Austin Okere

Workplace of the future – emergence of a new culture

Austin Okere

As the workplace is becoming more millennial, a new cultural trend is emerging that challenges the traditional ethos that have held sway since the days of Adam Smith.
The Enterprise as we have hitherto known, is defined by her purpose, values, culture and vision. These are essentially the reason d’être and form the basis of the tradition of the company.
As the company is not able to direct her own affairs, this function is entrusted by the promoters of the business, being the Shareholders to Custodians, being Directors, who in turn appoint Managers to run the daily affairs of the company. Let us call this group the CUSTODIANS of the business. Typically, they know no other work, pledging their full working time and allegiance to the enterprise by whom they are employed and paid. They are your typical company man.
As more millennials are becoming working age adults, we are beginning to see a strong shift in this trend, that threatens to fundamentally change the structure of the enterprise as we know it today. To start with, Millennials are not wont to seeking employment in a company, preferring rather to become entrepreneurs in charge of their own affairs, notwithstanding that they may not have the mechanism and full complement of resources that we would have deemed necessary to embark on such a venture yesteryears.
They are typically a one-man enterprise selling slices of time and talent; or a few friends coming together to offer their skills to anyone who wants them for a project, and moving onto other projects, possibly with other companies. They do not want to be an integrated part of any company, nor be bound by any restrictions of time and space. They typically work from home, parents garage or coffee shop. They tend to be very good at their niche, aided by the ubiquity of technology and their deep command of it. They do not want to clock hours at work but rather to be paid on the outcome of their deliverables. Let us call these the ENABLERS.
Today’s workplace is beginning to divide into CUSTODIANS; typically, Baby Boomers and ENABLERS; typically, millennials. A recent survey shows that I conducted on LinkedIn shows that even within the custodian’s there is a growing tension about whether they have a right embark on their own side businesses (if it does not conflict with that of the company); the argument being that it enhances creativity and entrepreneurial acumen. They also claim that it is very widespread, albeit undercover, and that it is about time it came out into the open within an appropriate governance structure. There is also the question of whether they need to commute all the way in traffic to the workplaces and face the same traffic going home; or they could work from home and deliver the output of their jobs much the same way as the millennials tend to do.
There is also a growing tension about the intrusion into their free time, upsetting their work-life balance, by technology enabled mechanisms which keep them always “switched on”, such as Emails, Text Messages, and even Calls on their mobile phones, consistently beeping even during the weekends and holidays. This was not a problem during the days of the landlines and fax machines. They argue that even if they are not required to respond immediately, it changes their entire mood during their free time with their families and thereby accelerate their burnout rate.
Technology has always had a double-edged sword in organizational relationships. Technology could be a bridge or a barrier, depending on how it is used in the Firm. Technology enables connections but does not necessarily enhance relationships. Relationship is key, because relationship is influence, and influence is leadership. A recent study on social media showed that of 130 Facebook Friends, a millennial could only rely on three. It is troubling that our millennials, who are used to breaking up relationships with a mere text message, are going to be the workforce of tomorrow. The impact is that while they may think they have connections, what they really have are weak relationships; especially if each is working from his own space outside the office. This could inadvertently accentuate the undesired “silo-effect” in organizations. One face to face encounter is often better and more effective than 100 emails, especially when the issue at hand is delicate. It is very difficult to feel connected to a sense of purpose or to our colleagues, or indeed feel a part of the organization if we over-rely on technology for communication.
The bigger challenge is whether we will have enough CUSTODIANS in the future to uphold the sustainability of the Enterprise, or whether the future of the company as we know it today is in peril. I believe we should be more deliberate about engaging and shaping these trends, than bury our heads in the sand, hoping it will all blow away somehow.
It will be interesting to share your thoughts.
Austin Okere is the Founder of CWG Plc, the largest ICT Company on the Nigerian Stock Exchange & Entrepreneur in Residence at CBS, New York. Austin also serves on the Advisory Board of the Global Business School Network, and on the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Innovation and Intrapreneurship. Austin now runs the Ausso Leadership Academy focused on Business and Entrepreneurial Mentorship






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