Subscribe for our latest future of work insights



Privacy policy | © Working the Future Ltd 2019

Working the Future

Our future of work blog 

30/07/2019, 11:24


 The future of work will require an entirely different approach to organisational design and staffing. ‘Agile’ 21st Century businesses will nurture ‘talent ecosystems’, rather than run the traditional overhead of a permanent employee payroll...

We regularlyget asked to describe what organisational structures will look like in thefuture.   

Technology is already starting to shiftthe shape of organisations, and the work that people do. We know that business inthe future will need to be infinitely more agile and fluid, in order to swiftlymeet the emergent needs of their customers. Work teams will need to beinfinitely outcome and performance focused - consumers are already rejectingmediocracy.   

The future of work will require anentirely different approach to organisational design and staffing. ’Agile’ 21stCentury businesses will nurture ’talent ecosystems’, rather than run the traditionaloverhead of a permanent employee payroll. For those organisations willing and ableto maintain in-house talent, employees will need to be adaptive enough to addvalue to multiple fluid work teams in parallel.   

What do we mean by 21st Century Talent Ecosystem?  

One of our objectives within Workingthe Future is to build our own talent ecosystem. This way we can experiment,learn what works in practice, and share findings with our clients as we go.   

Much of what we’ve applied so far isbased on my observations from the 1990s, when my job was to staff start-upmobile network operators. I helped build teams of contract telecoms engineers,who designed and deployed mobile phone networks across Europe, getting themready for commercial launch.   

In every case, engineering teamsaligned around a specific goal (meeting an agreed launch date), underpinned by exemplaryreporting and feedback loops. Teams were spread the length and breadth of anygiven country, so clear communication and mutual respect were key. Many of theengineers that built these networks came from military backgrounds, and themost successful network roll-outs can absolutely be attributed to militarydeployment tactics.  

Few of these engineers were employedon a permanent basis. The most effective deployment teams went on to replicatenetwork roll-outs in multiple territories across Europe, coming together anddisbanding on a ’just-in-time’ and ’on-demand’ basis. From this experience, Iknow first-hand that it’s possible to build high-performing impermanent teamsof people when there’s a commonly understood purpose and excellentcommunication.  

I reflect on this when I think about ourown talent ecosystem. We specifically aren’t looking to hire permanent staffbeyond what’s absolutely essential. We are however, evolving a collective capabilityto help clients build and maintain high-performance teams. We do this byidentifying co-collaborators with complementary skill-sets, and alignmentaround a core set of shared values.   

Our tribe aren’t permanent employees,nor do they work for us full-time. They’re free to pursue other commercialopportunities as and when, but we know they will prioritise working with us,because we deliberately focus on four things:  

1.    Trust 
Trust sits at the heart of what we’rebuilding. It enables psychological safety and allows our creativity toflourish. We feel safe enough to throw all our ideas out there for discussion ANDchallenge. Trust doesn’t come easily to everyone - due to life circumstance, itcan take some people longer to build trust than it does others. We work on it,though. We respect it, and we talk about its importance in everything we do.Trust comes from transparency, as well as from the conscious nurturing of therelationships we have with one another.   

2.    MutualRespect 
Trust can’texist without mutual respect - they’re bedfellows. Because of our applied focuson these things in the daily running of our business, our internalrelationships are stronger. With strong supportive relationships in place, weexperiment, learn and adapt faster. Our approach is continuously evolving.  

3.    Collaboration 
Being honest with one another makescollaboration and sharing so much easier. We recognise that market complexitymakes it impossible for one single person to possess all the facts needed tomake decisions. We therefore confer and seek feedback continuously. Collaboratingdeepens the trust and mutual respect we feel for one another. It strengthensour ability to evolve as learners - we’re continuously experimenting andlearning together. We wholeheartedly believe in the power of the tribe, thebenefits of diversity of thought, and the value of plurality of perspective. 

4.    World-ClassCommunication 
Our commitment to clear continuous communication,without ambiguity, and without ego, underpins the other ingredients above.   


These four essentials are, for us,deeply interconnected. Because we share a common value set, with these things inplace, we believe we perform together far more effectively. Don’t get me wrong, this approachtakes constant focus, but it enables us to consistently move forward. With eachcollaboration opportunity, our sense of connection deepens. 

We’re always keeping an eye out forpeople with similar values, who might complement our skill sets at a point inthe future. This approach to talent allows us greater fluidity in our abilityto meet new project requirements; by keeping communication channels open, wecan quickly ramp up a team of like-minded individuals to deliver customerexcellence. Attitude trumps aptitude every time. Skills can be taught, but corevalues are intrinsic. 

I don’t suggest we have our ecosystemapproach 100% right; there’s always room for improvement. What we haveidentified however, is that fluid and adaptive talent ecosystems are far easierto build when a strong and supportive psychological contract is in place.   

If you’d be interested in a chat tosee if your attitude and skills might fit with us at some stage, please do getin touch
03/07/2019, 14:55


 Our workplaces are in the midst of game-changing transformation. Convergent trends are impacting the commercial landscape and most organisations are already struggling to make sense of, and keep up with, a new world order...

Our workplaces are in the midst of game-changingtransformation. Convergent trends are impacting the commercial landscape andmost organisations are already struggling to make sense of, and keep up with, anew world order that will revolutionise the way we work as humans. 

The struggle to adapt is more universal than we give creditfor. Humans like structure; we’re not programmed to deal with continuousuncertainty. Our routines and habits help us make sense of the world, and we don’tlike ambiguity. Yet change is a key feature of rapidly evolving market forces. 

At WtF, we’re fascinated by the study of human behaviour. Webelieve that this understanding enables us to better adapt to emergentenvironments. 

To understand why humans struggle with change, we asked ourresident psychology expert, Mike Jones, to explain. Mike’s military career,leading teams on the frontline of Iraq and Afghanistan, means he’s learned alot about navigating situational volatility. With an MSc in OccupationalPsychology, Mike’s specialist area is making sense of human behaviour. Here’s whatwe learned:  

1) Mike, as human beings, why are we so resistant to change? 

It’s well documented that when change initiatives fail, it’snot generally due to poor execution, but rather because of lack of human engagement. 

Feelings of uncertainty and insecurity around our perceivedability to cope with change tends to diminish our acceptance of change itself.Selective perception and retention bias inhibits our focus on the positiveaspects of change; instead we tend to focus more on the perceived negativeaspects.  

Our feelings and biases are fuelled further bymisunderstanding what proposed change might consist of, and how we may beimpacted, both at work and socially. This is never truer than when changeprogrammes are poorly communicated.

Research suggests that poor communication around change raisesour sense of threat, such that we become fearful of: 

·      Leaving the ’comfort zone’ 
·      Loss of status and influence 
·      New responsibilities and higher expectations 
·      Potential impact on needs, including pay andsocial interaction. 

Humans are creatures of habit, with an innate need for routine.Once formed, habits are hard to break, exacerbating anxiety and a sense of overwhelmwhen change is imposed. 

A typical response to ’enforced’ change is to deny that changeis required - "We’ve always done it like this, why change now?" 

As part of my MSc research, I explored individualdifferences in accepting change within the Military.  My findings suggested: 

·      Younger cohorts are less open to change, andmore likely to quit a task / job when change is imposed. Older staff, bycomparison, would more likely work through change; the idea of changing jobsand the associated re-skilling disincentivises away from moving on. 
·      More experienced individuals are less likely toresist change, as they have greater understanding of WHY change is taking placethan those with less experience. 
·      While longer serving staff are less resistant tochange, this doesn’t necessarily mean that change is proactively embraced.Rather, this cohort will do the bare minimum in the wake of change, by no meansacting as change ’champions’. 
·      The higher the level of academic achievement,the more embracing of change an individual is likely to be, inferring that furthereducation invites open-mindedness, through critical thinking.   

I believe these findings can be applied to wider worksettings.  It’s powerful to understandthat the more (life) experience we accumulate, the more accepting of (or resignedto) change we potentially become.  

2) A common response to imposed change seems to be fear. How does fearmanifest as a behaviour? 

A sense of fear typically ignites the fight, flight orfreeze response. This is an inbuilt response to stress, and is critical for humansurvival from perceived threat or danger. Even when danger isn’t present,anxiety arising from perceived enforced change can trigger this response. Thisgives rise to significant physiological effects, as cortisol is released and remainspresent in the body. 

Raised cortisol in the bloodstream can lead to mood swings,manifesting as anxiety, irritability or depression. Cortisol also negatively impactssleep and memory function. Disrupted sleep will, over time, impact workperformance, creating further stress and anxiety - a vicious circle unlessaddressed. 

Most workplaces require teamwork, and effective teamworkrequires an environment of psychological safety, where team members know theycan take risks without threat of negative consequences. 

When fear or anxiety are present, we find ourselves unableto form trusted relationships. Irritability persists, leading to emotive, irrationaldecision-making, rather than engaged reasoning. The longer anxiety persists, themore emotionally withdrawn we can become, potentially leading to absenteeism anddisengagement.  

3) As work environments become more complex, what one skill will helpus, and why?   

For anyone facing uncertainty and ambiguity, a key skill isthat of situational humility.  This isparticularly true for leaders.   

Humility requires putting others’ needs before your own. Ascommercial landscapes disrupt, there will increasingly be times where theemotional needs of the wider team should be prioritised over those of the leader. 

Humility is underpinned by emotional intelligence, requiringenhanced self-awareness.  

Situational humility requires confidence in one’s ownability, but also the mindset that it’s not always the job of leadership to’know’ everything. Rather, that the collective intelligence of the wider team isample to face any set of challenges. Trust is integral here, and our sense oftrust builds over time when leaders demonstrate consistent reliability.Emotional and unexpected outbursts can quickly erode trust within a team.

Research shows that leaders demonstrating situationalhumility are more proactively committed to continuous learning.  Unfortunately, we regularly hear stories ofleaders, across all landscapes, who myopically fixate on controlling set outcomes,with little consideration of other perspectives. This immediately breedsdisengagement and hostility. 

Those leaders who practice situational humility as default,will automatically garner increased loyalty and collective commitment tocomplex problem solving.  


So, there it is. Fear is a natural response to enforcedchange; none of us like uncertainty. First-class empathic communication isessential throughout any business transformation programme - regular check-ins willensure all stakeholders are on-board. 

Finally, when leading through change, thenumber one skill is that of situational humility - when we are self- aware, ourempathy, respect and support for others is visible, and we are able to taketeams on journeys through far more ambiguity than we ever might have imagined.
10/06/2019, 11:50


 Letting workers go with grace, humility and civility is a powerful weapon in the ongoing war for talent. We’ve entered a new age of the boomerang employee...

More and more UK businesses are experiencing the twinchallenges of recruitment and retention. Finding, and then retaining, the rightpeople with the right attitude and skills to help grow a business has neverbeen more critical. We hear this every week in our C-suite conversations, and it’salso reflected in the business press. A recentIBM report on recruiting stated: 

"By 2020 the talent shortage in the US alone is projected tobe around 23M employees. This is not simply a human resource issue. It’s anissue already vexing the C-suite, as 60% of execs struggle to keep workforceskills current and relevant in the face of rapid tech advancement". 

In the UK, two key areas of increasing skills shortage are technologyand cyber security.  Even if our academicsystem was able to deliver young adults with the right technological baselineof skills tomorrow, the organisational ability to foretell which mix of skillswill be needed and for how long, will continue to confound many. 

At a foundational level, we know the future of work is digital,and we also know it’s deeply human. Figuring out the sub-text is the hard part.All too often, the prevailing narrative that surrounds the business landscapeis technology-centric, and the human opportunity is left significantlyunderstated. 

It’s likely that skills shortages in niche areas willcontinue, particularly with the emergence of ’hybrid jobs’; the pairing ofskill-sets in ways unseen previously. It’s therefore vital that employers holdonto valued top talent; the sunk cost of losing both skills and organisationalknowledge simply can’t be ignored. 

But why is the pace of staff turnover accelerating? 
Modern workforces are expressing a desire for more freedom, flexibility,and choice at work, a work environment that provides continuous development andlearning opportunity, and critically, a sense of connection and belonging.That’s a massively tall order for most organisations, who are still using 20thCentury thinking when it comes to workforce planning. 

Socio-culturally, the last decade has seen a significantshift away from a ’job for life’ mindset, towards a more short-term view of identifyingwork opportunities that can deliver meaning, development and growth. Quitesimply, the UK workforce is becoming far more individualistic in outlook, andmore comfortable with moving on as soon as the job opportunity ceases todeliver perceived ’value’. 

As it adjusts to meet the needs of the 21stCentury workforce, one of the simplest things that any modern business can doto build organisational resilience, is to accept that a permanent jobopportunity no longer necessarily correlates with long-term. 

If continuous turnover is the new normal, what can be done to avoidlosing key talent? 
One super-effective approach is to leave the door open for exitingworkers to return.

This makes perfect sense. From here on in, the opportunitiesthat entice skilled workers are far more likely to be project-based, andemployers it will find it increasingly challenging to provide continuouslyengaging assignments. Such is the increasingly fluid nature of work. 

As workforces become more flexible, we will see impermanent workteams coming together on a temporary basis to deliver value, then disbandingonce that deliverable is executed. We should extend good grace and intenttowards departing workers, irrespective of employment status. 

Keeping track of workers who’ve added value will become acritical asset for any business; keeping in touch with workers who’ve developedorganisational knowledge, and who’ve delivered good work, ensures fasterramp-up time when the next opportunity presents. 

Welcome to the world of off-boarding 
Letting workers go with grace, humility and civility is apowerful weapon in the ongoing war for talent. We’ve entered a new age of theboomerang employee. 

By creating an off-boarding strategy that is respectful and inclusive,exiting co-workers can be invited - and are far more likely to accept thatinvitation - back into the organisation to deliver value at a later date. Furthermore,when treated with respect and dignity, both throughout the ’employeeexperience’ and into the off-boarding stage, departing workers are far morelikely to act as strong advocates for an employer’s brand, and recommend abusiness to their peers and contact network.

Some organisations are already seeing the value in buildingan alumni network that transcends the social benefit of former colleaguesstaying in touch. Powerful alumni networks enable the organisation to dip inand out of talent, creating a truly fluid and flexible 21st Centurytalent-ecosystem. 

Successful and resilient organisations of the future will befluid and agile, meeting emergent customer needs as they arise. Key toorganisational fluidity is workforce flexibility. A robust off-boarding strategyis an excellent starting point. 

If you’d like to discuss an off-boarding strategy with us,please do get in touchtoday.

Create a website