eFuture Proofed Case

Neo-Nomadism and its impact on working lifestyles and organisations.

Overview: Technological advances in areas like communication and data management have already enabled more people to choose where they work.  In this Future Proofed case we look at we look at two current developments which we believe help us to glimpse the future. The first is the advances in virtual technology, for example IBM’s current innovations around 3D Holograms and MIT’s work on interactive technology. The second is the way in which accreditation will become more ubiquitous as more and more people work virtually and so credentialising becomes crucial. Here companies such as ODesk are beginning to show how this could occur.

Over the next decade these two developments will substantially change the way we work. A new breed of workers – called Neo-Nomads will emerge with no fixed working environment. The benefits are clear,  for the individual-increased flexibility , productivity, and reduced carbon footprint, for the company -better enviro-credentials by cutting out the ‘middle man’ of commuter travelling, a journey which accounts for 98% of employees’ carbon footprints.

Why this is Future-Proofed: The way we communicate is set to undergo huge innovation over the next ten years. Projects like 3D holograms, currently under development by Microsoft, are likely to permeate the workplace and allow greater autonomy in how and where people work. This is particularly important to young people.  Surveys of Gen Yers show they want to be more flexible and create their own working environment. In accordance with this, the subsequent examples suggest that the appeal of Neo-Nomadism transcends generational boundaries. Therefore this desire for change, coupled with the technology to facilitate it,  will make Neo-Nomads highly relevant for the future.

Background:  Technological progress in phones and internet have enabled a greater degree of home working as they provide a viable substitute for an otherwise office-bound job. Therefore, if we track this evolutionary process, the next stage will render other office functions-like team meetings-less important as they to move to the virtual side. For example, Sixth Sense a project under development by Pranav Mistry, a research assistant at MIT, helps users interact with the digital world through physical movements. It involves projecting an interactive screen onto any surface thus opening the door for virtual team meetings carried out in any location.

Despite this, it remains to be seen how Neo-Nomadism will be accommodated into various professions. The perceived benefits of virtual working assumes that the worker is sufficiently self motivated to maintain office productivity whilst not falling victim to the allure of procrastination when they are outside of a traditional work environment. As one employee from Nokia reminds us, virtual workers risk isolation and alienation from their company, and are no longer in a position to reap the subliminal benefits of peer interaction and the sharing of ideas in an informal environment.

Here are two examples of Neo-Nomads

Josh is a 25 year old graphic designer with a portfolio up on Myface (a futuristic collaboration between Facebook and MySpace) and other professional networking sites. This provides companies with samples of his work and they can decide whether they want him to spruce up their interactive website or commission a couple of designs that they can put in the latest Halo game for advertising.

Josh is usually available for a holographic conference from 2pm to 5pm in his room and this gives the companies a chance to touch base and explain what they want. When an agreement has been met, they e-mail over a more formal contract and the specific requirements of the work. This includes a weekly holographic conference to keep them in touch with his progress as well as a clause about a bonus if his designs increase the company’s website hits by 10%. The contract also gives Josh’s net I.D temporary access to some private web pages in the company’s site so he can get an idea of house style. He is also in video connection with the in house designer for any advice. Josh never creates the designs in his flat and always takes his net station outside to places like his local art museum or, in summer, on the Heath which he says gives him the most inspiration for his work.

Although he enjoys being in Britain, most of his business comes from Japan, where his particularly edgy designs are well received. Josh has hardly met any of his clients in person but does attend online graphic design video forums from his kitchen where designers share knowledge about the most reliable clients and what the trendy designs are.

Accreditation is crucial for Neo-Nomads like Josh whose clients have to be sure they can deliver. Take a look at ODesk to see how this is currently achieved. In the future this process of accreditation will become more widespread with Unions or Guilds ranking members on performance criteria such as a number of site hits or, in Josh’s case, website’s weekly design competitions. This accreditation enables potential employees to browse the designers work and ranking with ease and to find the one best suited for the job. They pay a monthly subscription for this privilege.

In the future, Josh is harbouring aspirations to be an architect and so he uses the flexibility of his work to take some online interactive classes as well as keeping in contact with a professor in Chile whom he is paying to mark his essay work and provide support and coaching. This deal includes premium membership to the professor’s website, which means Josh can access the weekly lecture videos.

Magdalene found that the city was all too much for her and so moved to a rural town on the South coast when she was 58. She still wanted to keep her jobs on the boards of various retail companies and started setting up a couple of 3D communication accounts.

As she says ‘it allows me to participate in the boardroom meetings through my hologram so I never feel too guilty about not being in the room. In fact its actually much better being a hologram in the meeting because I can poke other online members during the talks and send messages that only some members could see if the speaker is particularly bad. It’s really useful, you could vote anonymously without any elaborate ceremonies and show my colleagues interesting links and interactive presentations which I’ve developed at home’.

Magdalene also makes sure that she is in touch with all the latest company news with an hourly update review she had wired into her speaker system. She also keeps constant  video connections with a number of key peers so she can speak to them in a constant and informal way –  ask them if there’s any big news she is missing or rumours going round. By balancing this working lifestyle and integrating it into her life, Magdalene is able to enjoy a retirement, of sorts, in a peaceful environment. As she says ‘ I feel a lot less stressed than I did living in the city  – this is a perfect way of living’.

The diversity of these two  examples shows that Neo-Nomadism will not simply be about a particular generation. Instead  we see it as a phenomenon which can be moulded around the needs of specific lifestyles.

The Benefits

Neo-Nomadism has three main perceived benefits;

-it has the potential to create a more mobile workforce.  Once geographical constraints are no longer an issue, this could have positive implications on the use of skills and knowledge where ever they are located. Furthermore, the flexibility it provides workers allows them to take on multiple jobs at different companies.

-it focuses on the individual. By allowing a worker to tailor make their own environment, this boosts productivity and go some way to alleviating the pressure on companies to cater for their employees.

-it ticks all the boxes for sustainability. By removing the financial and environmental costs of daily commuting as well as the office’s overhead electrical consumption, it is beneficial for the planet and the bottom line.

What we can learn from this example.

Companies in the future will be increasingly faced with decisions about employee motivation and the new working environment.  An important factor will be finding new ways of maintaining the community element of a company and peer interaction in the face of increasing employee independence. This will spark an increasing debate about how companies will be able to measure their employees’ success when they are no longer present. It will possibly pave the way for a more results driven approach, one which was personified by Josh’s case study , with a performance clause that measures the increase in website hits to determine the success in Josh’s designs. 2020 could see a reassessment of office functions and, if this occurs, then Neo-Nomads will not be far behind, determining what these new functions are and how they can be replaced. 

Christian Seiersen