Read Phil Simon’s “The Nine: The Tectonic Forces Reshaping the Workplace” for an intriguing peek at the future of work

Technology is redefining work. With the help of Phil Simon, now you have a chance to see around corners. His new book is The Nine: The Tectonic Forces Reshaping the Workplace.

Phil produces valuable books at a breakneck pace. After documenting the most influential major tools defining the future of work with Slack for Dummies and Zoom for Dummies, he wrote three more books about work in a world transformed by COVID and technology: Reimagining Collaboration, Project Management in the Hybrid Workplace, and Low-Code/No-Code.

Now he’s taken on every trend that matters in The Nine.

What The Nine will do for you

The Nine begins with this bald statement: “This is not a tactical book.” And indeed, this is not the book you need if you’re planning little changes in how you work right now. But it is the book you need if you don’t want to be blindsided by the rapid changes now updending the workplace.

If you’re looking at the future, Phil brings together all the forces that matter in one place — and that place is very different workplace we will all soon inhabit.

These are the nine forces:

  • Employee Empowerment. When skilled workers are scarce, businesses have to change their approach to attract and retain them. Workers are unionizing: more went on strike in 2021 than in any year since 2005. Workers at companies like Google are walking out to protest sexual harassment, working to rule (quiet quitting), or failing to show up for jobs they’ve accepted (ghosting). Phil makes the case that in the battle between labor and capital, labor is gaining power and corporate overloads are losing it.
  • Physical Dispersion. Hybrid is not a fluke. Hybrid work is here forever. Once you’ve shown (empowered) employees they can do their jobs without the commute and the office coffeepot, they’re not going to come flooding back — no matter how many Elon Musks throw tantrums insisting that they do. According to a 2022 survey by Future Forum that Phil quotes, 80% of workers want location flexibility and 94% want schedule flexibility. Since this trend is familiar ground for Phil based on his previous books, he gives us a peek into what the future hybrid workplace will look like, right down to the office architecture.
  • Systemic Inflation. The Nine makes the case that inflation is not just a transitory effect of war and COVID-originated supply-chain disruptions, but a permanent phenomenon, unlikely to recede to the Fed’s 2% target. Frankly, this is the weakest argument of the nine trends in the book — I’m not ready to give Phil credit for more macroeconomic foresight than the whizzes at the Fed — but he makes some valid points about the changes now happening (including empowered employees) that will keep the heat on inflation for the next few years.
  • Automation. It’s not a radical prediction that more and more aspects of jobs are becoming automated. (Heck, I now drop off and pick up my dry cleaning by interacting with a touchscreen, not a person.) But The Nine explains how automation is going not just deeper, but broader, transforming and replacing not only tasks but processes, jobs, departments or functions, and whole industries. Consider how payroll clerks, payroll departments, and now the whole industry of payroll tools are being replaced with more and more automation.
  • Generative AI. Phil called this one well. Generative AI is changing the way we write words, the way we write code, and the way we create just about anything. The future features workers empowered with AI, able to use the tool to do far more than today’s workers can. But without proper supervision, it also has the potential to introduce falsehood and error.
  • Blockchain. The Nine foresees a world in which rapidly eroding trust causes more and more dependence on technologies that ensure authenticity — and blockchain is at the heart of all of those ways of securing trust, especially in industries like healthcare and financial services. What does this mean for work? It means employees spending more time using information and less time verifying whether it’s legit.
  • Immersive Technologies. Yes, the metaverse. Meetings, training, and workplace gamification will never be the same. I’m a metaverse skeptic, but I suppose that only means that I think it will take a while to get here. A more immersive, spatial set of interactions is now inevitable, which is why Apple just launched a product to enable it.
  • Unhealthy Analytics. Can you apply the principles of Moneyball to the workplace? It’s almost inevitable that managers will try. But as Phil points out, there are many reasons this is unlikely to be helpful, including the vicious cycle of employee mistrust, in which increased surveillance and micromanagement lead to increased employee resentment, which generates management distrust, which creates further impetus to boost surveillance technologies. Empowered employees will increasingly push back on this incursion.
  • Fractions. This is the vaguest of The Nine‘s forces, and the most intriguing. Fractional workers working for fractional CXOs at companies partly owned by other companies — it’s a complicated world, but fractions are clearly a force driving the future.

I want more

Phil deserves enormous credit for bringing analysis of all nine of these forces together, and persuasively making the case that they are the forces that matter for the future of work. He says that any decision-maker cannot ignore these forces, and he is totally right about that.

But I have an unrealistic expectation for more. What I know from my 20 years as an analyst is that decision-makers are now looking at these forces and asking: How will they interact? How will they reinforce each other? How will they combine to generate even more powerful trends?

This is an impossible question to answer with confidence. But it is the question that matters.

We are better off with Phil’s book to guide us. What comes next I can only imagine, but if there is a crystal ball to see it, I want to peer into it. It sure isn’t going to be boring.

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