A network of networks: the future work unit

Digital technologies including the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud, and mobile could render 40 percent of companies in the world today irrelevant within a decade[i]. Automation could clearly compound this since the digital replacements may naturally lend themselves to requiring less human labour. This would clearly impact a huge swathe of the labour force and further encourage already visible signs of rising freelancing, new SME formation and new forms of employment. 1 in 4 students and 1 in 3 working professionals already want to start their own business[ii]. It is more than plausible that with most activity automated, most remaining roles will be mission critical and require a range of skills not typically found in any single example of today’s professionals. Teams, therefore could become the dominant model.

NETWORKS

The infrastructure for more ‘team’ based employment is already being established. PwC has already established an internal marketplace for extra work tasks, whilst tech tools are evolving to facilitate better collaboration between professionals. Colony Beta is a tool for teams wishing to create their own collaboration network space – ‘a place to work with, incentivize, and track the contributions of a network of collaborators.’ It combines task management with “payments” and tracking[iii]. Bain predicts that by 2027, most work will be project based, with teams blending internal and external expertise to provide the required skill-set[iv]. Under this scenario, it is possible that formal mentors will appear – helping guide employees from one project to the next. The wider ‘gig economy’ talent platforms could themselves become a tool for increasing employee power, much as unions have traditionally done for manual workers. Whether or not membership of such ‘guilds’ is monetised or paid by via consumer data access could depend very much on the benefits on offer.

The transition to an agile team or network based work model could also provide an opportunity to disrupt the traditional (and fraying) employment benefits link. France, for example, is considering the implementation of a new benefits system with the aim of helping prepare for a new economy. Under the proposed scheme, the so called Individual Activity Accounts (IAAs) given to each adult member of society are designed to accumulate points in a manner not unlike airline miles. Work in both the private and public sectors are said to contribute points, whilst volunteer or pro-bono community service work could also be factored in. Points would then be used to finance an array of (personalised) benefits as well as lifelong education and training[v]. Such systems could be moderated or even initiated via new work platforms and networks (as could in theory universal basic income).

[i] http://www.businessinsider.com/former-cisco-ceo-500-billion-connected-devices-by-2025-2015-11

[ii] http://bit.ly/2jz95yz

[iii] https://blog.colony.io/colony-beta-product-summary-2121a357d61d#.95reikhrz

[iv]  http://www.bain.com/publications/articles/firm-of-the-future.aspx

[v] https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/individual-social-benefits-account-economic-efficiency-by-jean-pisani-ferry-2015-10

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