Swarms and simulations: 10 ways your job will change by 2020

Organizations will get even more informal within the next ten years, with value delivered by collective 'swarms' of professionals and workers.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

We can already see much of the handwriting on the wall (or digits on the screen), the way we manage and view work is undergoing a massive transformation, akin to the movement from farms to factories 100 years ago and factories to offices 50 years ago.  Now, because of technologies and new attitudes, many workplaces are anywhere you need or want them to be; be they contained within 2x4-inch devices or in the midst of a busy floorspaces.

Thus, Gartner's recently issued predictions about the look and feel of work ten years from now don't bear any outrageous surprises, such as the arrival of nano-implants in workers' brains to churn out analysis, or data being beamed to secure data storage facilities on the moon. Nonetheless, it's worth repeating some of the trends that we see shaping and re-shaping our jobs and the way we will be working together to deliver value to the economy of 2020:

1. Less Routine: A lot of the routine work will have been automated by 2020, leaving us to focus almost exclusively on non-routine tasks beyond the comprehension of the machines. "For example, we cannot automate the process of selling a life insurance policy to a skeptical buyer, but we can use automation tools to augment the selling process.

2. Work Swarms: A new way to describe teamwork activity.  Except Gartner says there will be plenty more teams, and on a much more ad-hoc, informal basis.

3. Weak Links: Unlike more established teams, not everyone will know each other as well in swarm-ish teams. "If individuals know each other at all, it may be just barely... Navigating one's own personal, professional and social networks helps people develop and exploit both strong and weak links and that, in turn, will be crucial to surviving and exploiting swarms for business benefit."

4. Working With the Collective: More shades of the power of social networking. People will be linking to informal groups outside the walls of their organizations to get things done, and to collect market intelligence.

5. Work Sketch-Ups: You may notice the term "informal" popping up a lot, and this defines the pattern that will form our workdays. "The process models for most non-routine processes will remain simple 'sketch-ups,' created on the fly."

6. Spontaneous Work: Along with its swarming properties, work will be less structured and more prone to be responsive to changing conditions and needs.

7. Simulation and Experimentation: Thanks to all the IT we now have, it will increasingly be possible to test new products, services, and approaches virtually before money is spent to put them out into the real world. "Active engagement with simulated environments (virtual environments), which are similar to technologies depicted in the film Minority Report, will come to replace drilling into cells in spreadsheets."

8. Pattern Sensitivity: What the heck is this?  Gartner explains it this way, something akin to pattern sensitivity that takes place within predictive analytics software: "The business world is becoming more volatile, affording people working off of linear models based on past performance far less visibility into the future than ever before. Gartner expects to see a significant growth in the number of organizations that create groups specifically charged with detecting divergent emerging patterns, evaluating those patterns, developing various scenarios for how the disruption might play out and proposing to senior executives new ways of exploiting (or protecting the organization from) the changes to which they are now more sensitive."

9. Hyperconnected: The rise of social networking and cloud computing results in organizations now "existing within networks of networks, unable to completely control any of them." By 2020, expect to see more work being done across networks, and greater awareness of how to manage networked relationships, be it with suppliers, customers, or employees.

10. My Place: "The employee will still have a 'place' where they work. Many will have neither a company-provided physical office nor a desk, and their work will increasingly happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week." This will create issues as the lines between personal, professional, social and family matters, along with organization subjects, will disappear, Gartner says.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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