The age beyond Slack and Notion: What the future of work holds in store for us

Insights

14th February 2020

With the advent of rapid technological progress and automation, accelerated population growth, globalisation and significant shifts in demographics, our workplace is presently in a state of flux.

By 2030, it is expected that millennials will make up 75% of the workforce. As demographics change, employee preferences will follow suit. This generation will likely be tech-savvy, constantly connected and reluctant to adopt hierarchical and legacy-like structures. This will shake up power dynamics, which are likely shifting from the management to its employees. Workers will demand to be at the centre of organisations. The divergence in generational expectations will also be present at a more profound level: the demography will likely bring with it aspirations for economic flexibilities, on the one hand, and non-economic desires for freedom, personal satisfaction and fulfilment on the other.

While the employment of workers from distant shores is certainly not a new trend, the facilitation of this trend by information technology paired with the emergence of international talent hotspots, strong economic incentives and the reduction of borders is promoting the decentralisation of organisations. Additionally, the increasing proportion of skills residing in a digital domain do no longer necessarily require a physical presence.

This evolution is further underpinned by the emergence of automation and artificial intelligence — by 2030, it is expected that one-third of jobs will require skills that aren’t common, and likely don’t exist today. But with it, the dawn of automation also carries the promise of higher productivity, increased efficiency and improved convenience, counteracting possible negative externalities.

I personally see this evolution in my job as an early-stage tech investor on a daily basis. Startups that are set up as remote-first companies from the start are already becoming the norm rather than the exception. I myself am an avid user of productivity tools and my repertoire is constantly expanding. Today, it is not enough anymore to showcase advanced “Office” skills on your resume, but increasingly employers expect to see at least a good understanding of technology and preferably elementary proficiency in coding skills. These were skills that I did not possess at the completion of my studies, but that I had to develop through continuous learning.

This begs the question of whether or not businesses are truly prepared for the structural transition to come and what can be done to facilitate the resulting change in the workplace.

The three dimensions

The future of work can be categorised on the level of three interrelated dimensions, namely work (the what)workforce (the who) and workplace (the where). Across these dimensions, I will address the question of whether the current status quo supports the changes and how the three dimensions will likely be redesigned to sustain this evolution. Through the help of this framework and my lens as an investor, I have henceforth hypothesised 8 (nonexhaustive) trends that will likely shape the workplace in the future and as a result, bring about new companies that will challenge the status quo.

  1. Work itself — the what and how

Antiquated systems that are entrenched within legacy infrastructures do not only carry with them substantial technological debt but also have grave implications for how employees work in an organisation. Rather than being able to communicate, share and access knowledge and collaborate on documents and content with everyone involved in a project, employees find themselves working in silos. Valuable information is trapped on people’s desktops and in their email inboxes and, while there may be communication within task forces, working across departments or with external parties remains a challenge.

The companies of tomorrow will have to adopt a new productivity suite that allows employees to free up their valuable time in repetitive and non-value adding tasks and focus on more creative and conceptual work. While companies such as Slack, Airtable, Notion and Slite paved the way for this, plenty of opportunities remain for other challengers, as a large share of the productivity stack will continue to be unbundled and redefined.

  • For instance, Graphy enables teams to collaborate and engage with data in a visual and fun way. Teams can create interactive dashboards from various data sources, like Salesforce, Pipedrive, Hubspot and many more, annotate the data, add insights and set goals for their teams.
  • In addition to collaborating on knowledge, many companies also attempt to organise and store it. Butter.ai, for instance, is a knowledge management assistant that makes a company’s information easily accessible by connecting and searching data across apps such as Google Drive, Gmail, Slack, Dropbox, Evernote and Trello.
  • Slite provides a simple way for teams to record and structure their content and knowledge. It is the one-stop-shop for a company’s knowledge base & how to’s, project documentation, onboarding and simple meeting notes.
  • Layer (a btov portfolio company), is a tool that is working on becoming the next GitHub for spreadsheets. With the software, users can work collaboratively on both Excel and Google Sheet spreadsheets in addition to managing access control, process transparency and data consolidation.

The role of learning and development

According to the OECD, the majority of adults do not have the right skills for the emerging jobs of tomorrow. The findings of this study further revealed that six out of ten employees today lack basic IT skills. In the face of automation, employees are likely to embark on a journey of lifelong learning. While companies like Coursera, Codeacademy or Udemy have brought about initial solutions to facilitate that journey, organisations too will have to adopt strategies to upskill and train their workforce.

Education does not only mean learning new or improving upon existing skills, but it also entails providing actionable feedback and OKRs based on data. While technology is bringing about automation, technology can counteract this trend, by creating tools that transform education and development within organisations.

  • Myskillcamp, for instance, is an all-in-one solution that helps organisations create a learning ecosystem for their workforce. In contrast to traditional learning ecosystems, Myskillcamp connects all existing internal learning tools and enriches these with external and personalised learning content, from sources such as LinkedIn Learning, Udemy and Coursera.
  • Lattice, on the other hand, is a performance platform that helps organisations establish goals, OKRs weekly check-in and provide continuous feedback through Slack. As part of its feature set, Lattice facilitates performance reviews, 1:1s, development goals and updates.

2. The workforce — the who

Currently, employees working within product, marketing or operations are expected to rapidly validate and test hypotheses by means of leveraging data. However, oftentimes retrieving and transforming a specific data set or building a quick MVP requires running an advanced SQL query or staffing an engineer on a project — both not feasible solutions if one wants to conduct quick testing. In the future, more tools will likely exist that will empower non-technical teams to have similar capabilities, like technical teams, to access data and test hypotheses. This does not imply that technical teams are not needed anymore, but that the initial steps of the value chain can be completed independently without involving engineers or technical teams.

  • Colabel enables companies to build custom deep learning solutions within image and text classification without coding skills. Colabel integrates with Slack where users can share images with their team for labelling and training. The deep learning model can then be applied to rapidly classify images or content on a website without hiring or staffing an AI engineer.
  • dashdash is a platform that allows users to create applications by leveraging only their spreadsheet skills, by accessing business data and APIs. Typical use cases include enriching datasets with companies, track stock prices or send emails.

The role of technical jobs

In the not too distant future, not only will organisations leverage technology to redesign current work outcomes, but roles and interactions within technical teams itself will transform as well. With the rise of automation, a part of the software development value chain will be automated away and CTOs, engineers and data scientists will focus on more conceptual tasks. On the other hand, the ever-rising demand for new features and shortening development cycles will demand more output from tech teams. This will bring about a new class of tools that will tailor specifically to the needs of technical teams.

  • DeepCode (a btov portfolio company), is the Grammarly for code. As an automated AI code review tool, DeepCode reviews every code commit across various languages for critical vulnerabilities and provides actionable suggestions on how to fix them. This helps engineers to focus on the more important aspects of software development and avoids time-intensive bug fixing.
  • Storyscript uses a different approach by building a supercharged Zapier. The company created a top-level language that is light on syntax and based on business logic. With it, users can quickly grasp coding through abstractions, create workflows and automations and build & ship entire applications within a month.
  • Despite shorter iteration cycles and different requirements, data scientists still make use of toolsets from software engineering, which are often times mismatched with the workflows. Neptune (a btov portfolio company) is aiming to improve the workflow by becoming the next collaboration standard for data scientists. With it, data scientists can not only track the experimentation process but also version and track their notebooks, whilst working with their favoured frameworks.

3. The workplace — the where and when

The creation of purpose-driven organisations

When screening for prospective workplaces, employees are increasingly considering the extent to which the values of an organisation overlap with their own. Besides a salary, a brand name and a place to improve your skills, employees are looking for the additional dimension of purpose in their work. While purpose means something different to everyone, companies can make it a fundamental part of the talent lifecycle, by allowing employees to create a positive impact, by nurturing employees in their personal interests and by allowing connections with people who share these goals. Companies now cannot merely be bystanders and respond to socioeconomic issues when it affects the bottom-line, but need to rethink and define their stance on social issues from the ground up.

  • For instance, My Resonance engages the workforce by measuring social and environmental impact and rewards and recognises employees with a cultural currency. This cultural currency can then be donated to causes that employees care most about, fostering not only engagement but also a purpose.
  • Deedmob, on the other hand, builds an online platform for volunteers. Companies such as Red Bull or Atlassian use Deedmob to enable their employees to discover the right corporate volunteering opportunities across various interests, including poverty & homelessness, animals, refugees and the environment.

The inclusive and flat organisation

In the future, inclusive and flat organisations will not merely remain buzzwords that are promoted by PR departments on grounds of mounting social pressure but will have to be baked into the very fabric of organisations. While an inclusive and flat culture certainly encompasses the representation of a diverse group of people, it is not limited to that; it also indicates a climate that respects and cultivates differences in working styles and skills, tailors positions according to the abilities of employees, and provides equitable access to resources and decision-making processes. Hence, HR professionals are becoming more interested in adopting a data-driven approach to providing the most inclusive experience across an employee’s career.

  • Peakon, for instance, automatically collects employee feedback, analyses it, and then delivers back the insights in order for companies, such as EasyJet or Verizon, to measure and collect employee engagement.
  • Equalture, with the help of behavioural science and ML, identifies hiring needs by benchmarking the current skill set and cultural traits present in your team, and based on that predicts the ideal candidate fit. The ideal candidate fit is then ingested into applicant tracking systems to help companies build bias-free and diverse teams.
  • Lytt, on the other hand, has a different approach, by enabling every employee to have a voice in addressing difficult issues anonymously and safely without fear of discrimination. Through this tool, companies identify cultural problems and psychological stress at an early stage and promote employee satisfaction and health.

The decentralised and distributed organisation

Currently, a large part of companies still retain physical offices in central hubs, where employees are encouraged to come to work in the regular weekly cycles. This traditional office structure is however crumbling and distributed work is becoming more ubiquitous, especially amongst medium- and large-sized businesses. Companies in the future will continue to become more agile, distributed and more decentralized. This will not only offer more personal freedom and mobility for employees but enables companies to also hire and retain the best talent from all over the world. Furthermore, flexible and mobile work frees up more time and lowers the barriers for freelancing and self-employment. While self-employment is nothing new per se, the rapid rise of digital tools that enable this mode certainly is. And the gig economy is only the beginning.

There are various companies shaping this trend, from communication tools, all the way to freelancing platforms.

  • Loom, for instance, is a work communication tool that helps employees send messages through instantly shareable video, thus facilitating communication across distributed offices. Users can capture their screen, record videos, and narrate videos for use cases such as training new teammates or replying to customer inquiries, without being present in one place.
  • Codecontrol is a curated and managed marketplace that matches large companies with a community of freelance developers, designers and product managers. It enables companies to source pre-screened candidates for tech jobs, whilst taking care of the administrative overhead for freelancers, such as billing, project management and communication with the clients.
  • Comatch, (a btov portfolio company), similarly, is an online marketplace that matches freelance management consultants, within industries of operations, IT, strategy, sales, marketing and finance, with companies that need external support for a temporary project.

The benefits and security of the future workplace

Since the fundamentals of where and when people work will change, the lines of where employment laws apply might become blurry. This will likely have implications for social protection including payroll security, workplace protections and benefits. According to the OECD, nonstandard forms of work today, such as the gig economy, are 50% less likely to be part of a union and are 40–50% less likely to receive income support when unemployed.

This will bring about new companies that will provide social benefits and protections tailored to flexible workers such as freelancers, gig economy workers and people working remotely.

  • Deel, for instance, handles international payment for businesses working with global remote contractors and freelancers. It facilitates the administrative process while ensuring timely payment with a payout method of their choice. Simply set up a contract with your contractors, send a single payment to Deel each month, and let us handle the distribution.
  • Similarly, Papaya Global, acts as a custodian on behalf of customers and assumes legal responsibilities for employing and paying contractors worldwide. As part of its services, it offers a global payroll system for cross-border payments and a workforce management platform that handles workforce benefits and contractor onboarding.
  • Wagestream, on the other hand, allows employees to stream their earned wages into their accounts instantly through a mobile app. This does not only reduce the barriers to requesting an advance from your employer, but also provides short-term financial flexibility and avoids unnecessary overdraft fees, especially for employees that work paycheck to paycheck.

Looking ahead

The ideas in this blogpost barely scratch the surface of some of the measures that can be implemented by organisations. Also, I am sure that my view on the future of work is incomplete, so I am always happy to start a conversation, receive feedback and learn from entrepreneurs that are building companies in this space! Reach out here on Medium or email me at bd@btov.vc.

While this post focused on organisations as entities involved in the future of work, my next post on this topic will explore the future of work through an ethical and political lens and, therefore, identify possible solutions how policymakers may counteract the negative externalities of this transition.

This blogpost was orignally published on Medium on February 14th, 2020.

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