The future of “Work”

“Work” as we know it has evolved over the years. The organizations of today are a lot more sophisticated than those of yesteryears. I remember not too long ago, where the function of HR (Human Resources) was catering to just personnel administration and management. In fact, in those days, the “HR” function was referred to as the “Personnel Department”. While we can argue that this is merely a choice of words, we all can agree that we’ve come a long way in the evolution of the function. Today, the HR function plays a much more strategic role in the organization.

We’ve all heard about the “Gig Economy”, and the first thing that came to mind are “freelancers” and “contractors” who would engage with an organization for the duration of a project or assignment. While we are not entirely wrong in this assumption, in fact, I would say we are mostly right about this, the fundamental reason why we think this way is due to the traditional role base structure of an organization. We think of an organization as an entity with a predefined structure, and within that structure, there are relatively well-defined roles and we would staff those roles with employees (be it full time, or otherwise) to do the job.

As the organization undergo a slow evolution in its structure, the one thing that we all become very familiar with the increasing engagement of termed employees or contractors in bid of reducing the full-time headcount. Coupled with the increasing trend that tenure in employees are getting shorter, which is due to many different reasons, employees today are evaluating jobs and employment much differently than the previous generations.

This creates challenges on multiple fronts. From the organization to job design perspective and creating meaningful experience to maintain deep engagement with employees throughout their career lifecycle with the company. This also changes the way we define an employer’s value proposition (EVP).

In a recent article by John Boudreau, “Are Freelancers Your Best Performers? Applying Organizational Network Analysis to the Gig Economy” , he talked about looking at the interaction between employees in an organization and that going beyond the traditional org chart. Citing an example from Rob Cross’s work where he applied the ONA on the exploration and production division of a large petroleum organization, we can see the communication map is drastically different to the organization setup.

This got me thinking about the role in which these individuals play and how their job description (JD) would look like. (Ok, I confess. That’s because I was just rewriting the JD for one of the role I’m recruiting for).

Going along with the point that I’m making, if we dissect the “job” that they are doing and compares the individual tasks to the tasks in a project, a “job” is essentially made up of different tasks. Taking that one step further into this “gig economy” discussion, essentially, what needs to be done in an organization would comprise of many tasks. Keeping that in mind, and putting on our radical thinking cap, let’s just say, we put a price tag against each of these tasks, and have a bunch of individuals “build” a “role” by picking/ bidding on these tasks. The amount of money they make will be based on the number of tasks that they can complete and turnaround, and the premium for the “proven quality/ reliability” in completing those tasks.

I’m going to push that idea a step further. Organizations of the future can than look at this group of “Top Performing” individuals and work on a baseline retainer to buy time slots (commitment) so as to guarantee capacity.

In this model, the concept of “work” will become one that is decentralized and itemized. Theoretically, we will break free from the traditional role-based organization and move towards a task-based one. In doing so, we might even mitigate issues such as gender pay parity and workforce efficiency.

Just some crazy thoughts that I needed to get out of my system. (Must be too much JD writing this week). If you’ve made it all the way to this point in my article, thanks for the patience and attention. What’s your thoughts on this? Do share your comments and I would love to hear from you and maybe seek some assurance that I’m not going crazy! Happy Thursday (almost Friday).

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

Eric Wong is APAC Head of Talent Acquisition at Equinix. His experience spans across the various human resource functions such as HR Information Systems, Business Partnering and Talent Management. Eric currently sits on the Advisory Board of the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS). Connect with him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter @ErickyWong