Embracing the future of work

The last few years have witnessed fundamental changes in the economy, society and technology with great implications for how organisations work, now and moving into the future

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Throughout the mid 2000s, we lived in a period of great economic and business stability. Now, things have changed. The economic situation, although positive, remains tenuous.

Globalisation has accelerated hugely, with many developing countries participating more prominently in the global economy. Technology has been transformed, in both the consumer and business worlds. While consumers’ daily habits have been altered by the near ubiquity of social networking and massively increased mobility from devices such as the iPhone, enterprises have seen—and fuelled—the rise of technologies such as virtualisation, cloud computing and real-time collaboration.

These factors now combine to open up opportunities to improve efficiency, effectiveness and innovation in all areas—which, given the fragile economy, are an invaluable source of competitive advantage. For a long time, the rewards to be gained from real-time global collaboration and 24/7 working were considered to be the future of work—but it’s no longer in the future, the benefits can be achieved today.

The forces reshaping work
To understand the opportunities presented by the future of work, companies need to understand the factors driving it. These include a new generation of workers and consumers—the millennials—who are shifting how supply is created and how demand is manifested, a new generation of technology that is rapidly changing the IT landscape, and a new generation of business models, virtualised and globalised, that is changing how work is getting done.

First, let’s look at the millennials. Today’s knowledge worker is representative of an entire generation of digital natives, accustomed to multitasking across a huge number of connected devices and applications, from social networks and instant messaging to smartphones and mobile applications. Until now, the technology they experience at home on a Sunday night has often been more advanced then what they use at work on a Monday morning, meaning they have actually had to take a step back when entering the workplace.

But by giving them the right tools to replicate their digital lives in the workplace, they can truly improve an organisation’s overall performance, and in turn, the quality of service it can offer to its clients.

The next driver is technology. Over the last decade, the internet has undoubtedly transformed the face of modern business. Within the last few years in particular, a raft of new web-based technologies has enabled the greatest potential benefits yet: closer, more interactive relationships between people, including those geographically distributed, and exponential growth of available information from around the globe, leading to real-time collaboration and changes in organisational form and function. Cloud computing, virtualisation, wikis, social networks and greatly increased mobility (via smartphones, BlackBerrys, 3G networks etc), if used in the correct way, can now allow an organisation’s knowledge to be banked, accessed, searched and shared. The implication is that everyone within an organisation can have access to the right information at the right time, adding their own insights as they do so.

Finally, we have new working practices and business models. The combination of millennial workers and new technologies means that the virtualised and globalised enterprise is now a reality. While globalisation is not a new phenomenon, it is now reaching into almost every aspect of business. Today end-to-end activities are performed globally as if they were done in one location by a self-contained workforce. Virtualisation, not just with technology, but now with people (the “anywhere, anytime worker”) and business models (increased outsourcing of key processes and sub-processes) is key to this transition. Seamless work on international projects can be delivered by partners from any location, and with resources based all around the world, work can take place 24 hours a day. This means that relationships with partners, suppliers and even customers can be opened up to new levels of integration, innovation and cost-efficiency.

Rethinking work, reinventing value
For many organisations, the business models they use are still based on assumptions made back in the 1950s and 80s. In the context of today, expectations have changed, and so have behaviours. There is a great opportunity now for companies to re-evaluate core knowledge processes and become more innovative, collaborative and flexible. If businesses do not take it, they risk being overtaken by more forward thinking competitors.

As an example, we now have over 100,000 employees worldwide—and growing—across five continents. As you can imagine, we have collectively built up a huge bank of knowledge across many different technology disciplines and industry sectors. To embrace the future of work and put this expertise into the hands of any staff who need it, we built what we call Cognizant 2.0—a Facebook-like platform for programme management, knowledge sharing and collaboration.

This platform enables colleagues working on entirely different continents to work together on projects in real time, boosting efficiency and cutting time-to-delivery. With more than 15,000 blog posts written and over 100,000 queries made to date, the collaborative technology forum has been a massive success. By making the combined knowledge of so many staff available to all, we have become more efficient, more dynamic, more responsive and more flexible.

Clients, of course, benefit from an efficient and better-skilled partner, but the future of work can also include them on a level not seen previously. By giving them access to the same social networking system, they can see who from their global partners is online around the world and communicate with them in real time, get visibility into the exact status of projects and essentially interact with external colleagues on a much deeper level, leading to better communication and fostering stronger long-term relationships.

The future’s bright

This is really only the start. With technologies developing at such a rapid rate, and working habits continually evolving to match, the future of work may already be here but it will continue to change over the coming years.

Forward thinking companies cannot afford to ignore these changes, especially as we all look for sources of competitive advantage coming out of the recession. New technology is ready to be used and the millennials are already in your offices—the challenge now is to use them effectively. The opportunity is there to re-evaluate what’s the core knowledge processes and transform them for more innovative, collaborative and flexible results.