The Way We Work

This post was authored by Steve Bynghall, a freelance writer and consultant specializing in virtual work and collaboration.

As anyone who has used oDesk will know, the world of work is currently undergoing a seismic shift. Employees are no longer limited to working in the confines of the office or in one single location — they can leverage technology to work from almost anywhere, including at home or on the go.

This shift is making a profound impact on business, life and society, the details of which are explored in a new book called “The Digital Workplace: How Technology is Liberating Work.”

Written by UK-based entrepreneur Paul Miller — who is CEO and founder of the Intranet Benchmarking Forum and the Digital Workplace Forum — the book features Miller’s own personal journey of working for 30 years in and around “The Digital Workplace,” his term for the technology-enabled environment many of us find ourselves working in. There are case studies from companies breaking the mold in this area, as well as interviews with thought leaders in the field, including oDesk CEO Gary Swart.

Miller believes that this tremendous shift towards the digital workplace is only the beginning of a very long journey. In the book, he writes:

“At the moment we are still taking our first baby steps in the Digital Workplace but in the coming years and decades ahead we will get to know this new terrain very well. We will need to influence the map so that this new world of work suits us and supports us. We will develop new skills, behaviour and language as we fly across time zones and regions and between people. It will be deeply challenging and yet very exhilarating.”

Furthermore, Miller views these changes as having an overwhelmingly positive outcome on how we work:

“What we are seeing happening around us now, in virtually every aspect of work and across most sectors, is the liberation of the workplace tools and technologies so that they are not physically dependent on any one location. In many jobs, in many organizations, both large and small, you can now work from anywhere — and, in so doing, you begin to move towards attaining that elixir we all crave, whether consciously or not: a sense of autonomy, flexibility and power over the working day. This need not be 100% power, but even a degree of autonomy and influence goes a long way towards overcoming the ‘numbing’ effect that has so often accompanied work in the past.”

Gary Swart shares Miller’s view that the world of work is changing rapidly and will continue to change. His observations are based on his own experience of watching oDesk flourish over the past few years, as well as running the company itself.

Swart believes there are three main enablers that have contributed to the growth of digital working, he told Miller:

“The first enabler is the economy. The economy on a global scale is forcing companies to look for better ways to do things, so companies are trying to do more with less. The second trend fueling the growth in this new way to work is globalization … The third mega-trend is the Internet and technology. The technology enabling you and me to communicate and collaborate just continually gets better and better.”

These enablers have led to the availability of the “global talent pool,” which oDesk has been able to use as a model for its own growth.

“We have 75 employees and roughly 300 contractors [at the time of press] that work for us every day, from around the world. We eat our own cooking. We built our business leveraging our own network, and we still use our own network today, almost to the tune of 4:1.”

Swart also believes it is inevitable that larger corporations are going to increasingly tap into a flexible global workforce:

“I don’t even think we’re near the knee of the curve of what’s to come, as larger companies start to say, ‘Hey, wait a second, what about us? We need to save costs and we’d like to have fewer bodies and less office space and infrastructure for these employees. Is there a way we can leverage a global talent pool in order to get work done?’”

Other themes covered in the book include how societies will change, the balance between work and leisure, and the potential dangers of work addiction. More information on the book is available here.

For more of Paul Miller’s views on the Digital Workplace and how it will shape the future of work, check out his recent interview with GigaOM below.

What do you think? Is the world of work really changing beyond recognition and will work become more enjoyable as a result? Are larger corporations going to follow the lead of smaller companies who are using oDesk today?  We’d love to hear your thoughts!