Last week I had the honor of keynoting the Friday session at the CMP Metaverse Life 2.0 conference. During the presentation, I mentioned the multiple points of evidence that I had encountered of the evolution underway from traditional workplaces to geographically-independent workspaces. The summary of the argument is:
We have been gradually migrating from a traditional industrial-age workplace metaphor of individual work tasks performed in a shared setting (think of a cubicle-farm of either call-center representatives or engineers occupying three floors of a building) to a Knowledge-age metaphor of more collaborative, integrated tasks that are performed by virtual, geographically dispersed teams. So, instead of doing autonomous work in a collaborative setting, we are doing collaborative work in more and more autonomous (or at least geographically distinct) settings. This is the Shift.
As far as proof points for the arguments, consider the trends towards globalization of industry (and therefore a more distance-collaboration-sensitive market) that are an inevitability of the flattening effect of world commerce, outsourcing and off-shoring of labor and other tasks, and an increasing trend towards telecommuting, flexible work arrangements and work-at-home roles. JetBlue stay-at-home call center agents come immediately to mind.
A factor (that I hadn’t really considered until recently reading more about the major impact on the global workforce composition by the retirement of the baby-boomer generation) is that there will be a shortage of skilled labor in many areas that will mandate new tools to allow retired boomers to selectively participate in the workforce. If these gainfully-unemployed retirees are to be courted in this soon to be ‘sellers market’, the successful ‘buyers’ will be those that provide the tools for frictionless distance collaboration from their balmy retirement locations.
Having recently ‘pitched’ a room full of senior citizens on new technology trends, I can assure you that they are disinclined to buy a computer (if they do not already have one), much less create an avatar. They are comfortable with the traditional workplace metaphor described above, with autonomous-work/shared-environment, so any tools that are developed for them must be painfully easy-to-use and consistent with their ingrained habits.
(addendum- Some people have mis-interpreted this prior paragraph to imply that I am making some ageist comments about the technical abilities of people older than my 40-year-old-self. Before everyone gets more fired up than they already are, let me assure you that I have worked for/with/managed young and old alike who are technophilic or technophobic, and that age has little to do with it. I will say, and gladly stand by, that my six and three year old daughters are more inclined to go-to-work as avatars than nearly all people I work with regularly in Silicon Valley. The point being, we need easier to use tools that leverage workplace metaphors we are all familiar with, not something orthogonal and disruptive. Unless you are three or six years old, at which point, 'disrupt away')
To return to the Shift, what tools will we need to develop to enable
technophobic retirees to participate in a Hollywood-style of work? Is it easy video-conferencing, shared whiteboarding, avatars?
Suggestions welcome and encouraged.