My View: Work Is Changing – And so Should Leadership

The fourth industrial revolution is shaking up the way we work. The end is not in sight quite yet, but leaders need to be awake.

Photo: Anni Hanén

Heidi Hammarsten, 05.11.2018

Lue suomeksi.

Video conferences, Slack chats, emails from Ameri­can team members last thing at night – especially knowledge workers now find their lives permeated with new ways of working. According to Professor of International Business at Aal­to University Kristiina Mäkelä, the shift stems from a fourth in­dustrial revolution.

“The fourth revolution comes after factories, electricity, and computers. It’s a combination of different changes brought on by digitalization and globalization, and it’s only just begun”, says Mäkelä. She has been analyzing changes in work together with her research group that includes Johannes Gartner, Jennie Sume­lius, and Hertta Vuorenmaa.

The fourth revolution comes after factories, electricity, and computers."

According to the group, work will be changing so much that three key interdependencies loosen: those between work and time; work and place; and work and employment relationships. These changes challenge the en­tire traditional corporate organ­izational model, HR field, and leadership styles.

“Leadership will be different. It is no longer based on hierar­chy or authority, but on how to motivate people. It’s important to think about how to manage the network: orchestrate activi­ties, manage people remotely, and create a corporate culture without people being physically present.”

Mäkelä admits that there are no ready answers. Changes are still underway, and each organi­zation unique. Everyone needs to find their own solutions, with their own strategy, capabilities, and practices as starting points.

“I don’t buy into universal, best practices. It’s important to think about what you want to achieve, and what knowledge and practices are needed to get there.”

The relationship between work and time is influenced by globalization and a faster pace in general. Digitalization has resulted in things taking place in real time and people communicating across time zones, a 9 to 5 working day tak­ing a backseat.

“The line between work and leisure time becomes blurred thanks to people’s individual needs and the spread of mobile technology. Instead of a tradi­tional balance between work and personal life, this can lead to work and personal life becoming integrated,” says Mäkelä.

Place-independent work is increasingly com­mon."

According to Mäkelä, work and place becoming less interdependent doesn’t mean the odd day working remotely, but a much more fundamental phenomenon. As an example, she mentions her daughter’s boyfriend, a Swedish coder studying at a Swedish university, working for a Canadian com­pany and living in Scotland, where her daughter is studying.

“Place-independent work of this type is increasingly com­mon. Digital nomads can travel the world and choose where to stay put according to the weath­er, family, hobbies or living costs.”

Small, knowledge-intensive businesses like Yousician and Hellon have been springing up also in Finland, offering employ­ees a chance to uproot for warmer climes when the weath­er turns cold. Employees can decide to relocate together, or choose a period that suits them individually.

Less interdependencies be­tween work and employ­ment relationships mean work transitioning from hierarchies to networks and different plat­forms. At the same time, career paths become increasingly indi­vidual.

“The aim is no longer to go up the ladder. A need and op­portunities for meaningful work increase, resulting in more free­lancers and new technology-based operating models. Em­ployment relationships will be increasingly established on contractual relations. I believe this trend will be expanding to new professions and fields that are not yet affected,” describes Mäkelä.

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