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There’s no question that the past year saw an unprecedented level of digital transformation, perhaps the fastest change in how we work and where we work in history. As revolutionary as this shift appears, the future of work is still coming at us at a fast clip.
Many critics of the distributed workforce bemoan the lack of interaction, creativity, and cohesion they experience while working from home. That’s in part because, as helpful as many of our digital tools are, people are tooled for individual productivity more than they are for collective work. And with an army of disjointed tools each designed for a different task, the workday can feel like navigating a maze with no way out.
The solution is not getting everyone back in the office — in fact, we weren’t working happily together in the office when this all started. Prior to 2020, globally distributed teams worked with compressed schedules and inadequate tools. 2020 cranked it all the way up. The solution lies in the virtual workspace where dispersed individuals can come together from anywhere, anytime, to get things done. Sound familiar? If you want a glimpse of the future of work, look no further than your new PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X.
Here’s why the future of work will look like a video game.
You’ll get to design your day and role
Though players in a game act within a shared world according to shared rules, there’s a large amount of autonomy, flexibility, and free will. In a game, you’re inherently a designer. You get to design your clothes, your house, your bicycle, or your car. Though a prescribed mission may guide your broader actions, you’re afforded choice along every step of the journey — from who and what you engage with to when and how you do it. You can stick to the central mission, or detour through side quests. You also don’t have to settle for just one persona, and you’re rarely ever in a box — if you want to blast civilians along your route to the prize, you can, and if you want to play the good neighbor, you can as well.
A similar scenario will occur in the future of work.
We’ve already taken steps in this direction with the rise of remote work due to the pandemic, and more employers are warming up to the idea of allowing employees to work according to their own schedules and preferences, with 90% saying they’ll allow employees to work remotely even after a vaccine is widely available. In other words, workers can come and go just like gamers.
HubSpot is giving employees three options to choose from: office first, “flex,” and home-first. Each option comes with its own perks, and the company gives each equal support. Reddit has a similar model, and it decided not to slash employee salaries if they relocated to a cheaper part of the country. Many others, including big tech players like Google and Twitter, have also recently embraced hybrid work models. Employee flexibility has suddenly become a mainstream company value, giving employees freedom to take charge of their work life.
As businesses continue to adopt emerging technology and long-term remote work, we’ll need to embrace virtual worlds where coworkers can seamlessly collaborate despite geographic or time differences. We’ll then realize that the things that used to hold us back, like requiring workers to come into the office, are just superficial boundaries. Employees will be able to design their work around their lives, instead of awkwardly fitting their lives around their job. And while employees will still be tied to their formal job titles, we’ll see workers move far beyond their job descriptions as they design tasks that add value to their mission.
Sharing will be intrinsic
The online world of video games is a shared world. While you have the ability to act independently, your actions will impact other players. If you choose to collaborate, your actions are second-nature. No need to spend time looking for the right document file or trying to integrate disparate digital tools. In a video game, you’re working from the same set of information, with the same tools, in the same place as everyone else in the game.
Whether working remotely, virtually, or in person, The future of work will be more like this shared virtual world where silos are a thing of the past. The difference will be tools built with a virtual world mindset. For most of the tools we use today, collaboration was added later as an afterthought to. We essentially took “screen sharing” and added voice and called it collaboration. But that’s not really collaboration. It’s really just a temporary sharing of private information through a video call. It was certainly an important step, but it was only a step.
Just as cloud-native apps perform better for the cloud, so will collaboration-first tools perform better for a world that is built on completing shared tasks versus just individual productivity. We’re beginning to see this play out as more solutions are created to make it easy for teammates to find and share information in the cloud. Just one example are enterprise search tools from companies like Elastic that help teammates quickly find information over different tools and product suites. When access to information and the capability to share that information is instantaneous, we’re closer to a video game where sharing and collaboration is as easy as one click of a button. It should be no surprise that Minecraft has already become a tool for remote and hybrid learning.
Democratic participation will be the new norm
Just think: if you can perform in Grand Theft Auto, then you can succeed. Your performance is not about someone else’s judgment of you, but rather about your own accomplishments. The actions you take in the digital world are yours and only yours (e.g., your completed jobs, your saved money, the things you’ve created). Of course, it’s often important to work with others to complete tasks, but you’re empowered to take the initiative to make meaningful progress.
As we think about the future of work, we’ll start to move away from an arbitrary, chain-of-command world. We’ve already gotten a taste as our remote human interaction has occurred largely through video calls during the pandemic. In a call, it’s harder to be dominated by the loudest voice in the room because it’s difficult to speak simultaneously over people in a conference call. It’s also easier to have a say, with access to a chat box that lets you communicate ideas even if others aren’t giving you room to speak. Technology alone does not solve deeply rooted problems around diversity, equity, and inclusion. But when used the right way, it can promote a work environment where more people have a say, and where more people are empowered to creatively accomplish tasks on their own terms.
One example of where this is starting to play out is in virtual workspaces, such as Bluescape, Miro and Mural. In a virtual workspace, teammates can hold video calls, browse web content, edit videos and documents, take notes, storyboard, and strategize — all in one, secure central hub that’s accessible to everyone on the team regardless of location or device. This means that everyone can participate simultaneously by working on different tasks in the same place, and if someone is hogging the line on your Zoom call, teammates can add value through a number of different avenues beyond the chat box. In an environment like this, businesses move closer to getting everyone a real seat at the table, not just the illusion of one.
At the end of the day, work should be about the human experience of information, where a constant flow of decisions and actions are seamlessly shared by teammates who are empowered to contribute, regardless of time or location. Today, you’ll hardly find a better place where this occurs than in the virtual world of a video game. So next time your partner rags on you for spending hours with your eyes fixed on a screen with a controller in hand, just tell them you’re practicing for the future of work.
Demian Entrekin, the founder and CTO of Bluescape, leads technological innovation and product strategy at the company and is a serial entrepreneur who has founded several successful software technology companies over the course of his over 25-year career.
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