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The Globe and Mail

Business leaders: Ignore these five trends at your peril

By 2020, millennials are projected to be half of the entire U.S. work force.

Noah Berger/REUTERS

When it comes to the future of work there are a few key trends to which business leaders need to pay attention. Understanding these trends will allow organizations to better prepare and adapt to the changes which are having an impact on the way we work. These five trends are: changing behaviours that are being shaped by social media; new collaborative technologies; a shift to the "cloud;" millennials soon becoming the majority of the work force; and "connecting to work."

Behaviours shaped by social media entering the enterprise

Much of what we are seeing inside our organizations as it relates to "social" collaboration is being fuelled by what is happening in the consumer Web. Technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and many others have given rise to more robust and business oriented counterparts such as Jive, Yammer, Chatter and dozens of others. The technologies in the consumer Web help encourage and support new behaviours such as creating communities, being open and transparent, sharing information and ideas, easily being able to find people and information, and collaboration. These behaviours (and technologies) are now making their way into our organizations and are helping shape the future of work.

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New collaborative technologies

New collaborative technologies (some of which were mentioned above) are dramatically affecting the way we work and will work in the future. These technologies are now giving us the freedom and flexibility to work from anywhere, any time, and on any device. Being able to find subject matter experts and connect with colleagues (known or unknown) across the globe is now a possibility that didn't exist. Hierarchies are being flattened as almost any employee can connect or communicate with anyone else at the company regardless of seniority and information is being opened up instead of being locked down. Systems are being connected and opportunities for business process improvement, customer experience and overall efficiency improvement abound. These new technologies are also allowing simple actions to have big impacts, for example the chief executive officer of a company "liking" or commenting on an idea that an employee might post publicly inside the company. These same employees now have a voice within their organizations and have the ability to become leaders without having to be managers.

Shift to the "cloud"

Almost every collaboration platform today has a cloud-based deployment option. This means that the barrier to entry is almost zero. Business units no longer need to wait for corporate approval or the blessing of IT to make investments in these areas. Anyone with a credit card and access to the Internet now has the ability to deploy whatever technology best fits their needs. This is a huge shift inside of organizations which traditionally had to rely on IT to deploy any type of new technology, the costs used to be high and the deployments complicated.

Millennials as the majority in the work force

By 2020 millennials are projected to be half of the entire U.S. work force. These are people who grew up with the many social media platforms that we use today. They are used to being connected, collaborative and mobile. Millennials are used to sharing with each other, communicating through social platforms, working from anywhere, having a voice, and learning about what interests them. Most organizations today are struggling to adapt to this changing work force as baby boomers are starting to make their way out. This is a big factor shaping the future of work as organizations seeking to attract and retain top talent are going to need to adapt.

Mobility and "connecting to work"

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Mobility is not just about being able to work and get access to people and information from a mobile device. It's also about being a mobile worker which means you can work from anywhere, any time, and on any device. The idea of "connecting to work" is become more prevalent within organizations as they are starting to allow for more flexible work environments. With an Internet connection you can now access everything you need to get your job done. The notion of having to work 9-to-5 and commuting to an office is dead.

The smart and progressive organizations around the world have already been making the necessary investments to adapt to these changes. Some have been doing so for several years already whereas many organizations are still trying to educate themselves about what these changes mean. Regardless of where you are in this spectrum, the future of work is something that you must plan for and adapt to if you want your organization to continue to exist.

Jacob Morgan is a principal at San Francisco-based Chess Media Group, author of The Collaborative Organization and a Forbes columnist

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