Have you ever taken some time to think about what work will look like 5, 10 or even 20 years from now? If you haven’t, it is probably worth the effort because a changing work environment may have dramatic implications for how you are employed in the future. In these two posts, I want to talk about some of the trends I’m seeing and how they may play out in the coming years.
Companies are getting better and better at spinning off specific business functions and letting them be handled by others. For example, many businesses can’t justify running payroll in-house. It is cheaper to hire a company that specializes in payroll and let them handle it. We are seeing the same thing happen in everything from janitorial services to tech support.
Over the past 10 years or so, there has been a lot of experimentation in what can be outsourced and what can’t. Generally the companies that are doing it successfully have found that outsourcing the business functions that are incidental to their core business is effective while trying to outsource the places that they really should be adding the most value doesn’t work very well.
So what does this mean for you? Let’s say you are someone who works in a payroll department for a medium-sized company. It appears likely that there will be fewer of those types of jobs available in the future as more and more of them are consolidated to companies that provide payroll services for others. Those payroll companies are probably going to be looking for employees with a much greater and diverse skill set than what a typical medium-sized company is going to need for their business. If you want to position yourself for the most employment opportunities, you need to work toward expanding your skills so they will be useful beyond just your current employer.
Having people work from home is becoming more and more common. On one hand, it is a way for employers to retain talent that may not be interested in living near company headquarters. On the other hand, companies that allow telecommuting often have reduced office space needs and significantly smaller carbon footprints when the commutes of all of their employees are factored into the calculations.
There are three major things that are enabling telecommuting. First, broadband is becoming more and more widespread to the point now that your home cable modem connection may be significantly faster than the connection at work. Second, the cost of supporting someone working from home is lower than ever. Free tools like Skype, Google Hangouts, Join.me and instant messaging make it easy to keep in contact. Paid tools like WebEx and Acrobat Connect offer a lot of additional features at a fraction of what they would have cost in the past. Third, many companies have grown their management systems to the point that they can measure productivity in an objective way. If the boss can tell who is being productive without needing to walk around and see each employee at their respective desks, they can offer a lot more freedom with regard to where people work.
In the next few years, I think we will see an increasing trend toward telecommuting. The cost has come down to where it can actually save the company money, and a shortage of talent is pushing companies to find new ways to get the people they need to be successful.
So what does telecommuting mean for you and your ability to find employment in the future? First of all, you need to make sure you understand a little about how your home network operates–enough to do basic troubleshooting. People who can’t get their network back up and online when something goes wrong are not ideal people to have working from home.
Second, you need to be conscious of how to be professional while working remotely. This may mean setting up a home office that doesn’t have a bed or the family room in the background when you are video conferencing. It may mean dressing up–even though you are at home–to match what the people you are working with are wearing. It may mean learning to type a bit faster so you can keep up with instant message and email communications instead of walking down the hall to talk to someone.
Third, you need to learn how to manage relationships remotely. This can mean being extra careful about the “tone” of email messages and learning how to keep your pulse on office politics from a distance. It can mean re-learning how you interact with your boss when you are out of the office and learning how to maintain a high profile remotely.
In our next post, we’ll look at some other ways that the future of work is going to be different than what we have today–most notably the area of education.