I recently wrote an article about some of the organizational structures of the future and I thought a good follow-up might focus on what you can do to prepare yourself for this upcoming reality. If the organizations of the future (and many of them now) are going to rely on self-organization, holacracy, and other (non)structures that result in high autonomy then what is the optimal employee of the future going to look like?
To thrive in this kind of environment it’s going to take deliberate effort.
Let’s get even more specific:
1. Get comfy with the idea that you aren’t always going to have a clear idea of what the future looks like.
The world moves quickly. Companies form and dissolve. Teams coalesce and break apart as needed. What you did last week is unlikely to be exactly what you'll be doing this week. In a bygone era stability was a key characteristic of a good job. Now, not so much. The only thing that's going to be stable is (hopefully) your ability to deal with instability. Let go of your carefully laid career plans and cultivate the ability to see opportunities for development and advancement because they are likely to emerge when you least expect it.
2. Which means you’ll have to get good at defining your work on a regular basis.
The key task of the knowledge worker is figuring out what the actual work is to be done. You can't just show up to work and expect a pile of widgets waiting to be cranked. For you and everyone else working in the knowledge economy the first task is to figure out what your "widgets" are today and what "cranking" even looks like. Merlin Mann once described email as a place you go to help you figure out who you're supposed to be today. Until you get good at clearly cutting through the vast tsunami of information hitting you at all times it'll be hard to figure out what you're even supposed to be doing to get your job done, let alone doing your job to an exemplary level.
3. Train yourself to shut out distractions even when your environment isn’t conducive to focusing.
Open offices are all the rage and I don't see them disappearing any time soon. That kind of arrangement can be great for team coordination but it also makes it much harder to shut out the world and truly focus on what needs to get done. I firmly believe the ability to focus is slowly being eradicated from our society -- meaning those who do develop their ability to focus are going to become a rarer and thus more valuable asset to any team they are part of. Start a mindfulness practice, start practicing single-tasking while working, do whatever you need to do to master your mind in all environments, but particularly distracting ones.
4. Relish the opportunity to do difficult things because it’s the only way to become indispensable.
The way to become indispensable is to do things a.) nobody else can do, and b.) nobody else wants to do. To do the things nobody else can do you have to be better at something (ideally something important) than most of the other people in your organization. For that to happen, you need to develop your skills and abilities. That happens by consistently seeking opportunities that push you slightly outside your comfort zone. A truly stress-free work life is also a growth-free work life. In a world where the employer/employee contract is more like a short term alignment of interests and not the 40+ years of dedication of yesteryear it behooves you to make sure your skills and abilities are on a constant upward trajectory.
5. Learn how to take care of yourself outside of work because the lines between work and vacation, the workday and the weekend, “on” and “off” will become blurrier.
This problem already exists and like the rise of open offices I don't see it changing any time soon. Obviously, expectations around making yourself available outside of normal business hours varies by organization. However, in even the most progressive companies many people fall to an internal desire to never truly relax and to always keep one foot in the office. This is a recipe for burnout. You have to be at the top of your game every day to not be left behind by the rapid changes your industry, company, and team are facing. True rejuvenation and recovery (mental and physical) are up to you to do well.
The organizational structures of the future value autonomy but with autonomy comes great responsibility. When external structure is removed by the organization the onus is on you to create your own internal structures that allow you to thrive. What's that going to look like?
Photo by Peyri Herrera