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Australian Study Highlights The Future of Work

The last few years have seen a lot of talk about the future of work.  These discussions have been driven in equal part by the technological changes taking place in our work, such as the introduction of mobile and social technologies, but also the expectations of the new wave of millennial employees entering the workforce.  Much of the discussions have revolved around how these changes might herald a more social and collaborative workplace.

Such a future might see not only a change in how we work, but also a change in what work actually is.  A blurring of lines between our work and personal lives driven by the influx of social and mobile technologies mean that work is increasingly something that embodies us.

A recent report published by Microsoft Australia into the future of work largely supports these claims.  The white paper, which used the insights from over 1,000 working age Australians, revealed that new connectivity tools mean people are increasingly working at irregular times, but many expect greater flexibility in return for their increased availability.

The paper revealed that the average Australian employee is now spending nearly 18 hours online each week.  This level of connectivity undoubtedly contributed to the nearly 40% of respondents who revealed that they would be happy if their employer contacted them whenever they needed to.

The flipside of that however is that those same people expect to be able to do various personal things, such as online shopping or social networking, whilst at work.  This was reflected in the data, with over 50% of respondents revealing that they regularly complete personal tasks during work, and 44% saying that they do work things whilst at home.

“Our technology has become a constant extension of us, wherever we are — a complete departure from the way we lived life as little as five years ago,” the white paper says. “Social context and location no longer determine what we do.”

“We are witnessing the beginning of the end of rigid divisions between ‘work’ & ‘play,’ and ‘work’ & ‘personal,’ as we have known them for the last 150 years. It’s happened so quickly, seamlessly and ‘naturally’ that it’s difficult to remember what life was like before,” it continues.

The report suggests that technology is the main driver of this change to the workplace, enabling as it does a shift away from the centralised means of production popularised by the industrial revolution.  Now, work can often be performed anywhere and at any time.  Employees have caught on to this change, but employers are doing so much more slowly.

The paper goes on to suggest that we will increasingly see just in time style workforces, where companies bring in the exact skills they need, when they need them.  This project style work is being driven by sites such as oDesk that connect an army of freelancers with a willing band of employers looking for a flexible yet capable workforce.

Of course, such an evolution carries risks as well as benefits, and there is a strong indication that we are only gradually getting to grips with both sides of the equation.  For instance, it’s increasingly the case that people are seeking a digital detox to recharge from the always on stresses of modern working life.

Millennials leading the way

There is also a sense that we need to regain mastership of technology rather than the other way round, as is sometimes the case at the moment.  Indeed, the report goes as far as to suggest that it is the millennial generation that are best able to master technology and switch off when their needs require it.

The paper showed that 20% of this age group regularly take time outs using technology.  Indeed, 50% of respondents from this age range admitted to taking power naps during the day to avoid the mid-afternoon slump, whilst an impressive 70% would take regular exercise.

Commute?  What commute?

The report went on to support the notion that technology will increasingly see the daily commute consigned to the dustbin.  It suggests that this evolution of working habits was driven by the realisation that being in the office does not equate to productive time.

Is this a utopian vision of work chiming with our personal lives more intimately than ever before, or a dystopian vision of a future where our employer has constant access to us, with little security offered in return?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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