#13 Work in the age of hyper-agility

7 provocative propositions about the changing world of work

Faster, increasingly interconnected and more and more complex. Edmonia Baker understands these challenges – and Danish businesses. As a futurist, she advises start-ups, corporations and organisations on how to prepare for these trends. The core competency required is called hyper-agility. 

We meet with Edmonia Baker in a café located in the heart of Copenhagen. We are there during Fashion Week – the people surrounding us in this packed downtown café are young, well-dressed and dynamic. This city is the birthplace of trends, not just in the fashion industry. Edmonia knows what they are.  Edmonia is an Associated Partner with the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies. As a futurist and business consultant, she works to recognize – and successfully utilize – new trends in the world of work. In doing so, she regularly incorporates her experience working for international corporations, the technology sector and the communications industry into her work. The Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies works with the term ‘hyper-agility,’ which has become characteristic of our time.  But what does this mean for work? She shares her insights with us in the form of seven interesting propositions.


Our café – a trendy place at Nyhavn in Copenhagen

1. Relationship status: It’s complicated!

Full-time job or self-employment? These types of categories are dissolving in our Age of Hyper-agility. New forms of part-time, home office, clickworking, coworking, collaboration and networking are appearing. Nevertheless, traditional forms of working together continue to exist. From now on, the relationship between employer and service provider will no longer be black and white; instead, it will reflect many shades of gray.

2. Stop hunting unicorns

Classical institutions, policies, unions and social systems are overwhelmed with this plethora of variants. They tend to think in terms of narrow categories and attempt to lump new tendencies together. Therefore, new work promotion – not only in Denmark – all too often means: support high-tech start-ups. Ideally, the hope is that this will create, as in Silicon Valley, billion dollar “unicorns” which can be held up as beacons for the economy and new work. This is, however, no solution for the majority of people who want to become independent. Even today there are countless examples of small and micro enterprises that are re-creating the meaning of entrepreneurship. Many of them not only focussing on ROI and personal income but also on the value they create for society and sustainability aspects. These entrepreneurs should be placed in the spotlight, as they are more suitable as role models – also for those of us who are not programming geniuses.
Edmonia Baker knows: we have to think bigger

3. People connect machines which connect people

Even people who don’t work in the IT industry are strongly influenced by the effects of digitalization. Although digitalization is often discussed in terms of its effect on stealing jobs from people, it also provides plenty of opportunities.  “With the Internet of Things we connected machines with one another – but this development will also connect people in entirely new ways.” Today, businesses can be started by much smaller teams, without large investments and with much more dynamic structures. Expertise and capacity that is lacking can be bought externally. The strength of an enterprise is determined less by unique production methods and knowledge and more by the strength of its Network.

4. The triumph of the generalists

If information technology enables us to accelerate and standardize complex processes, and if expertise can readily be bought when needed, the type of person central to emerging businesses might be labeled a ‘Neo Generalist.’ This person mustn’t be an expert in any specific area – he must be able to capitalize on digitalization, build a stable network and steer it with the one thing no IT will ever be able to replace: his social competencies.

Old work – new work?

5. Employees are not resources

As a result, the concept of personnel takes on a totally new meaning in every type of organization. Human Resources must be transformed into real “Human Potential Management.” To achieve this, massive investments in terms of time, money and attention are needed in this area. And again, there won’t be a single solution that applies to every part-time, full-time, permanent, casual or otherwise employed individual. Support and ‘Potential Management’ will pay off for an organization once they are truly able to unleash individual potential.

6. Bonus cheques alone do not motivate

In order to unleash the potential within each individual there will continue to be a need for motivation and incentive schemes. But in this area as well, the idea of ‘one-size-fits-all’ no longer applies. Classical monetary bonus systems and wage increases no longer motivate a vast number of employees and collaborators (and not just within Generation Y). Instead, this area also requires that each organization becomes hyper-agile and determines what will reward each individual: it could be a work model suited to a particular life circumstance, home office options, free child care – or, for some, it could still be money. When this is done with the needs of the employees as the guiding principles, the jointly defined organizational values will truly become “shared value.”

What does motivate? Money or time (for a coffee)?

7. Flexibility requires new anchors

Is everything going to become hyper-agile? Yes. And no. The opening up of some of these structures – which have slowly been established over the course of decades – will not only result in positive changes for many people. It will also result in the stress that often accompanies change.  This will eventually lead to a renaissance of traditional values such as reliability and trust. This will offer organizations that provide a coming together of service providers and work distributors – what we have traditionally called an enterprise – the chance to take on an entirely new role.

These organizations will turn into new ‘anchors’ and will provide a home base for people in an increasingly agile environment; something to which I enjoy returning and to which I am committed – although maybe not by legal contracts. Strong branding, a trust-worthy and lived corporate culture and shared values can become the basis for a renaissance of a new type of old ‘enterprise.’

Edmonia´s answer to Camilla’s question/Interview #11: What keeps people motivated?

In the future, this question will be answered on a much more individual basis – for one person it might be money, but temporal and spatial freedoms are becoming an increasingly important currency. In the end, people must be able to find sense in their work and their achievements must be acknowledged.
Edmonia’s question for our next interview partner Mikkel:
What can other industries learn from your business? What would be your advice to them?