The Workplace of the Future

Jeanne Meister is leader of the 2020 Workplace Network and author of The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today (Harper Collins), which won the 2011 Bellwether Award, has been on the bestseller list for 800 CEOREAD three times, was recognised as one of the top 30 business books in 2010 by Soundview, and won the Axiom Business Book Award in bronze category for the Best Business Book For Human Resource professionals. She has made her life’s passion one of researching, consulting and writing about innovations in both higher education and corporate learning, and is the author of two further books on Corporate Universities. With work and life-wide learning a big theme at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN this year, the News Service was keen to get her opinion on her specialist subject: the workplace of the future.


What is the 2020 Workplace Network currently working on, and what aspects of technology-assisted learning does it involve?



Our major research topic for 2013 is Gamification In The Workplace, which includes both an online survey as well as a series of interviews with practitioners to uncover the benefits of leveraging gamification, where and why it can deliver results, and the lessons learnt in implementing gamification in the workplace.


The other major research focus for 2013 is to understand how MOOCs will impact corporate learning and development. While much of the focus of MOOCs has been on higher education, I believe the real revolution will be their impact on the $150 billion corporate training industry. In Future Workplace’s recent survey, entitled “How Will MOOCs Impact Your Learning Organization”, 70% of the 195 respondents believed there were sizable opportunities to integrate MOOCs into their company’s learning programs. This may mean redeploying some corporate training budget dollars to mentorship, developing learning context around the content – what I call the “the “learning surround” – and importantly, nurturing a global community of learners.


What features of a Corporate University are comparable to those of a traditional university – is calling what is essentially a workplace training facility a “university” at all justified?


Much of the early work on corporate universities assumed a formal delivery of learning organized into “schools” of leadership, sales, engineering, etc. Now we are seeing best-of-breed organizations –members of the 2020 Workplace Network use a mix of formal and informal ways to develop and deliver learning to customers as well as internal employees. We take for granted that more than 90% of the learning that happens among adults is taking place on-the-job and only 10% is happening in formal programs. So the challenge is to develop a ubiquitous learning environment where access is as convenient as signing onto our Facebook and Twitter accounts.


Many companies have “put the university moniker” on their current approach to learning and try to package this as something new. Instead, I believe they have to totally re-imagine and re-invent how they develop their employees and customers to prepare them for the huge changes impacting the workplace of the future such as globalization, social media, an age diverse workforce, mobile and virtual teams and wearable technologies that will truly change how we learn, work and communicate.


The idea that people should continue actively learning throughout their working lives is perhaps not as widespread as it should be. What deficiencies in the current culture of workplace learning need to be addressed in order for life-wide learning to gain greater acceptance?


Developing a learning organization and a commitment to life long learning was first proposed by Peter Senge in his ground breaking book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, published in 1990. The five disciplines of a “learning organization” are:


  1. Personal mastery , building the process of continually deepening our personal vision;
  2. Mental models – creating assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures of images that influence how we understand the world;
  3. Building shared vision – a practice of unearthing shared pictures of the future that foster genuine commitment;
  4. Team learning – working and learning as an intact team;
  5. Systems thinking – the fifth discipline that integrates the other four.


What is interesting to note it that now after almost 25 years, it is possible, with the advent of social collaboration technologies, to reach the five disciplines Peter Senge proposed in 1990 and create life-wide learning across the enterprise.


What can employers learn from professional educators?


Employers can learn three macro-lessons from the MOOC style providers of continuous learning:


The value added in learning will move from “content value added” to “context value added”, meaning creating the learning surround to enable discussions, nurturing a global dialogue and providing access for like minded peers to a learning community.


Unbundling learning will be the future, as providers detach the coursework from the certificate allowing learners to participate in various strands of learning, and opting in to a verified certificate of completion.


Online learning modules are not completed with a degree or certificate but also include the ability to share one’s increased knowledge on a social network. Using education to advance your personal brand and long term employability will become increasingly important as employers use data analytics to find top talent online.


What, conversely, could teachers take from the way training is carried out in the workplace?


Teachers should closely examine the huge success of such consumer initiatives as Khan Academy, where “flipping the classroom” has led to deeper levels of learning among students. Flipping the classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed: students at home view short video lectures, while classroom time is devoted to exercises, projects or discussions. The flipped model is a game-changer for teachers, as it requires them to give up their usual role as expert and create a more collaborative learning environment.


One of your major interests is the workplace of the future. What new technologies do you see having the greatest influence on future practices in this workplace?


Three major technological advances will impact the workplace of the future:


Mobile devices/tablets: IDC predicts that mobile tablets will outsell laptops by the end of 2013 and top the entire PC market including desktops by 2015. Tablet shipments are expected to grow 58.7 % in 2013, reaching 229.3 million units — up from 144.5 million in 2012. This will continue the interest among employees to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to work and expect to work, creating tensions on the current practices and policies of IT and HR.


Wearable computers: Tablets and mobile devices could themselves be overtaken by the next trend: wearable computers. While this may sound far-reaching, consider the statement by Ken Olsen, Co Founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, in 1977: “There’s no reason why anyone would want a PC in their home!”


Massively Multi- Player Online Games: a multiplayer game supporting large numbers of players simultaneously. Gamification in the workplace will be the next frontier as an increasing number of organizations use game mechanics for such activities as promoting health, developing skills and obtaining performance feedback.


9) What advice would you give to recent graduates about the workplace of the future? What should they watch out for or get excited about?


There are a host of new skills one needs to develop to thrive in the workplace of the future. Three of these new future-focused skills include developing a global mind-set, building one’s social media literacy and gaining a better understanding of how to leverage data analytics to improve one’s performance on-the-job.


What are you most looking forward to at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN this year?


I am most looking forward to meeting colleagues from multiple countries around the globe who are all aspiring to creating work life-wide learning. Some are using technologies but others are experimenting with approaches successful in the retail sector such as pop-up stores to create pop-up learning academies to inculcate a life long culture of learning that is accessible to all segments of employees.


Jeanne Meister is a keynote speaker at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN 2013, speaking about “Learning In The 2020 Workplace: Social, Mobile, Gamified and MOOC-ified”

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