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Deloitte: Be purposeful in defining your work

Workers think in terms of projects, not long-term employment. 10'000 Hours/Getty Images

Not that long ago, employees had a defined role at a consistent worksite for the same company for many years. The employer-employee relationship seemed stable and well-defined. But times have changed. In a recent Deloitte Insights article, "What is the Future of Work?," Deloitte highlights how "forces of change" — e.g., accelerating connectivity, new talent models, artificial intelligence, crowdsourcing, etc. — are radically redefining the who, what, and where of work.

The workforce of the future has significant implications for everyone. For employees, planning out a 50-year career is almost impossible. For employers, their traditional approach to attract, develop, and retain workers has been shaken. The focus now is accessing and establishing flexible work engagements around specific projects. Deloitte's insights, summarized below, are eye-opening and portend potentially significant societal impact.

What is work?
Deloitte notes that technological advances have long impacted the nature of work in the Western world. The chart below shows the evolution across three eras.

Source: Deloitte Insights

In today's postindustrial era, robots and automated systems are replacing some jobs. Yet workers need not fear: their relational skills and insights can't be replaced by technology — and, in fact, enhance the value offered by technology. For example, online juggernaut Amazon opened a tech hub in Houston in July 2019. As the name implies, the hub will use technology, but it will also create 150 jobs, per a recent InnovationMap article. This is just one example illustrating that work now focuses on the ability to capture value from technology, solve problems, and manage human relationships.

Who is working?
The relationship between employers and employees will likely never be the same. Per Deloitte Insights, "[o]rganizations now have a broad continuum of options for finding workers, from hiring traditional full-time employees to availing themselves of managed services and outsourcing, independent contractors, gig workers, and crowdsourcing." This means companies should be adept at recruiting, engaging, and retaining workers in new types of relationships.

Workers in Houston are wading into the new model. In a study profiled in a recent CultureMap article, "Houston ranked second statewide and 11th in the U.S. among major metro areas for the size of the skilled-freelancer workforce per revenue produced." The relationship between workers and their jobs is shifting from long-term employment to project engagement.

Where are people working?
One thing is clear: workers are spending less face time with work colleagues. More and more work is being accomplished from home or coworking spaces. Many workers appreciate the flexibility of working remotely; companies can benefit from reduced overhead.

Houston is experiencing huge growth in the number of coworking spaces. The Cannon Houston moved into its new 120,000 square foot building in July 2019, and WeWork is planning to open another location, which will be its fourth in Houston and second in downtown Houston. These spaces offer not just desks and offices, but a variety of events and programming designed to foster community.

The new frontier
Deloitte notes that the full impact of these changes may just be starting — and the future of work is not a "foregone conclusion." We can allow technology to merely "drive more efficiency and cost reduction, or we can consider more deeply the ways to harness these trends and increase value and meaning across the board — for businesses, customers, and workers." Deloitte urges organizations to "zoom out and imagine the possibilities" to create positive outcomes for work, the workforce, and the workplace. As Deloitte sums it up: "[p]urpose will bring the future into focus."

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This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.

About Deloitte
Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a UK private company limited by guarantee ("DTTL"), its network of member firms, and their related entities. DTTL and each of its member firms are legally separate and independent entities. DTTL (also referred to as "Deloitte Global") does not provide services to clients. In the United States, Deloitte refers to one or more of the US member firms of DTTL, their related entities that operate using the "Deloitte" name in the United States and their respective affiliates. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting. Please see www.deloitte.com/about to learn more about our global network of member firms.

Copyright © 2019 Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved.

Cross-functional teams help aid innovation. Photo by Hinterhaus Productions/Getty

Some workers fear technology, wondering "will a robot eventually replace my job?" Yet, Deloitte Insights and MIT Sloan Management Review found in a recent study that the more a company uses digital technology, the more likely it is to be innovative, which can benefit individuals, teams, organizations, and groups of organizations.

Deloitte and MIT collaborated for the fifth time to conduct a global study about digital innovation. They surveyed more than 4,800 businesspeople and interviewed 14 subject matter experts. The results were published in a June 2019 report titled "Accelerating Digital Innovation Inside and Out."

Deloitte and MIT shared two main findings from the survey:

  1. Digitally maturing companies innovate at higher rates — both internally and externally — than companies with early or developing digital maturity.
  2. Companies should know their ethics so that they can innovate wisely.

Internal innovation
Most digitally maturing companies innovate internally in two ways. First, they typically allow individuals to innovate within their jobs. The more digitally mature a company is, the more likely an employee was to say that more than 10 percent of their work involves the opportunity to experiment and innovate. The opposite was also true. Employees of less digitally mature companies were more likely to say that less than 10 percent of their work involves the opportunity to experiment and innovate.

In addition to encouraging individuals to innovate, most digitally maturing companies urge groups to innovate by establishing cross-functional teams. These teams are generally comprised of individuals from across multiple departments and roles and often exist to accomplish a specific task. Deloitte and MIT found that 83 percent of digitally maturing companies surveyed use cross-functional teams. This is far higher than respondents of either developing or early-stage companies' cross-functional team use — 71 percent and 55 percent, respectively.

External innovation
In addition to having employees innovate internally (both individually and in groups), digitally maturing companies often innovate externally by collaborating with others (e.g., their customers, their competitors, government institutions, and more) in their ecosystem. Ecosystems, which are formal or informal networks of organizations working toward a common goal, typically feed innovation in two ways. First, they integrate platform companies, meaning that companies that provide services to other companies — such as Amazon and PayPal — are both a part of the ecosystem and also strengthen it by being part of it.

Second, digitally maturing companies allow all organizations within the network to get better feedback. A company is not just getting feedback from their own customers, but from all customers within the ecosystem.

Ethics and innovation
In order to get the most benefit from their internal and external collaborations, companies should use "loose coupling," a term first coined by organizational theorist Karl Wieck. This means that individuals are linked to teams, teams to the organization, and the organization to fellow members of its ecosystem — but not too tightly. This model allows people the freedom to have both some autonomy and also some oversight as they innovate. If people are micromanaged, they are not able to innovate as well.

Because innovation requires loosening the reins somewhat, companies should have strong ethics systems in place. Otherwise, innovation can get out of hand, and a company risks having employees develop goods or services which aren't in line with organizational values.

Survey conclusion
Over half (56 percent) of survey respondents said they think their organization will exist and be in a much stronger position in 10-20 years due to the organization's use of digital capabilities. A similar percentage (44 percent) of survey respondents said that in 10-20 years, they think that their organization will have been bought out or gone out of business. Companies can act based on market and competitive forces but cannot control them. Companies can, however, decide how much of a priority digital innovation will be.

If they decide it is a priority, how can companies become more innovative? Companies should consider several tips:

  1. Work with other organizations within your ecosystem.
  2. Prioritize cross-functional teams.
  3. Use loose coupling which allows room for trial and error.
  4. Establish and continually update your ethics guidelines.

Innovation in Houston
The Houston innovation scene is thriving, and local organizations know that they are stronger together than apart. Houston Exponential is a "nonprofit organization created to accelerate the growth of Houston's innovation ecosystem" which hopes to "turn Houston into a hub for high-growth high-potential companies by creating pathways for innovation to flow at scale." Houston Exponential has stakeholders from companies, non-profits, government entities, and academic institutions.

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This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.

About Deloitte
Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a UK private company limited by guarantee ("DTTL"), its network of member firms, and their related entities. DTTL and each of its member firms are legally separate and independent entities. DTTL (also referred to as "Deloitte Global") does not provide services to clients. In the United States, Deloitte refers to one or more of the US member firms of DTTL, their related entities that operate using the "Deloitte" name in the United States and their respective affiliates. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting. Please see www.deloitte.com/about to learn more about our global network of member firms.

Copyright © 2020 Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved.