Knowledge Workers: The Future is at Hand

By Maurice Nagle April 12, 2017

In the classic novel, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” Hank Morgan – an engineer from modern times – is transported back in time, narrowly escapes death with his wit, and before long is in a position of influence. Morgan was able to keep his head with knowledge of the future, utilizing a solar eclipse to ooh and aah the natives into letting him live. The tale is one of Workfront CEO Alex Shootman’s favorites, which prompted him to ask the audience during his Tuesday Leap keynote, “What if I could tell y’all what you need to know to know the future?"

Shootman noted that in 1994, the top three paying industries included mining, manufacturing and transportation, but by 2015 a drastic shift took place placing information services, financial services and business and professional services in the top three slots. The Workfront CEO credits “Creative Destruction” for the change. Much like steam gave way to gas and then electric; change is at hand for marketers.

There are several forces at play here. Shootman’s first driver is digitization, “converting offline work to online work,” and moving in a more agile direction. A recent Mckinsey study illustrated that only 40 percent of industry is digitized today. He offered the example of Yates, a bar franchise with menu changeover issues. The company was able to ease the menu transition among its 690 locations by digitizing operations.

The second point of note is 2017 marks the first year that Millennials will make up the majority of the workforce.  These “digital natives” think and work differently, bringing what Shootman referred to as a more egalitarian and nomadic approach to work. Millennials are prone to task juggling as opposed to a linear workflow.

Thirdly, there is fundamental productivity problem. Shootman used statistics to paint a rather vivid picture here, as there are 60 million knowledge workers in the United States with an annual cost of $92,000 per worker; now throw in the fact that, on average, only 39 percent of a knowledge worker’s day is spent doing their job. Do the math, and that adds up to 3.4 trillion –with a t – in the United States alone.

In addition, Shootman explained that 71 percent of knowledge workers feel the pace of work is accelerating, and 83 percent believe the most important skill for the future is creativity. This why when 90 percent of knowledge workers note automating knowledge work as a priority, it should come as no surprise that, as he put it, “I’m worried about amazing people being mired in repetitive mundane tasks.”

So, where do we go from here? Fret not, for Shootman offers four ways of change. First, “all work will become the Hollywood model of work.” All work in the future will primarily be project work, which brings together groups of really creative people with the ability to self-organize.

The digital native will play a vital role in this transformation. As Shootman notes, the No. 1 difference between digital natives and digital thinking is in thought process. Where a digital immigrant will think about solving a problem, then integrate technology, the digital native will take more of a “I can’t divorce technology from solving the problem” approach, so technology is a component of the process from step one.

Next comes leadership; Shootman explains the next generation leads far different than its predecessor. Digital natives understand the importance of appreciating people. This generation will lead knowing that teamwork, collaboration and transparency are mission critical components.

Lastly, Shootman introduces the notion of boundless integration. Alleviate the notion of a central system; integrate everything in the workflow to reduce friction to productivity.

It’s not that Shootman has a crystal ball capable of predicting the future, research illustrates the future.  There’s no need for a futuristic Hank Morgan; the only requirements are the proper systems and solutions in place. Workfront is here to elevate the work you do.




Edited by Alicia Young
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