One of our major themes in this blog series is what kind of leadership will be needed for increasingly ‘virtual’ organizations, but another kind of career leadership is needed from everyone in the workplace. This week our resident futurist and frequent blog contributor, Charlie Grantham lays it on the line. What’s the future of your job? Here’s what Dr. Charlie has to say….

~Trina Hoefling

charliegranthamThis blog is all about a quick overview of working with others when you are not in the same place at the same time. We used to call this ‘telecommuting’, then ‘teleworking’ in the 70’s and 80’s. Then it was ‘distributed work’ and finally ‘virtual work’. Whatever the nomenclature, it’s about how to collaborate with others on projects, and do that using telecommunications networking technology to connect no matter what place or what time.

And we’ve been talking about it here on The Smart Workplace blog since January. I am going to take the radical position that while we keep predicting this trend will spread and grow, it just hasn’t previously happened at the rate the pundits predicted. Full disclosure here, I used to be one of those pundits. So, I am left in the embarrassing position of explaining why it didn’t happen, and what is likely to happen next.

After much thought, I believe that the reason for lack of flex work and virtual work adoption is two-fold:

1) Organizations still suffer from “no-mentum” towards change even in the face of objective facts about productivity, return on investment and environmental impact.

2)  Middle management realizes that they are no longer a value-adding function, and they are fighting to maintain relevance. Correctly, in my opinion. Want to know why I believe this? Go here.)  

The organization’s economic decision-makers still see ‘teleworkers’ as a company liability instead of a profit-making asset.

A Seismic Shift

In 2016 we have even more powerful forces bringing change, affecting how organizations are structured and led. Whether you are ready or not, the workplace is being changed by increased diversity, a hyper connected world, environmental pressures and explosive technology such as robotics and artificial intelligence and how organizations will recruit talent. What’s happening, as middle managers were first to notice, is that companies don’t need as many people. In fact, some economists see a 30% reduction in white-collar workforces within 15 years.

What that means is that the implied social contract between workers (let’s call them talent) and ‘employers’ needs to change to reflect the realities of this new world of work. We are seeing a shift, especially among the millennials, of attitudes and behaviors about careers and work relationships, too. It is moving from:


Reimburse me for being a liability to your company


Compensate me for the value I add to your enterprise.

Being able to work at a distance with a flexible schedule will no longer be a ‘perk’ granted by companies, it is becoming a condition for engagement with the needed talent.

So, what’s that going to look like? First, talent will morph into self-directed careers and solo businesses. Independent contractors will be responsible for their own skill development; support services; pension management and career pathing (if there is such a thing).

They are going to need to learn how to run their lives as a business – no longer dependent upon ‘corporate Mom’ to take care of them. Over time professionals will start to realize the value of banding together. Sorry, but Labor Unions blew it by staying stuck in the old industrial capitalist ‘us versus them’ mentality.

Guilds vs. Groups

Nope, the new form of group organization of this talent pool will look a lot like old fashion guilds. Take a look at the Screen Actors Guild as a nice model. The simple fact is that the talent required to stay in business will ask for – no, demand – an alignment of personal purpose with that of the people they work with. Notice I did not say, ‘work for’. That’s the key idea, it’s not ‘work for’... but rather….‘work with’.  

Companies whose culture is not flexible enough to make that shift will perish. Those of us who see this coming will be around as a resource to help the people make the change. We learned a lot about how to do this in the 80’s, 90’s and even the 00’s. Now is the time to become intentional evolutionaries. Everybody will need to be his or her own leader moving and changing, led by a moral compass of clarity of purpose. Trina calls this the 4th path of career leadership in her upcoming book, Working Virtually. Regardless of what you call this set of competencies required of the 21st century professional, are you ready and enabled to lead your own career?

If you haven’t already, take our free SMART Worker Self-assessment.

~ Charlie Grantham, Futurist and co-founder of The SMART Workplace