Future of Work, why is it relevant?

On June 28th, 2018, beecom AG held a discussion panel titled “The Future of Work” with five strategic leaders of companies representing IT, software, virtual reality and consulting. Andreas Heim, COO of beecom welcomed more than fifty guests who attended to observe the engaging discussion about the Future of Work at the Haworth Zurich showroom, moderated by Harald Port from PVL Partners Management Consulting.

Future of Work (FOW) is a hot topic that is arising universally due to the imminent robot-revolution that looks set to automate human jobs. If you’re wondering whether we should be afraid, the answer is “probably not”. Take a look back in history: farmers experienced similar apprehension towards the introduction of modern machinery for farm work. Tractors, harvesters, feed grinders did not in fact, cause farmers to lose their jobs. Instead, a repositioning of jobs occurred. Farmers became operators of these machines, they converted their skills and knowledge to another level of farming. That’s what’s going to happen now: a reorganization of roles, as opposed to losing jobs to machines. 

This leads to another question: how do we deal with this change and what’s the best way to deal with it? The answer lies in culture, specifically, the culture of innovation. Port drew an example from a client, who revealed that his employees have had anxieties towards mass redundancies, and the client wasn’t sure how to handle it.

Port went on to explain that entrepreneurs should indeed foster a culture of innovation. Encourage employees to innovate, while simultaneously providing them with a safety net to fall into, should they fall. They will most likely do, as the innovation process can be likened to balancing on a tightrope. It is leadership’s role to make it ok for people to take creative risks in a safe environment.

Robert Panholzer, Channel Manager, Atlassian

Are you a clump of immovable clay?

Robert Panholzer, EU channel manager for Atlassian, commenced a discussion about innovation culture with a thought-provoking question, “Would you like to continue with the same struggle for the rest of your life?” If we were to compare ourselves to amoebas, the difference would be that they actually would look for a new habitat. Are we then, creatures who are innovative by nature?

Across companies, there are groups of people dubbed as the “clump of immovable clay”. It refers to the groups of people who refuse to budge, and reject all innovation. They probably have ten years left until retirement, so the motivation to change is low. How would a manager lead these employees to be more innovative? Surely there are bosses who yell into a megaphone and announce, “okay everyone, from now on we are innovative!”, but it doesn’t quite work in theory.

Panholzer went on to share an anecdote about a German manager who had just returned from a trip to Silicon Valley. Feeling inspired, he wanted to bring some of the Californian innovation culture by building a basketball court at his office. Next to the basketball court, was a bar. The manager had visualized his employees shooting hoops, enjoying a game or two and heading to the bar afterwards; the very quintessence of team work! For some reason, the hoops had been neglected and were left uninstalled. As a result, everyone just went ahead to the bar, completely ignoring the basketball court and the lack-of-hoops. Well intended on the manager’s behalf, but it took him straight to the absence of results.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

According to “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, a book by an American author Patrick Lencioni, the key reasons for team failure are:

  1. Absence of Results
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

The secret sauce of Atlassian’s success

Atlassian co-founders and co-CEOs Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar started the company in 2001 with a measly AU$10,000 charged to their credit card. Dubbed the “Accidental IT billionaires” the duo implemented the philosophy within their company, “nearly all great human achievement is a result of team work”.

If there’s  a secret sauce to the recipe of Atlassian’s success, it is the following five company values they breathe into their existence:

  • Open Company, no bullshit.

Information is open internally by default. Speak your mind thoughtfully and in a caring manner.

  • Build with heart and balance

Passion and urgency are balanced with the wisdom to consider the options with care.

  • Don’t #@!% the customer.

Nothing less than legendary service ­– service is part of Atlassian’s DNA.

  • Play, as a team

The more that work doesn’t feel like work, the better. Prioritize what’s best for the team.

  • Be the change you seek.

Quoting Barack Obama, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

What is teamwork?

This leads to an important question at the core of every company “What’s the difference between a team and a group?” In a group, each member has his own needs, much like a soccer player’s individualistic intention to score a goal. Whereas a team has a common direction they want to go and share a common team purpose. It is essential that managers are a part of their teams and not just groups.

Panholzer’s future of work

Panholzer concludes leaving us with some wise advice:

  • Define your vision.
  • Think big!
  • Ignore the naysayers.
  • Work and life balance.
  • Give more than you can take.

Always ask yourself: Am I doing what I’m doing, the right way? For the market, for the customer, for the team?

Ronny Tobler:  CEO/ Founder of Pandally/ Fusion Arena

How AR & VR Change Our Workplace

Pandally AG is an immersive mixed reality startup founded by Ronny Tobler, a self-professed “absolute technology and gadget freak”, and former Microsoft employee of 15 years.

The flagship project of Pandally is Fusion VR, which provides previsualization of property development projects, which can also be used for employee training. Tobler spoke about his recent work for Migros, which created an experience similar to a virtual reality game.

Why VR?

VR is still a relatively young medium. It gained a momentum in 2014 when Facebook acquired Oculus VR after the company released a prottype headset. However, in 2016 the bubble burst, followed by the closing of Story Studio in 2017.

One tangible problem Tobler highlighted is that people invariably felt nauseous during VR experiences, especially with low-resolution hardware such as the more accessible Cardboard VR headsets. This, in tandem with advanced software requirements has hindered the widespread adoption of VR.

Nevertheless, Tobler is convinced that VR has a future, and is even confident that the technology is only steps away from direct retinal projection. Referring to the Intel Vaunt AR glasses prototype, Tobler explained that in the near future we may already see display status messages on our retinas without the awkwardness of a camera (such as the Google Glass).

How is this going to affect us as individuals, team and organization?

  • Self

If you’ve watched the movie “Ready, Player One”, then you would’ve already caught a glimpse of the future as projected by Steven Spielberg. Tobler personally believes that it’s a rather accurate depiction of what our personal lives will look like in twenty to thirty years from now.

VR will penetrate every industry, and the need for it will become exponentially larger. A lot of people have difficulties in visualizing flat objects – a blueprint of an interior design is just a piece of paper whereas VR takes it to a whole new dimension.

Watch this space: Microsoft with their HoloLens is a pioneer in Mixed Reality technology and they’re working hard to lower the barriers to adoption.

  • Team: Real estate showcase with Migros

With Migros, Pandally used VR technology to visualize and inspect the building of a new site. They worked with computer-aided design and rendering to enable a “realistic” site inspection. Everyone had the same view with their VR gear. The team was able to implement seven significant changes in the construction process as they had a better understanding of how a particular decision may look in reality. What was even more interesting was that the team members kept saying, “I feel that..” (instead of “I think..”) as the immersion was more appealing to the senses. Better still, they were able to save costs by making changes before construction took place.

A division of Pandally is the recently-opened virtual reality gaming arcade Fusion Arena at Letzipark Shopping Center in Zurich, where up to ten people can experience the “game” together.

The team building aspect is definitely part of the Fusion Arena experience.

Tobler’s observed that it evolved into a social experience: with limited amount of time and under a lot of pressure, the mentality of “gamers” are showing up. Suddenly, the introvert in the team could all of a sudden evolve into its leader and take over the direction of the game in order to win!

It’s also a good test for couples: under pressure will you collaborate or end up killing each other?

  • Organization

Tobler shared his excitement upon discovering Auditorium VR by vComm Solutions AG in Zurich. Essentially, it’s a virtual meeting room where everyone interacts with one another in a believable digital atmosphere. It blows current video conferencing out of the water – when he saw it for the first time, it reminded him of Second Life, an online virtual world that went out of fashion years ago. With Auditorium VR, you dive into a simulated meeting environment as an avatar, allowing geographically spread teams to work together virtually. For Tobler, this type of virtual environment exactly represents the Future of Work.

Claudio Ombrella, Senior Manager Engineering Systems and Infrastructure, Autodesk Inc

The Future of Work – from Silos to radical collaboration

Do you experience challenges in collaboration?
Have you had an idea that was rejected?
Does your organization suffer from a siloed working style?

If you have answered “yes” to any of the above questions, you are definitely not alone. Claudio Ombrella shares his thoughts on moving from Silos to Radical collaboration, and presents the successful results of Autodesk, the software company that developed AutoCAD and many other products for engineering, architecture, visualization and special effects. Its software has been used to design the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, the California Academy of Sciences, the Shanghai Tower and special effects in film creation, such as Avatar, The Lord of the Rings for a total of 23 Oscar award winner films.

The first true step to radical collaboration is to use the word “we“, when you achieve something. Use “I“, only when you fail. It is essential to put the energy into the optimism of ideas instead of the pessimism of reality. We need to erase the culture of being an “I”.

It is very important to understand the essence of a company, derived from
its people, its products, its culture and its vision: I call this “the soul” of the organization.

To improve that sould, we need to understand the company culture first, then the systems used to support that culture by understanding its processes and technology.

Software development example

How have we used Atlassian solutions such as Jira and Confluence to help Autodesk to move from Silo Engineering to Radical Collaboration? We learnt about Jira in 2005and by 2007 we run the first 9 projects. In 2009, Global Engineering adopted Jira which made almost our entire engineering workforce standardized on a single system to track and manage our development process. From there we kept on setting new records: in 2012 Autodesk hit the one million issues (tasks), doubling that number only 2 years later, in 2017. Our constant improvement and growth drove us to migrate our Jira and Confluence instances to the Datacenter version and they are now officially hosted on the Amazon Web Services.

Adoption and Retention Method

While now the whole company uses Jira and Confluence, many people ask Autodesk how we achieved this massive adoption.

In order to adopt a system, you need first to understand your corporate ethos, then your processes and lately the technology to make that happen. After the adoption challenge you have now the retention challenge: “what do I need to do to keep our people using those systems?”. The retention is a reverse path, where you always pay attention to the technology evolution, then the processes and lately the corporate ethos.

Where does the resistance to change come from?

Claudio Ombrella mentioned “five percent syndrome”: people always complain about missing features that amount to five percent of the sum of features. The most common complaint he’s heard against Jira started with the statement, “I heard that..”

Amusingly enough they only remember the first time they saw a software and deny the progress. First impression lasts forever, or so it seems. The key to overcoming the resistance is to acknowledge the complaints while focusing on the product or service benefits that the software offers. As people hesitantly adopt new systems, their habits change and so do their attitudes towards its use.

What can you do about the resistance?

Simplify things, pay attention to the “do it now “culture: this is a major issue in today’s business culture as having a long term view helps tremendously to achieve the short term view. Many people label the projects as “impossible to achieve”: nothing is impossible, many things in our life need a bit more of time, most of the time the impossible is the result of our fears.

Also, many organizations sacrifice the good while waiting for perfection – it’s perfectly okay to start with ‘good’, and work in iterations towards ‘perfection’. Another important aspect: companies change so we need to pay attention to the cultural shift, particularly when it comes from the younger generation of employees.

Claudio Ombrella concluded by quoting Steve Jobs, “It’s not the tools that you have faith in – tools are just tools. They work, or they don’t work. It’s people you have faith in or not.”

Eric Krapf, CEO, Atos Schweiz: Your future of work is measured by output.

What will the FOW look like? Will it look like the surveillance program pictures of China? Will managers be able to monitor all workers and give them new instructions constantly? Probably not.

At the core of FOW is a different question, “What have I personally done differently than yesterday?” Patterns and methods that we have worked with for a long time no longer work well. One indicator for example is how significant the decline has been in productivity growth in Switzerland (in non-manufacturing industries).

We’re entering a new phase: input is dead, output counts, value to client (v2c) is what ultimately matters.  Output is measured as value to client. Earlier on, managers only focused on inputs. An example of this would be working hours stated in the contract, which states that I have to work 42 hours a week. Then the employer comes up with a balanced scorecard and visualizes the output. And then he wants to talk about exactly how I’m supposed to do my work.

Transformation is difficult to implement: companies have existing structures, with a certain hierarchy. However, the rate of change has increased greatly. Today people work together very differently from the past. For example, decision making and execution used to be strictly separated. Today, the lines blur. To help navigate the many ways to initiate change, Krapf suggests posing yourself questions like:

  1. What am I directly responsible for?
  2. How do I measure that?

Krapf then referred to the “GM” principle popular in Swiss German working culture: GM stands for “Grad mache!”, for “Do it, right away!” And there’s the GSM variant of this principle, which stands for “Grad selber mache!”, for “Do it yourself, right away!”. If you’re ever in this predicament, you must ask yourself three questions before you jump the guns:

  1. If this task was given to you, would you be happy with it?
  2. Is this task legal?
  3. If you were a customer, would you pay for it?

Furthermore Krapf suggests that managers shouldn’t rely on KPIs like revenues, margins, free cash-flow anymore, instead they had their companies better focus on the value to client (V2C). V2C has several dimensions, which can be easily measured to make sure that your team is on the right path:

  1. Are customers personally satisfied?
  2. Are you personally satisfied?

Krapf also shared with us an insight of a 20-30 year forecast. The ones he highlighted are the following:

  • Top-down organizations will give way to flat or horizontal structures of authority-less leadership.
  • The majority of employees will work remotely and many will be on temporary or freelance contracts.
  • In hiring, soft skills will be increasingly emphasized over hard, technical skills.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) will become a wide-spread tool of business, doing much of the heavy lifting in routine tasks.

Quoting Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, Krapf left us with this contemplation, “The only constant thing is change”.