Saturday, June 22, 2013
How technology is shaping--and will enable--the workforce of the future.
How technology is shaping--and will enable--the workforce of the future.

The FOSE convention was held this month, and I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on the future of the workforce—specifically how technology is changing the work environment and will enable people to succeed within it.

There were four technologies that I saw as coalescing to transform the workplace: Mobility, meaning both the end-devices that people use, but also the infrastructure (more wifi, better security for information) they run on; collaboration, both in terms of applications and management methods to allow for distributed tasks; agile development and open software, which are affecting overall organizational culture at least as much as software development—making offices quicker to adopt and adapt new methodologies, to inspire a sense of experimentation, and to spur meaningful innovation.

And these four technologies are changing what the workforce will look like, making it more: entrepreneurial, networked, porous, and multidisciplinary.


Though some agencies (e.g. DoD) will always be hierarchical, the confluence of the four technologies will make it easier for individuals to find or create opportunities for themselves and for their supervisors to approve them.  A more collaborative and open culture will reward self-starters and mobile will enable them to keep people notified and also to ask for help when and where they need it.


As this beautiful graphic shows, even the smartest don’t act alone. So it is with the current workforce and so it shall continue into the future.  As entrepreneurial as workers will be, their next project—even should they start it themselves—will depend on attracting a network of supporters, advocates, enablers, supervisors, and subordinates to help ensure success.  As the saying goes, you’ve got to build your network before you need it.


Many agencies are iterating on the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, now in its own second iteration.  The idea is simple: invite innovators from beyond government to work within it for a limited time (6- to 9-month stints) to solve finite problems.  Then, those innovators go back to the private sector.  This type of program is completely of a piece with the “gig economy,” an idea that Tina Brown used as a headline, and described as a negative in 2009, but which many serial entrepreneurs embrace as both a path to and indicator of success. 

Having a porous work environment leaves people to come and go between government agencies as their expertise and enthusiasm allows and as the needs of their office change.  Porosity also enables people to enter and leave government agencies more easily than they currently can.


Forget about hedgehogs vs. foxes; offices will always have (and need) both.  But the internet makes everyone a fox, and can help most anyone approach hedgehog-like expertise.  Success in such a work environment will both create and reward a workforce that understands how to expand their skill-set quickly, so they can move easily in a porous environment, so they can staff their own projects, so they can be of greater value to their network.

Leadership, Management, and New Hires

While new hires may be champing at the bit to spread their wings and get their hands dirty (to mix corporal metaphors), and while agency leadership may be equally enthusiastic to reap the benefits of new operating procedures, it will be left to management, as ever, to incorporate new technologies into current operations and to transition office culture so that these new rules can be applied.   As an example, Wikis may not have ‘lead editors,’ but by the same token, they don’t write themselves.

As technology advances, and as those entering the workforce depend upon it and expect that it will be available for them, the workplace and workforce will be better for it.  And every level of government can start to prepare for that future now.