Sramana Mitra: Whenever we see discontinuities in terms of technology in our industry, this opens up opportunities for entrepreneurship. It opens up what’s happening at the cusp. I would be curious to hear your thoughts on blue-sky opportunities that you see that playing to this trend of behavior at home merging with behavior at work and people’s expectations influencing what things should be like at work. What do you consider to be open problems? What kinds of applications would you want to see that you don’t see today?
Frank Modruson: I see various incarnations today. It’s not really so much a lack of [applications], but I see a lot of the capabilities stretching to be much more powered to sharing nonwork experiences. I think that social media, crowdsourcing, and structured work will all intersect. And I don’t know if anyone has really cracked that nut. I think some people believe they have. But I don’t know if we have fully cracked that nut, and I would throw into that video and audio and virtual companies. I think we [at Accenture] are probably as close to a virtual company as you can get.
We don’t have a headquarters. Most of our people don’t work at our facilities. That’s a different mindset. Are we fully there? I don’t know if we will ever be fully there. I think the ability to work any time, anywhere exists. How do you bring it together? How do you do not only the same thing differently, but how do you work differently? How do you work differently tomorrow? We are used to working one way today. I think we have taken a lot of technology and we are fitting that to one way of working. The true opportunity is to change how we work.
Sramana: Are you talking about some sort of rewards and recognition system that takes advantage of social behavior within the enterprise where people’s work is appraised differently or celebrated differently?
Frank: A lot of people talk about that. To be honest with you, I don’t think it’s that simple. We need to get more comfortable [with new ways of working]. I think the traditional experience of having a particular role on a particular project or in a particular organization with a particular task or as part of a particular team could change. We might move to having a couple of roles at a company. We are seeing some of this happen in more transaction-based work where you have call centers that are staffed by people at home who have time but who aren’t necessarily working eight hours a day. They work two or four or five hours a day, when they are available.
That’s changing the mental model. These people are not going to a particular place. They are working on their schedule, and they are filling a need at a company. That’s different. I think work as we know it today, when you go to the office and you do work, began to evolved with the industrial revolution where we had centers of manufacturing and centers of paperwork because, guess what? We didn’t have the technology. Now everything’s automated, but we still gather physically, and I don’t think we have really pushed the mindset to ask the question, Why do we do this?
Sramana: Yes, I think that conversation is coming up a lot lately in terms of distributed teams, distributed work environments, working from home and home-based agents, as you mentioned, in the call center world. I think these are all definitive trends, and I think that’s where we are going to see a lot more of these trends becoming more widespread.
Frank: Exactly, and you throw into that concerns about green practices, the cost of energy, and the impact on the environment. We have people who still drive to work. There are reasons to commute, but do 100% of the people who drive to work need to be there?
Sramana: Yes, I think it’s an interesting social question that is coming up for scrutiny and discussion. I think the younger generation that is entering the workforce is perhaps not as interested in coming into work. They want to work from home. Older people are used to coming into work; there is a certain social prestige in going to work and such, and fancy offices carry a certain cachet and so on. I think it’s starting to become less relevant for some industries. That status quo is starting to change.
Frank: I think you are right. I think it’s generational. When most people “worked” on the farm, they worked where they lived for the most part, but you also had a work environment – a field, a barn, and so on. When large numbers of people started to work in offices, they didn’t have space at home to work because they didn’t work at home. They went to the office. Now, we are in that funny hybrid where some people have created space at home to work, because they still need to be able to focus, and maybe space is important maybe it isn’t. But, people need to be able to tune out the outside world and be focused.