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Jobs of the future: No office, no paycheck

perspective As technology changes how we do business, the way we work is morphing as well. The U.K.’s National Outsourcing Association Mark Kobayashi-Hillary offers a glimpse into the future.
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Written by Mark Kobayashi-Hillary on

perspective I just wrote a book called Who Moved My Job?. It's an exploration of how three border collies on an English farm manage to find new jobs when their previously tenured positions are usurped by foreign herding dogs--from China, India and Poland.

Naturally the book should be taken with a pinch of salt but it intends to ask the question: how are jobs going to change in the future?

Over the past decade, the internet has moved from a technical dream to a robust business infrastructure, spawning a new era of tech-centric companies - and fundamentally changing the rules of business and work for everyone.

JP Rangaswami, managing director of BT Design, says over time we will all have more than one role. "My father had one job. By the time I retire I will have had maybe seven. My son will also have seven--at the same time."

He continues: "The job of tomorrow will resemble belonging to multiple social networks, with value exchanged for value provided."

Sounds scary; if you think a job should be a big employer paying the little guy a regular salary whether he works hard, or slumps at a desk with a hangover.

Andy Mulholland, global chief technology officer of Capgemini, believes the status quo will change and the daily commute will disappear. He said: "Workers offering the right expertise will become detached from a set location. Whilst today an office provides the necessary facilities and environment to work in, the future will see far more variation.

"Green and cost factors alone suggest that the trend to working from home, or maybe a local facility hired for the day is well under way," added Mulholland.

Those regular monthly pay cheques may also become a thing of the past.

Mulholland said: "This break with the present basis of employment based on location and time will see considerable change in the job contracts of the future, even for procedural operations. The question is, will these jobs become 'task'-oriented and paid according to time taken or instead increasingly 'value'-oriented and paid for by results?"

These are the same trends we are seeing in the world of outsourcing today.

Companies are less keen to pay for a fixed number of resources by the day--they want to agree on a price for a piece of work regardless of the underlying effort. From what these company chiefs are saying, it looks like the job itself may drift into this paradigm, with companies only prepared to pay for what you deliver.

Marc Vollenweider serves an example of how we might work in future. The CEO of research and knowledge firm Evalueserve, he is Swiss, lives in Singapore-- having recently moved there from Austria--and most of his team are based in India. Everyone who works for him uses Skype to keep in touch.

It's no surprise Vollenweider believes anyone seeking a job now has to be flexible.

He says: "Jobs in future will demand flexibility, telecommuting will be normal with technology facilitating compliance to standards, and it will be essential to communicate well and to understand the nature of a multicultural society."

Training will have to be an ongoing process, as it is in IT now but not in all industries. "I estimate that you need to focus at least 10 percent of your time on learning, just to stay ahead," he says.

Martyn Hart, chairman and founder of the National Outsourcing Association, believes changes are already taking place in the workplace. "There is an increasing pressure on organizations to change the cost of intra-company services and staff costs to be variable as opposed to fixed, enabling organizations to scale up and down much more easily as business ebbs and flows. This is likely to have a massive impact on people's job definitions.

"For a start, as the propensity of outsourcing and shared service centers grows, the prevalence of in-house service jobs, like accountancy, HR administration and IT will grow less and less. Professionals who work in these areas will be more likely to work for outsourcing suppliers of these services."

That's a trend we have all seen develop in the IT space, and one which is now drifting into other professions.

Hart believes this change is not all bad though. Working for specialist suppliers, he says, "means that employees work for different organizations, which will add a more varied dimension to their role".

The Irish business writer Charles Handy wrote extensively about the way our jobs are changing. In fact, he wrote some of his most accurate predictions--such as the way companies will use fewer permanent employees and more agency staff--way back in the 1980s.

He also described companies as being made up of three parts: core employees, project experts and casual staff--much like what we see today.

It appears to be the beginning of the end for the job as permanent contract between employer and employed.

But it's not without precedent: before the modern-day company came along we all needed skills we could trade to earn a living. As the modern company changes beyond recognition, the concept of a job has to change too.

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary is the author of Who Moved My Job? and a director of the National Outsourcing Association.

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