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So long, Future of Work … Hello, New World of Work

Naomi Titleman Colla is the founder of Collaborativity Leadership Advisory and the former chief human resources officer of American Express Canada

Future of Work, or #FoW, has become a darling catch-all term that triggers all sorts of images: from millennials working at coffee shops to robots taking over the planet.

It can be a daunting topic, especially for business leaders who don't know where to start or how to "do" future of work. While technology is a significant enabler, FoW is equally, if not more so, about your work force.

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Let's attempt to demystify FoW, because, let's get real, you cannot afford to continue working the way you always have.

But first, I propose retiring the term #FoW in favour of #NWoW, or New World of Work. The future is now, there's no waiting for the future. Organizations that don't adjust to NWoW risk stagnation, or worse, obsolescence.

So, here they are – the basics of NWoW, broken down by the five Ws and H.

Why should I do work any differently?

A valid question – the typical way of thinking is, "Don't fix what ain't broke." But we know this is not a strategy for success. In this new world of work, barriers to entry are coming down and, thanks to emerging technologies, it is easier than ever to hang up a shingle and start a business. New entrants are often more innovative and more nimble than traditional players and they are embracing some aspects of NWoW (if not all) to quickly become viable competitors in most industries.

With this as a backdrop, think about other changes to your business or talent landscape: Are there performance or growth challenges? Are there cost pressures? Are there leadership or succession gaps? These are all triggers to think differently about how work gets done. The good news is, thanks to the exponential acceleration of technology coupled with demographic and other economic shifts, there are countless ways to get work done. The bad news is that change is hard.

What is the work that needs to be done differently?

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Once you've come to grips with the fact work must be done differently, and understand why, the next step is to plan out "what" the work is that needs to be structured or done differently. However, it is important to not throw the baby out with the bath water. Some work will continue to get done exactly as it always has, so focusing on either net new work or work that's not meeting expectations are great places to start experimenting with new approaches.

Who is the best candidate to do the work?

In this new world of work, there are countless ways to get things done. Full-time and part-time employees, supplemented by offshoring, are no longer your only options. Now, freelancers (the "gig economy"), crowdsharing and automation are also part of the worker ecosystem.

Approaching work differently may cause teams or even individual roles to be disbanded, in order to think at a more micro level about "who" the best candidate is to do each piece of work.

This is called "disaggregating the work", a concept explored by John Boudreau, Ravin Jesuthasan and David Creelman in their book, Lead the Work: Navigating a World Beyond Employment. Once you break a role down to its parts, you may discover that you can achieve better results by assigning components across the worker ecosystem.

Thanks to technology, bringing in temporary or freelance resources is becoming easier via talent platforms such as Kahuso or Upwork. And consider layering in automation such as robotic process automation, which is a great option for mundane, repetitive processes or artificial intelligence , which can handle higher-level decision making.

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How should the work get done?

Next is to figure out "how" work will get done – how teams are organized, how they interact and communicate with one another, how decisions are made, how work is delegated, how people behave based on values and norms.

More and more organizations are swapping traditionally siloed departments and reporting lines to more agile models, such as chapters, tribes and guilds, better suited to accomplish the work more collaboratively and efficiently.

When and where should the work get done?

Finally, decisions regarding when (mandated shifts, 24/7) and where (traditional office space, "workplace of the future", remote location) work gets done must be made carefully to drive the right behaviours, performance and culture.

Again, thanks to technology, workers no longer need to be in the same office, same country or even same time zone to complete work effectively. Depending on the objectives of the organization and of a project or task more specifically, decisions around when and where work gets done can evolve.

While organizations are approaching the New World of Work in various ways, one thing is for certain: Doing nothing is not an option. By answering these simple questions, consider the opportunity to reimagine your organization and talent strategy to better future-proof your business.

Now, off to a coffee shop to complete my next assignment.

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