Advancements in manufacturing process and methods, such as 3D printing and additive manufacturing, will turn manufacturing and production into knowledge work. An individual freelance knowledge worker with appropriate additive manufacturing facilities in an small workshop may subcontract making parts, sub-assemblies, or even final assemblies. In this situation, knowledge management and knowledge transfer will take place through licensed transfer of digital stuff. Even though this may seem like a science fiction but it is very likely to happen. Hassanali Rassouli
Becky Whitworth's picture
Hi Lauren - In my opinion the shift towards project based work vs. salaried employees could be dependent on the organization and the markets it serves. I work for a 100+ year old global company where the leadership is striving to be more agile in adapting to work force needs. I believe through our efforts in KM our younger generation of workers are intrigued by our CoPs and the positive effects it has in building the technical disciplines. Typically the younger work force stays about four to five years and they are off to other employment. Typically that means that the organization is not fulfilling some extrinsic or intrinsic need that the worker feels compelled to leave. I think the battle for us is more towards developing the intrinsic drive to share what you know the valuable intellectual assets that will help design and provide safety products for our customers. Building the story that what you share builds the bridge to more innovative products and processes that will help continue to bring our customers home safely to their families. This will help the knowledge worker short term or long term still want to carve out the time to leave the legacy of knowledge behind for the greater good of the customer. The other factor for either short term and long term knowledge worker is that their added efforts for KM is being recognized; not always financially, but just feeling appreciated for the extra effort. Also showing how their extra efforts in KM sharing has made an impact; sharing results goes along way for engagement. I do not see a move for my organization to switch towards project based employment vs. salaried because this approach would have a negative impact to our global customers.