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13 takeaways on the future of work

Here's an abbreviated recap of a panel I moderated at Atlassian's Future of IT conference in New York with Atlassian CIO Archana Rao and Workforce Innovation Specialist Sophie Wade.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor on

Atlassian CIO Archana Rao and Workforce Innovation Specialist Sophie Wade have a bevy of insights on the future of work, skills and the intersection of technology and data.

Here's an abbreviated recap of a panel I moderated at Atlassian's Future of IT conference in New York. The full video is embedded.

1. Technology and data have made work less linear. Wade said:

As we see technology speeding everything up, it's also allowing us to gather data, to have much faster customer feedback loops, whether we want the data or not, and also to be able to respond. So rather than work be linear and structured and much slower, we're having to deal with a very, very different type of work environment and business environment.

2. Video is a remote work enabler. Rao said collaboration and team building increasingly means video.

We are trying to stay at the cutting edge of technology to enable that, to drive strong collaboration with tools such as Zoom. Every meeting in Atlassian is a video meeting, so everybody shares video. It doesn't matter where you are, whether in an office here or in Sydney, Australia, or working from home. That kind of operating because we want to really make sure that teams are highly collaborative, highly productive, and get their work done in the most efficient manner.

3. Money isn't the sole motivation for workers and technology can be used to fulfill worker needs. "I think that as we can use technology to customize and be able to focus on each different employee and say, 'Well, how do you work best?'" said Wade.

4. Intangible benefits like flexibility and work-life balance are key to retention. Rao said:

We're looking for companies to be able to be responsive and to be able to pivot and to be able to take all this information in, they're asking a lot more of their employees these days. So what are they going to be giving back in response in order to be able to help support them?

5. Empathy matters. The psychology of change is difficult for humans and businesses are constantly changing. Wade said empathy will matter to successful companies. "We have to be more empathetic. I think empathy and really understanding that the soft skills are rising in importance as a result," said Wade.

6. Companies are their talent base. Rao said companies are beginning to realize their talent base is their strongest asset.

Enterprises are good at understanding productivity, but falling sort at measuring what's really going on at the company and utilizing qualitative metrics.

7. A happiness metric may become critical to businesses. Rao said:

Companies should have a happiness metric or something, something that connects the dots to this one metric that you can say how do you measure the happiness index.

It'd be great to have industries and companies adopt a happiness metric because it's not just about what you're working on and the tech you have at stake. It's more than that. It's what value are you ... As an employee, I measure myself on what value I'm adding to the company and what value am I getting from it. Am I growing? Am I learning new things? There's a lot there. And psychology becomes an important factor in really understanding.

8. Automation will be critical to transformation and growth. Rao said:

For an IT leader, you have to make sure that your capacity of your organization is pivoting more towards driving transformation and growth for the company. In IT, we build it, we run it. The run can take up a lot of your capacity. We're looking at technologies such as RPA to really automate a lot of our operational processes so that we can leverage bots for doing things that human beings are used for, and human beings are more being leveraged in the areas where a high degree of cognitive skills are required. We're shifting work off of being more on the run side to being more on the transform and incubate side.

9. Skills are merging and the work world may belong to data literate polymaths. Rao said:

I'm also seeing a lot more of new hires in the interns as well, as new grads coming into the company with kind of mixed skills. There's a little bit of art and science, so fields such as cognitive science where you study psychology as well as computer science and you're learning HCI or human-computer interactions as part of your college degree, I think are going to be what's needed for the future.

Wade added:

I was just talking to a cyber security expert just earlier who was saying 'We need more people studying liberal arts as well because that's where some of the critical reasoning and problem-solving is coming from.' So it was very interesting to hear him saying that.

10.  Managing remote work may require new ways of thinking about teams. Rao said:

We're also doing some work in really understanding what makes remote work successful. One of the things that we're realizing is it's very ineffective to have one person or two just on the phone or in a remote location and eight people sitting in a room. It's a terrible experience for the two people that are remote. One of the norms that we're going after is maybe everybody should be remote. Then it's kind of level playing field, everybody's voice is heard, and people don't hold back so you have much richer collaboration and much richer conversation.

These are things we're experimenting with. I wouldn't say that we've again solved it because I think we're learning as we experiment with this. But we are going to have to adapt to this world where things are centralized and decentralized. We can't afford to just say work only gets done when everybody gets together in a room. We don't have that luxury anymore.

11. Decentralization and distributed work is the new normal. Wade said:

We have to be more able to be flexible to be moving in different ways and working wherever the needs arise.

12. Build teams with individuals that can adapt to new ones. Rao explained:

There are functions in a company, but work doesn't get just done within a function. It gets done across the company. We're big believers in that when we construct teams. They come together, they break apart, and do other things. That's a very natural thing. It's hard because there's every time you construct a team, there's that norming, storming, understanding each other, understanding how we work, and it takes some adaptation to get used to it. But once it's working, once it gels, it moves forward pretty nicely. I think that it does drive a certain need of adaptability.

13. Skills matter more than titles, which are becoming irrelevant for the future of work. Wade said:

A big shift in that is how much we understand our skills. I mean if I asked every single person here what are your top three skills, I'm not sure how many people would actually know because we haven't been defined by our skills. We've been defined by our job title. And we have all kinds of skills that we haven't been utilizing that we can use in all kinds of different ways.

There are millions of freelancers who are really, they are so ahead of the curve in terms of knowing what skills they have. In turn, in organizations, if you're defined by your job title and you're not really sure of what your skills are, it needs to be both the company and the employee who's going to ... I mean, the way we're going it's careers are much more self-directed and much more self-managed.

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