By Denise Mclaughlin, Marketing Communications, Xerox Enterprise Business Group

The concepts presented in this blog post derive from the Future of Work Dreaming Session, in which an eclectic group of entrepreneurs, executives, technologists, emerging leaders, artists, and students  gathered last month to explore ideas around “making work simpler.” They discussed experiences in today’s workplace, and imagined tomorrow’s ideal work life. What emerged from the conversation was a blueprint of sorts, suggesting a new canvas for workplace design.

According to Wikipedia, “The elements of design are the fundamental building blocks of art. Without these elements, art would not exist. Since the principles of design are about combining elements they are difficult to separate.” As our lives change with new advancements, is there a new set of design elements and principles we should use to paint to the ideal workplace of the 21st century?

Angele Boyd from IDC and Bill Taylor from Fast Company discuss the future of work at Xerox Dreaming SessionTipping off the discussion, Bill Taylor from Fast Company introduced the most important things for “fast businesses” as clarity (not simplicity), visibility (meaning people have access to see how things work together), serendipity (being prepared to handle surprise, even organize for it) and community (workplaces do not end at the four walls of a company). In a world filled with bright people willing to collaborate and work together, the culture of the business must be carefully built and fostered. Angele Boyd from IDC also asked how to collaborate successfully in an increasingly “automated” and fragmented world of technology and remote teams of people tapping away behind tablets and smartphones.

Shortly after, Bill and Angele set the stage for the groups, and the 20 participants divided into teams to share their own work life views. Drawing their ideas on large boards and assisted by two talented artists, lots of markers, stickers, and pictures they created two views of the world.

Two distinct canvases

Not surprisingly, many of the more mature business leaders drew the challenges faced every day to balance their work against personal demands, and how technology was too often broken or inconsistent to help save enough time. Emerging leaders and millennials drew a very different picture of work challenges. They described the need to know why they matter to the organization, what it means to be a member, and perhaps most importantly, ask if they are they doing their best work there, and can they become a better and smarter person for being there? Work and life are blended into who they are, as well as who they intend to become.  Work based on information with meaning is the core issue, not balancing it. Technology that saves time is missing the point, if you aren’t doing something intrinsically purposeful to begin with.

As the groups shared ideas together, they painted a picture of common work life pain points. Ideas then swirled around how to create the new elements for the ideal workplace.  Bringing a design perspectives to the conversation, consider how these ideas might take shape as a set of design principles for the ideal workplace.

  1. Unity. Organizational practices for new workplaces help us work how, where and when we need and want to, but go much further. New tools and systems will provide better context about the information we access and use, with data transformed and presented to each of us in more relevant, meaningful ways based on who we are, and the work we do.
  2. Balance. Process standardization is a “mundane” topic in the ideal workplace, as leading organizations seek a better balance between process, innovation management, and a culture of individual flexibility and personalization. Automation takes “error” out of repetitive or highly regulated work, but is irrelevant to adapt to unexpected challenges, adopt new skills, or embrace new opportunities for better outcomes.
  3. Shape. Ideal organizations are designed so that they connect people across networks to work and solve problems, not as hierarchies. Living breathing high impact work communities encourage visibility for personal work, and to the work of others. Connected communities, whether working miles apart or around the globe, will lift from the “gaming” industry toolbox, where community scorecards, dashboards, and playing fields become commonplace ways to share work progress, provide the social context and meaning around individual work and see a direct impact and results of their work on the goals of the organization.
  4. Texture. Individual freedom is non-negotiable for the next generation of workers who want and expect a seamless blend work and life — “My work and life are the same. I am the workplace.” The demands that work must be fun, joyful, are blended as part of the fabric of life and a shared purpose. Simpler, better work means work styles that are richly our own, and that give each of us freedom to choose how we work and the tools we use.

One participant concluded, “The ideal workplace should set your imagination on fire. The magic of work today is that it is enabling people’s imagination, but the right process and technology needs to be in place.”  As a young technology student in the group put it, “If the technology is broken, fix it!” Old systems simply have to be redesigned as new ones. Work-life design and its supporting technology and processes will not only manage complexity, but also have a place both for the individual and community purpose. In the end, the goal is not just a simpler way to work, but a more dynamic and colorful one.

What design principles do you see for tomorrow’s work-life?