If you just look at the headlines, you may think the future of work has something to do with technology. Artificial intelligence, automation, and digital disruption dominate the future of work discussions in the news, at industry events, and across corporate boardrooms.
But I would like to propose something more human to describe the future of work. Looking across multiple datasets that examine the attitudes of thousands of workers, I see a promising phenomenon occurring – a future of work that is highly relational. While organizational performance will in part depend on its ability to adapt to the changing technological landscape, its ability to thrive in the future will rest on its capacity to unleash the performance of teams within the organization.
Yet many organizations are built around individual performance with the assumption that people act in their own self-interest. Organizations divide labor to ensure individual productivity, rewarding the individual and overestimating the power of the manager to enact sweeping changes across the organization. In our quest for higher performance we have set up competitive boundaries where only the best survive.
The problem? All of this assumes that individuals work in isolation and perform without the influence of others. As work evolves, this is an outdated belief that threatens to stunt the growth of large organizations. Work in the future is highly relational and depends on a network of teams to come together to co-create a solution otherwise unknown to an individual.
Within this relational reality, the future of work is one of connection, collaboration, and community where innovation, learning, and growth happens at the team level within organizations. Networks best explain how work is done and collaborative tools are quickly becoming the way to share knowledge and tap into the collective intelligence of an organization. To think of work in terms of individual tasks is no longer feasible as we enter highly connected and interdependent work environments.
This is good news. For too long we have intentionally removed relationships from the workplace. We have touted that it’s all business and not personal, as if it is a badge of honor. But without social connection the human species is unable to survive, let alone thrive. Our ability to connect with others influences everything, including our relationships, personal health, and work performance.
My research suggests people want to connect with others in the workplace. When asked what gets them out of bed in the morning, the overwhelming response was to make a difference for others. When asked what would make them go the extra mile, once again the answer was around seeing the impact their work would have on others. When considering what would drive higher performance, employees responded with answers such as trust and better treatment of each other in the workplace. Nearly all answers related to work performance centered on their ability to work well with those around them.
The key to unlocking higher performance in the future of work will not be the latest technology or hiring the right individual. Instead, performance will be unlocked through relationships and collaboration.
Looking to get a head start in in the future of work?
- Unleash the power of teams in your organizations by measuring team performance. While individual performance is common to most performance management systems, consider measuring the equivalent of “assists” in the workplace. Even the best individual athletes who perform on teams are measured by how well they make others around them better.
- Replace individual silo functions with interconnected networks of teams. Work in the future will no longer be bound to specialized functions that repeat a series of well-defined tasks. Instead, it will rely on the collective intelligence of cross-functional expertise to find solutions to the organization’s most pressing problems.
- Hire and train for relational skills. When considering the learning and development of the future workforce, technology skills will be important, but relational skills such as empathy, compassion, and respect will never go out of demand. Hire and train workers to make those around them better and watch your team’s performance soar.
The future of work is bound to be many things. But those focused on the human and relational aspects of performance will likely become a destination of choice in the future of work.
(Kelly will co-present a session entitled “Squad Goals! The Powerful Impact of Relationships at Work” at WorkHuman 19, in Nashville, March 18-21.)
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