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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


2019-07-30 11:24

Cathryn Barnard



The future of work will require an entirely different approach to organisational design and staffing. ‘Agile’ 21st Century businesses will nurture ‘talent...


We regularly get asked to describe what organisational structures will look like in the future.   

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

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. For those organisations willing and able to maintain in-house talent, employees will need to be adaptive enough to add value to multiple fluid work teams in parallel.   

What do we mean by 21st Century Talent Ecosystem?   
One of our objectives within Working the 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 is based on my observations from the 1990s, when my job was to staff start-up mobile network operators. I helped build teams of contract telecoms engineers, who designed and deployed mobile phone networks across Europe, getting them ready for commercial launch.   

In every case, engineering teams aligned around a specific goal (meeting an agreed launch date), underpinned by exemplary reporting and feedback loops. Teams were spread the length and breadth of any given country, so clear communication and mutual respect were key. Many of the engineers that built these networks came from military backgrounds, and the most successful network roll-outs can absolutely be attributed to military deployment tactics.   

Few of these engineers were employed on a permanent basis. The most effective deployment teams went on to replicate network roll-outs in multiple territories across Europe, coming together and disbanding on a ’just-in-time’ and ’on-demand’ basis. From this experience, I know first-hand that it’s possible to build high-performing impermanent teams of people when there’s a commonly understood purpose and excellent communication.   

I reflect on this when I think about our own talent ecosystem. We specifically aren’t looking to hire permanent staff beyond what’s absolutely essential. We are however, evolving a collective capability to help clients build and maintain high-performance teams. We do this by identifying co-collaborators with complementary skill-sets, and alignment around 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 commercial opportunities 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’re building. It enables psychological safety and allows our creativity to flourish. We feel safe enough to throw all our ideas out there for discussion AND challenge. Trust doesn’t come easily to everyone - due to life circumstance, it can 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 the relationships we have with one another.   

2.     Mutual Respect 

Trust can’t exist without mutual respect - they’re bedfellows. Because of our applied focus on these things in the daily running of our business, our internal relationships are stronger. With strong supportive relationships in place, we experiment, learn and adapt faster. Our approach is continuously evolving.   

3.     Collaboration 

Being honest with one another makes collaboration and sharing so much easier. We recognise that market complexity makes it impossible for one single person to possess all the facts needed to make decisions. We therefore confer and seek feedback continuously.


Collaborating deepens the trust and mutual respect we feel for one another. It strengthens our ability to evolve as learners - we’re continuously experimenting and learning together. We wholeheartedly believe in the power of the tribe, the benefits of diversity of thought, and the value of plurality of perspective. 

4.     World-Class Communication 

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 in place, we believe we perform together far more effectively. Don’t get me wrong, this approach takes constant focus, but it enables us to consistently move forward. With each collaboration opportunity, our sense of connection deepens. 

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

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

If you’d be interested in a chat to see if your attitude and skills might fit with us at some stage, please do get in touch


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

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