The future of work: new paths to productivity

Table of Contents

  1. Summary
  2. The new 3D workforce: distributed, decentralized, discontinuous
  3. The role of IT: What does today’s workforce need?
  4. The executive: leadership in a fast-and-loose world
  5. Key takeaways: new operating principles for a new world
  6. About Stowe Boyd


Work has profoundly changed in recent years, but most people haven’t completely assimilated to what has already happened: We are operating in a new normal, a fundamentally different world of work, based on principles and practices we don’t totally understand. Yes, business is still focused on delivering value to customers; that hasn’t changed. But the manner in which work is conducted, how business activities are organized, and the tools and techniques people are using are all drastically different from what they were even five years ago.

In this report, I explore the interactions among the individual within the workforce, the IT department that must manage at least some of the tools and processes business requires, and the executive office in a time when enormous shifts in computing scale are disrupting the bedrock information technologies of the early internet era. I have shared some of these ideas with colleagues, and I’ve included and built on some of their observations.

Key findings of this analysis include:

  • The workforce is adopting tools and practices that enable a more distributed, decentralized, and discontinuous world of work. The lines between personal and work life are less clear, and the aesthetics and form factors of consumer devices and software are intruding in the corridors of today’s businesses, changing things at a deep and permanent level.
  • Behind the scenes, business IT must perform a tricky two-step: to get out of the way and let new productivity blossom while ensuring that a business’ policies and obligations are met. A constant tension is at work here, since business professionals want the flexibility and convenience of applying consumer technologies and the ease of use that comes from using their most familiar computing and communication devices — that is, the ones they always have with them. Perhaps the best example of that is the adoption of the file sync-and-share solutions from companies like Hightail and Dropbox that form the heart of the new normal for connected computing, enabling an effortless synchronization of files across a single user’s devices and a simple and automated means to share files with groups in the business setting.
  • In the executive suite, leaders need to adapt to a rapidly changing business context, one that makes new levels of agility, innovation, and resilience more critical than ever before. Business leaders are actively seeking a way forward to new productivity gains, all the while aware that the techniques used in the recent past can’t be applied again. Something new must be found, perhaps distilled from the latent energy in social connection and frictionless communication, and it must be tapped even if the workforce is harder to lead than ever before.

Disclosure: Hightail is backed by Alloy Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of GigaOM/paidContent.

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