The Future of Work, Yesterday: Reflections from the Beeline/IQN Customer Conference

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The first day’s sessions at the Beeline/IQN customer conference wrapped up with a panel discussion entitled “The Future of Work Starts Now.” The panel, moderated by Brian Hoffmeyer of Beeline, consisted of 5 solid industry experts: Steve Dern (Geometric Results), Chris Dwyer (Ardent Partners), Bryan Pena (Staffing Industry Analysts), Matt Pierce (Hired) and Jennifer Torres (Pontoon).

In his introduction, Hoffmeyer, citing the inaccuracy of some predictions from a well-known film made decades ago, provided ample caution to the audience that what was about to be discussed should best be thought of as a kind of stretching exercise for the mind.

The discussion that took place did accomplish this intellectual limbering up. But it also demonstrated the business challenges of devoting mindshare to — let alone taking action on — something as important as how talent will be sourced and work performed in a rapidly changing, globalized and digitized future world.

Much of the panel discussion focused on one possible aspect of the future of work: total talent management. TTM is one of those things that are easier to talk about than to lay a finger on, as Chris Dwyer pointed out. Perhaps a bit tongue in cheek, Bryan Pena described TTM as “a solution looking for a problem” and later clarified it as an “aspirational” goal for some organizations.

What I’m getting at here is not whether TTM is this or that. It’s that so much of our thinking about the so-called future of work is at best aspirational, at least theoretical, and at worst speculative. And by the way, I am also guilty of this heinous crime.

Of course, we cannot ignore the coming changes in how labor and talent are engaged and utilized, or how technology will substitute, augment or enhance human productive activity. But we also cannot assign excessive weight to the future and insufficient weight to the present. In short, our thinking about the future of work must also take account of yesterday and now.

Organizations really are organisms embodied in economic and legal realities, practices, processes and technologies, and sudden, drastic changes can be damaging or lethal. Despite all of the brave talk, disruption is not a friendly and comforting word. New technology and innovation can be positively transformative for a business, but, as insistently noted by Jennifer Torres of Pontoon, not when a business is not yet ready to embrace change, in particular a top-down driven change without rank-and-file education and buy-in. In the trenches, the future of work usually means something completely different, and it is not something theoretical or something to be embraced joyfully.

For a number of years now, I have researched and analyzed how technology has the potential to change, and perhaps improve, the way organizations source and engage talent — and in effect shape the future of work in significant ways. While that potential is real and growing, what has increasingly impressed me is the extreme absence of readiness (and certainly enthusiasm), across most organizations, to embrace the future.

I don’t mean this as an admonishment of organizations; rather, I intend it simply as an objective observation of where the future of work is today, despite the technology, despite the extraordinary new, innovative labor and talent sourcing and engagement models that are being created today.

Yesterday, it struck me how a technology solution provider like Beeline is really a kind of fulcrum that is balancing, on the one hand, the future of work and, on the other hand, the past of work on a moving present that is ever lurching forward. This is not an easy balancing act.

While the tendency is to see a solution provider like Beeline as a juggernaut of technology driven-innovation, its role and mission actually consist of something broader. That role and mission is to enable client organizations to improve their performance and outcomes in the world of work they inhabit today and to modulate and usher in the future world of work in an incremental way with well-suited solutions.

Contrary to popular opinion, I believe the future of work is not barreling down on organizations, and organizations are not rushing forward to meet the future of work. Organizations and their trusted, capable technology partners are — or should be — defining and creating the future work together at a mutually regulated pace to maximize organizational performance and value one step at a time.

Voices (3)

  1. Rich Gardner:

    Andrew, completely agree that the future of work takes a village! I choose to be optimistic, though. The upside for companies–and partners–that figure it out is just too great.

  2. Brian Hoffmeyer:

    Thanks Andrew! I love this paragraph, it really sums us up well! “While the tendency is to see a solution provider like Beeline as a juggernaut of technology driven-innovation, its role and mission actually consist of something broader. That role and mission is to enable client organizations to improve their performance and outcomes in the world of work they inhabit today and to modulate and usher in the future world of work in an incremental way with well-suited solutions.”

    1. Andrew Karpie:

      Thanks, Brian. The History of the Future of Work (Part 1)

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