Fjord + Women in Innovation: Designing the Future of Work
At Fjord, our business is thinking about the future. Our annual forecast, Fjord Trends, frames ongoing, constant conversations around technology and society; our clients come to us seeking transformative future state experiences; and through a rigorous commitment to learning, Fjord Evolution keeps our designers on their toes to ensure we’re always expanding the future of the design craft.
Recently, we also extended our future-looking activities into New York City’s design community. Last month, Fjord teamed up with Women in Innovation, a community of NYC-based innovators, designers and strategists, to host an evening of collaborative ideation focusing on how, where and why we work, and what we can do to re-imagine the future of work as a whole.
The workshop kicked off with discussion on how the classic career journey has evolved from the more traditional arc of “climbing the ladder” (i.e. maintaining loyalty to a particular company or field) to today’s more liquid career path. An employee now, for instance, is more likely to react to changing goals, priorities and life circumstances than to stick it out for a coveted gold watch. However, while workforce research shows that workers care about meaningful work and workplace culture more than ever before, many companies bemoan a lack of engagement among workers. This is the dilemma that set the stage for our forecasting exercise.
We began by breaking everyone into small groups, and asking the teams to design the future workplace of their dreams using a series of context-building cards which detailed certain specifics and constraints, including the year, the location, the workforce’s strongest skills and the prevalent technology used at work. (For instance, a group’s scenario might be an organization set in a mega-city in 2050, with performance as the strongest skill and robotics as the most-used technology.) Working within their particular constraints, each team then had to determine their organization’s key characteristics, including the industry, the three most important roles, the physical working space and what defines a typical work day.
Towards the end of the exercise, we then turned the process unexpectedly on its head and threw a wild card in the form of a challenge designed to question the assumptions embedded by biases in their organizational design. This card – which we called a “bridge card” – introduced a new, major condition that could well be impacting workforces today: that the organization was located in a flood zone, their workforce was 80% male, or that half their employees had some form of disability. Teams were then challenged to reassess their organization and make it more robust, more viable and more relatable so that it could be “bridged” to apply to present-day circumstances.
The exercise concluded with teams sharing their final concepts, and when they described their company’s vision and the skills needed to steer towards this ideal future, we saw thematic continuity that both alarmed and inspired. Many teams grappled with how innovation could genuinely manifest in future workforces, envisioning increasing difficulties in managing the delicate balance between human value and tech influence. A number also considered the erosion of for-profit business models in coming decades, with many exploring a related need for professionalized life skills such as mentorship, mindfulness and community-building. And to become more sustainable, some suggested organizations would need to become more sensitive to their local environments, more adaptive to unpredictable local contexts, more skilled at crisis management and better at recognizing the value of peer-to-peer networks.
When given the task of imagining a desired future — then recalibrating to consider the pragmatic steps, skills and organizational changes which would need to be taken to create a path to this future — the teams produced complex and thoughtful results. For our participants, future-forecasting became a powerful tool for their own self-evaluation and produced a sense of preparedness, resulting in new relationships and conversations that lasted long past our scheduled closing time.
Many thanks to our Fjordian facilitators, Zoey Forbarth, Sumeera Rasul, Carolyn Weiss, Susse Jensen, Jackie Jones, Lauren Oliver and Savannah Enright; and our live-sketcher, a gone-but-not-forgotten-Fjordian, Kate Dadarria, and collateral design whizz DC Miller. Photo credit to Katie Burwick at WIN.