The More Things Change—Thinking Forward for Your Organization

In Business and Leadership by Daniel Newman1 Comment

projecting the futureIt’s estimated that 65 percent of preschoolers today will grow up to fill positions that do not exist right now, making it crucial for organizations to flex their creativity as they prepare for new opportunities. What’s essential for today’s companies is to build for multiple possible futures, attract newcomers based on forward-thinking infrastructure, and connect individuals and teams with purposeful technology.

In Microsoft’s most recent Modern Workplace webinar, “Future of Work: build, attract, connect,” two futurists visit the Microsoft Envisioning Center to discuss what organizations must do to stay relevant in a constantly shifting cultural environment—noting our current habits and how we can alter those to own a futuristic mindset. As futurist Angela Oguntala notes, “There’s a certain kind of cognitive flexibility [to plan for the future] which is not comfortable…but it’s going to be important, and we’ll need to have that.”

So how can organizations grasp that cognitive flexibility? Futurist Jacob Morgan outlines five factors influencing the future of work—they might sound familiar: Millennials, new behaviors, workplace mobility, globalization, and technology. Across all these elements, consider this: As members of an organization—and as humans—we tend toward what is familiar and what has worked in the past. To properly prepare for the future, we must let go of our old ways of thinking and focus forward. Microsoft’s guest futurists related the following five points as ways to design for the future.

Identify Large-Scale Forces. “What are the large-scale forces that are shaping the world around us?” asks Oguntala. Large-scale movement and trends are indicators of what’s to come for individual organizations. Take chip readers, for example, unless you stick to small towns where the grocery stores have been able to hold out on paying to install them, inserting—instead of swiping—your card at checkout is a change now ubiquitously experienced. What type of movements—in technology, work style, etc.—appear in our country and our world today? Think of how these shifts affect the way we work and live in general; then contemplate how your organization fits into the grand scheme and how you might adjust for the future, staying comfortable in front of those large-scale forces.

Identify Potential Futures. When you’ve identified those large-scale forces and what your organization’s place is in all of it, building out your possible futures will be simple. As Oguntala says, it’s all about the questions: can you shift perspectives? Can you be flexible in your problem solving?

Accept that Transition is Continuous. In today’s world, it can be challenging to keep up with the smallest of changes (anyone still have a smartphone from a couple years ago?). But an important thing to remember is that we’re in an age of constant change and advancement, and we won’t be getting off the roller coaster anytime soon. Accept continuous change as fact, and instead of feeling uncomfortable, do the work of preparing—mentally and tangibly—for those possible changes so you’re not thrown at every turn.

Ask Questions—a Lot of Questions. Morgan touted asking questions as the most important key to thinking futuristically, saying, “Organizations need to get more in the habit of asking their employees questions.” He makes the point that anyone on the team can have a fantastic idea, but if the culture doesn’t support open sharing and equal collaboration, a lot of great forward motion can be lost. His advice: “Speak up and let your ideas and voices be heard. Be active and take steps to create the future that you want.”

Don’t Shy Away from Technology. As Morgan notes, companies are still mainly concerned with attracting and retaining the best people—the question now is how to use technology to accomplish that. Luckily, we have a range of gadgets and apps at our fingertips to help us communicate and reach goals more efficiently than ever. And Microsoft is at the forefront of collaboration technology with its Teams product, a new chat-based workspace in Office 365 released just last month.

In Microsoft Teams, you can access group and private messaging, spontaneous meetings, calling, content sharing, real-time collaboration, and more. Reflecting a social media-like format, users can join groups within the product, jump in on a threaded chat, hold multiple conversations at once, tag teammates—even use a bot to run a poll within a group. These functions and more allow teams to be more connected and collaborative than ever, taking advantage of truly impressive technological strides.

The one thing organizations can always count on is that our world is constantly changing. Staying relevant means developing a solid foundation that can withstand this constant change and unpredictable future—a challenge for those unwilling to adopt a futuristic mindset. Build those possible futures, attract the individuals who help you fulfill what you want to be, and connect your team in collaboration and idea sharing. It’s the way of the future.

This article has been brought to you in partnership with Microsoft Office. The content and ideas belong to the author. For more information and productivity advice, please take a look at the Microsoft Office Modern Workplace webcast and follow @Office365 on Twitter.

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