BusinessWeek continues to impress me with comprehensive, timely articles on issues related to technology. Their latest cover story (supported by a range of secondary articles) focuses on the “future of work.” The feature article argues that increasing connectivity is changing how and where we work – no real surprise there – but also makes a strong case that these changes are redefining the very concepts of employer and employee. And the article suggests more profound changes are coming.
It’s already clear that increased computer power, expanding wireless capability and ubiquitous mobility – not to mention generational schisms – are combining to alter how companies and employees collaborate. Companies now interact with their customers in Second Life. Virtual employees communicate with their global teams through futuristic “telepresence” videoconferencing systems and BlackBerry ping-pong. Teams collaborate using online crowd-sourcing tools like wikis and blogs. And some companies, like Amazon, are creating a new on-demand workforce by farming out quick and temporary tasks to online freelancers. BW describes this trend as an emerging global supply chain of talent that can carry out micro jobs on demand.
All of these changes are rewriting the traditional workforce relationships and the employment “contract.” More importantly, it reflects the unprecedented shift of power into the hands of employees. I’ve already discussed the dramatic shift in how information is produced and accessed – with the traditional command-and-control media world going the way of the dinosaur. This article suggests the same tectonic shift is occuring in the workforce.