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The Future of Work | Working the Future
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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking


2017-05-26 23:19

Cathryn Barnard



I’ve just finished a really great book, recommended by my friend Andy. The book is called The Hard Thing about Hard Things and is by US technology...


I’ve just finished a really great book, recommended by my friend Andy. The book is called The Hard Thing about Hard Things and is by US technology entrepreneur and now venture capitalist, Ben Horowitz. Ben worked at the heart of Silicon Valley during its boom years, but also endured the challenge of the crash. He set up one of the first SaaS / IaaS technology companies and eventually sold to EDS and HP respectively. In his book, he talks about the hardship of being a CEO when nothing is certain and when, mostly, you only ever have about 10% of the management information you actually need to critical decisions. It’s a very good read for anyone who runs a business, anyone who’s thinking about running a business, or anyone who’d like to get a clearer picture of what running a business is like.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that in his book, Ben talks a lot about the importance of treating employees and co-workers right, and how business success is contingent on the people you have around you.

I completely get this. After 20+ years of helping technology businesses hire people, I’ve seen my fair share of businesses fail because they didn’t get their people strategy right.

In the future of work, we believe the way in which business leaders engage with their people will make the difference between success and failure. Whereas in the past the customer has always been king, such are the sweeping changes that will transform the future work landscape, the worker will also increasingly become king.

The World Economic Forum has suggested that by 2030 many of us will be self-employed. This, it suggests, will come about as millennials, rising through the ranks of the workplace, seek increasing flexibility in their work. We suspect there may be other factors at play. Just as Cloud storage and Software-as-a-Service have revolutionised the way that businesses use data storage and IT services on a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) basis, we believe that increasingly, businesses looking to achieve continuous cost efficiencies will start to look to workers to provide their skills on an ’as-a-service / PAYG’ basis.

Should this be the case, workers will naturally feel more vulnerable, disposable and insecure. A key way to mitigate this from a business perspective will be by creating and maintaining a working environment that is wholly connective - where workers, whatever their employment status, feel respected, valued and purposeful. For us at Working the Future, these things lie at the heart of engagement. Engage for Success, the UK voluntary movement promoting employee engagement, defines engagement as ’a workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of an organisation to give of their best each day, committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being’. 
If a business focuses on employee engagement then, it surely stacks up that productivity will proliferate, and this can only be a good thing, right? 

Well, there’s something else that interests us. As technology continues to revolutionise the way in which we all use products and services, it stands to reason that the future commercial landscape will be increasingly disruptive and, at times, chaotic. This being the case, it won’t be enough for one CEO, or small group of strategic leaders, to set the pace, tone and direction of business. In his book, The 4th Industrial Revolution, Klaus Schwab talks about a ’digital mindset, capable of institutionalising cross-functional collaboration, flattening hierarchies, and building environments that encourage a generation of new ideas’. We heavily suspect that future commercial success will be contingent on not one small group of strategic thinkers, but on entire teams of co-workers, acting as eyes and ears for the business and offering up fresh thinking on how to potentially maintain competitive advantage.

Once again then, engagement is key. Why would disengaged workers care about commercial success? On the other hand, empowering workers to take up the mantle of corporate eyes and ears requires a deep company-wide understanding of not only of the ’what’ and the ’how’, but also the ’why’. This will, we believe, embed engagement in a way that builds both commitment and loyalty. The successful future workplace will be one that embraces ongoing deep learning and reinvention, such are the demands emanating from the sheer pace of technology evolution.

Building a business culture that has clearly defined values and vision, where employees are valued as much as, if not more than, the customers they serve, can only add to employee engagement. And as before, if engagement breeds enhanced productivity, it can only be the case that with the right commercial strategy in place, the profits will follow.


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Looking to dive deeper into some of the areas covered in this blog post? Check out our Recruitment & Retention and Foresight Focus suites of products.



  • Horowitz, B. (2014).  The Hard Thing About Hard Things - Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers.  New York: Harper Collins
  • ​Schwab, K. (2016).  The Fourth Industrial Revolution.  Geneva: World Economic Forum


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