What We Learned at WORKTECH 17 New York

Hierarchies vs. networks, the third wave of the internet, and more from the annual conference.

Image courtesy of WORKTECH.

WORKTECH 17 New York took place on May 4 at Convene’s 117 W. 46th Street location, attracting, as it’s wont to do, some of the biggest and brightest names in the workplace and technology industries to debate and discuss the future of work.

Below, a few ideas we’re still thinking about a week after the event.

The military wasn’t ready for the digital age — and your workplace may not be, either.

Chris Fussel was a Navy SEAL officer, active from the late ‘90s through 2012. Now, he’s a managing partner with the McChrystal Group and a New York Times best-selling author. In his keynote address to the group, he discussed how technology and behavior has transformed over the past several years, but that not all organizations are keeping up.

During his time on a special ops team, he recognized that the old-school hierarchies of the American military — characterized by stability, predictability, scalability, and efficiency — were no match for terrorist organizations that relied on the strength of networks, which are characterized by instability, unpredictability, and adaptability.

Addressing this disconnect involved creating an environment where the military would rely more on small teams, a lot of trust, and conversations that led to a sense of common purpose followed by empowered execution. It’s not entirely unlike a shift to a focus on purpose and culture in workplaces, and indeed, Fussel pointed out that the shift from a hierarchical approach to a networked one mirrors the transition from an industrial to an information age of work.

“There are still all sorts of important things that come from the traditional org chart,” he said. “You just have to also assume that threats come from a network, so when we needed to we could decentralize and function like a network.”

For the first time in Gallup’s State of the American Workplace survey history, people think it’s a favorable time to look for a new job, and indeed, the majority are looking.

In addition to that, Jake Herway, a workplace subject matter expert at Gallup, shared that 68 percent [of employees] think they’re overqualified for their jobs, and 91 percent of those looking, or those who have found a new job, say they’re hoping for more autonomy in their new role

“From a human standpoint, people want freedom and flexibility,” said Herway, “hence the rise of the gig economy.”

Despite those desires, he pointed out that 57 percent of the population is still 100 percent work-based, but technology has freed us up enormously and will continue to do so.

Herway added that, for peak employee engagement, the sweet spot for physically being “at work” is two days per week.

We’re currently experiencing the third wave of the internet, and the third wave’s the best wave for the workplace.

The first wave, according to Ryan Anderson, the director of commercialization and business development, connected (IoT) solutions at Herman Miller, connected people to content (think “Ask Jeeves”); the second wave connected people to people (social media). Today — in the third wave — it’s all about connecting people and things to other things (how much do you love your Nest WiFi-enabled thermostat?).

What does this mean for your workplace? Good stuff. Anderson said that now is the time to explore how IoT solutions can positively impact your work environment; to make sure your facilities, real estate, and IT teams are aligned; and to remember that privacy and security are essential design criteria.

For more from WORKTECH, or to find out about future events, check out their site here.

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