The Modern Workplace as Incubator for Collaboration & Creativity

In this disruptive age of complex, multidimensional problems it’s no longer business as usual. Modern workplaces are shaking up how we work. No longer the domain of the 9 to 5, the new modern workplace doesn’t involve sitting at a desk pushing out emails and reports going nowhere. Instead, it offers a plethora of virtual and co-shared workspaces, a smorgasbord of portfolio careers, and the opportunity to build start-ups and bring creativity back to the business roundtable. Although these changes may seem too much for some of us, what this modern workplace does do is encourage a new ecosystem of collaboration, co-creation, connection and mutual prosperity.  

By Gabrielle Martinovich

Models of thinking, managing and leading are encountering increasing disturbances as workforces shift into new technologies and cultures. Today, entrepreneurship is seen as the key driver for future economic growth and development, there is a significant rise in contract employees, and the internet of everything is creating an explosion of hyper-connectedness.

Recently, Cisco Engineering identified 19 billion things currently connected to the internet, and forecasts that within six years there will be 37 billion new things – a technological infrastructure that provides a gateway to unlimited access, people, processes and data.

Now more than ever, we all have the opportunity to shape our modern workplace. With this convergence of disruptive forces, we can shift corporations to individual empowerment, and flip the marketplace with smaller, adaptive, startups.

Virtual and co-share work spaces

The home office is fast becoming the preferred work space. Now you can work from your backyard studio with your cat on your lap and no more daily commutes. Your new work day gives you the freedom to go to yoga classes at a time that suits you, more time with your kids, enables you to share more of your skills with pro bono clients, and simply do more of the projects you love.

Augmenting this human autonomy is the myriad of cloud based technologies such as Trello, G-Suite, Dropbox, iAnnotate, Evernote, 1Password and Xero. All you need is a laptop, an internet connection and your skills, and you’re ready for work.

If working from home isn’t your thing, you can tap in to the new and affordable co share workspaces popping up in our cities, such as Gravity, Fishburners and Tank Stream Labs. Here you can work alongside other start-ups and creative professionals to collaborate and germinate ideas and opportunities within the confines of vibrant spaces.

Then with the click of a button on your iPad you can get the latest industry information from a GotoWebinar session, hook into a plethora of virtual networks so you’re not flying solo, update your skills via an online learning module, or connect with colleagues and clients via Zoom, Skype and Facebook Live meetings.

Portfolio careers

Careers for life are well and truly extinct. Now more than ever we are rethinking our careers. Just take a look at LinkedIn to see the range of ways people promote themselves: author, collaborative alchemist, change strategist, storyteller, video artist, entrepreneur and coach.

As our expectations of job and life satisfaction have become more intricate, we recognise we no longer fit neatly into one box. We are embracing the fact that we are all, as Emilie Wapnick tells us in her TEDX talk, ‘multipotentialites’, that is multi-faceted and multi-skilled people with many interests and pursuits. As this trend of career by design becomes more popular, we will see more people opt for career self-management, combining multiple part-time roles, contracts, volunteer work and even their own small businesses into a portfolio career.

Barrie Hopson, co-author of 10 Steps to Creating a Portfolio Career, highlights how a portfolio career can offer a fulfilling work-life blend, not to mention a safety net of several jobs providing multiple income streams. Hopson also points out that the traditional, single-track career pattern of the last century is now more difficult to find, and requires a move between companies to secure it.

To avoid the single career trajectory, entrepreneurship has become the holy grail for economic growth and development. A recent National Australia Bank white paper, Rethink Success, highlights that not only are one in four working Australians self-employed, they also see themselves as entrepreneurs. This is particularly prevalent among our Generation Y colleagues, with 38% calling themselves an entrepreneur and labelling their businesses start-ups. In future, people will be seen as independent entrepreneurial business units, who require flexibility, virtual connections and low cost business models.

Hollywood Business Model

With traditional work roles being quickly left behind, a new and effective way to manage a large group of contractors and teams is taking its cue from the silver screen with the Hollywood Model.

In essence, the model applies the business method for how modern movies are made.  A project is identified; a team is assembled; it works together for precisely as long as is needed to complete the task; then the team disbands.

Some of the major boons of this method are that it can be successfully replicated across different sectors, from designing apps to starting restaurants and building bridges. It’s also easily adaptable. If something isn’t working, or if you decide to move in a different direction with your product, you can assemble new teams at relatively little expense.

Once you’ve executed on your initial goals, you can constantly reassess where to invest your money. Based on what the market dictates as making the most sense for your company, you can then assemble the best teams for moving forward with your project.

The bottom line is it keeps workers happy – which translates to motivated teams and profit. Production teams often work under an intense time crunch, and make reasonable income as their skills are high in demand – a win-win for everybody.

Innovation

As we migrate from the specialist to the portfolio career, from the corporate model to the Hollywood model, innovation becomes a central tenet.  For some, innovation is simply the next fad. For others, it means we become explorers and find the business opportunities that create new markets.

For example, in Australia, the NSW Government is pushing for Sydney to become the incubator of new ideas, business models and products. This has led to an explosion of disruptors such as Uber and AirBnB upturning markets and agitating for legislative change, with traditional businesses playing catch up. Similarly, we are also seeing more activist citizens finding their voice and creating movements that think independently and challenge the status quo.

In the midst of this there’s a clash of business models as the traditional ones of the 80s and 90s are well past their use by date, while the pervading suite of innovation models guide opportunity, and provide the licence to be creative and to bring critical thinking to our conversations across all jobs and industries.

In particular, Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter argues that a critical mass of related organisations in a business environment allows each member to enjoy the benefits of scale without sacrificing its flexibility. As a result, companies can better tap into talent pools, specialised information, shared infrastructure and other players in the value chain. Together these organisations (clusters) tend to have greater innovation, higher productivity and are able to more quickly form new businesses.

What’s important to remember is we need more effective solutions for our 21st century problems. Forbes writer, David Yin outlines the reasons why Israel’s innovation ecosystem is successful and highlights that it’s based on the long-standing premise that ‘Innovation does not always come from a moment of genius. Sometimes, all it takes is the persistence and optimism to keep on trying.’

Collaboration

Of course, for all of this to work, we need educators, industry and governments working together to solve the world’s wicked problems. Modern workplace environments reflect this shift.

A Harvard Business Review study found that the time managers and employees spend on collaborative activities has increased by more than 50% in the past 20 years. This emphasis on collaborative work involves the constructive exchange of ideas between individuals, teams and sectors at the start of a conversation so that everyone can better understand the nuances and ‘cracks’ in order to get to the heart of the problem.

Collaboration is also about building long-term relationships and sharing information with our strategic partners, which promises strong interconnection among people and ideas. Selecting the right partners is the first and most important step. For example, Settlement Services International (SSI) and the University of Wollongong (UOW) have partnered on the Ignite Small Business Start-ups program. SSI’s Ignite program works with the support of business mentors consisting of volunteers from local businesses, councils, individuals and academic institutions who can share their business knowledge and skills. UOW’s Faculty of Business Internship Program provides Ignite with students who can assist entrepreneurs in the areas of accounting, finance, marketing and human resources, giving students a practical stint in the real world of business which also increases their chances of gainful employment. Since 2015, 30 entrepreneurs from refugee backgrounds have started their own businesses supported by a student from the university.

Throughout this flurry of modern workplace activity, what remains consistent is a strong sense of community. A community that wants to stay connected, wants to shift the way we do things to be more effective, and wants to ‘pay it forward’ by keeping it human.

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