Get Ready for the 4 Challenges Shaping the Future of Work: News From The Best of Leap 2017

May 17, 2017 Shelbi Gomez

Are you prepared for the four attributes that will shape the future of work?

That was the opening challenge from Workfront President and CEO Alex Shootman as he welcomed delegates to the inaugural Best of Leap user conference in the heart of London.

Following the success of our user conferences in the United States, we’ve taken our show on the road … or, rather, across the Atlantic.

We’re delighted to share and debate the latest thinking about the future of work with our European friends, partners, and customers.

And the opening thought? Don’t underestimate the scale and pace of change in the workplace.

Alex explained that we’re living through what Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian-born American economist and political scientist, called ‘creative destruction’.

“This is the process of industrial mutation that revolutionizes the economic structure from within, destroying the old one, and creating a new one,” Alex said. “Examples are steam engines to combustion engines to electric vehicles.  Or telex machines to fax machines to email.  Over the long run, the process of creative destruction accounts for over 50 per cent of productivity growth.”

Alex set out three forces driving today’s phase of creative destruction:


On this topic, Alex commented:

“To some this means rethinking how to use new capabilities to improve how customers are served; to others this means re-examining their entire way of doing business and creating new businesses. Finally, for many, it is about the technological and organizational processes that allow an enterprise to be agile and fast.”

But, according to research by McKinsey, industries are on average less than 40% digitized.

“Despite all we hear about the deep penetration of digital technology in industries like media, retail, and high tech, more change is coming than we have experienced since Netscape was launched more than 20 years ago,” Alex said.

Millennials in the workplace

How are companies adjusting to the inflow of younger workers? Alex responded:

“Companies are just now waking up to the fact that their workforce is dramatically changing if it has not already changed.  According to Pew Research, in 2015 the millennial generation became the largest part of the US labor force.  I was with one COO in London last month whose company population is 84% millennial. This means that digital natives now rule and will increase in power and influence over the next several years.”

He explained that digital natives:

  • View the workplace as egalitarian rather than hierarchical;
  • They are nomads and prefer telecommuting and flexible hours and the opportunity to work remotely;
  • Digital natives like task switching and prefer to learn "just-in-time" and believe they’re able to figure it out when they get into the task;
  • They interact and network simultaneously with many, even hundreds of others. 

The productivity challenge

In the market as a whole, productivity has stagnated, says Alex :

“In the last 20 years almost all labor growth has been in knowledge workers and there has been zero productivity improvement.  The WSJ estimates 60M knowledge workers in the United States, the annual total cost per knowledge worker is $92,300 which means a human capital investment of $5,5T.  In terms of lost productivity, our own research and an estimate by McKinsey came to the same conclusion: workers are spending only 39% of their time on job they were hired to do. In total, just in the US there is underutilized human capital investment is $3.4T per year.”

In the face of these forces driving change, Alex set out the four attributes of the future workplace across industries and across the world.

1. The Hollywood model of work

“Work is going to be more in the way Hollywood makes movies," Alex predicted. "A project is identified; a team is assembled; it works together for precisely as long as is needed to complete the task; then the team disbands.”

2. Digital natives

Alex told the audience, “Employees will be digital natives, egalitarian, flexible, task switching, just-in-time skills and highly networked … Putting infrastructure in place to support these requirements will not be a nice-to-have.  It’s going to be non-negotiable." Then he added, "Two out of three natives expect to leave their current employer in less than three years.  They will flow to the work environment that matches who they are.”

3. Boundary-less systems

“Company technology will have to look like consumer technology and match how the digital native works," Alex stated. "The digital native assembles knowledge from various sources: Wikipedia, a video game, some friends and maybe Pinterest. There is not an expectation that everything is in one system. In fact that would not be trusted, because everything has to be cross-referenced.  Integration has to be a zero-friction activity or the digital native moves on.”

4. Transformational leadership

On the role of leaders in this era of change, Alex said, “The leader of the future will require transformational leadership attributes that include the ability to pursue identity and purpose as well as profit, an authenticity in the way they appreciate individuals as a person and an employee, and a natural tendency towards collaboration and transparency." But a more personal approach isn't all future leaders will need, says Alex. "They will need critical-thinking skills around evaluating the performance of a project based business, utilization of direct and indirect resources, planning and control of projects and programs, and the capacity to communicate effectively within a diverse distributed workforce.”

So what do you think? Do you recognize these emerging trends and challenges in your workplace? How ready is your organization for the future?

And keep following our blog from Best of Leap London for more insights on the future of work.

Get caught up on all of the stories coming out of Best of Leap 2017 with these posts:

"8 Attitude Tools To Overcome Every Challenge, From The Woman Who Rowed Solo Across The Atlantic" with Debra Searle

"Send Spreadsheets Back To The 1980s And Unlock Right-First-Time Creativity" with Glenn Joyce at Boden


best of leap workfront

About the Author

Shelbi Gomez

Shelbi is an experienced public relations professional with experience in both agency and corporate marketing environments. She currently guides brand awareness, market research, analyst relations, and customer content. She has nearly a decade of BtoB and BtoC experience helping companies tell their stories in the changing media landscape — in traditional media outlets, social media, and now through content marketing.

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