Every Worker is a Digital Artisan of Their Career Now

While workers have always been creative to various extents throughout history, we have now crossed into a new era. It’s not just the hyper availability of creative tools that workers can use to shape every aspect of their employee experience today that’s changed things, but the fact that having control and agency over their jobs is now a highly appealing factor to a growing share of workers.

In fact, the typical worker is probably able to be more creative now than in almost any time before. And like so much about technology, it’s a co-evolution between our tools, ourselves and the environment we find ourselves in. These forces are transforming today’s collective march towards a new type of workplace that we increasingly shaped and molded to our own purposes and desires. And yes, this is to meet the overall business goals and job responsibilities that workers still have.

As I’ve noted in my Maslovian-style hierarchy of worker needs, it is worker autonomy in the search for improved self-actualization that is a key to unlocking much higher levels of engagement, productivity, and outcomes for both workers and businesses.

The Designer Career Experience: Personalized, Customizable by Digital Artisan Workers

While middle managers and team leads of yore might say that strict control and direction is required to get the proper outcome, in today’s far more dynamic, fast changing, and innovation-driven times, this no longer makes nearly as much sense. It’s also no longer really possible for those not doing the actual work at hand to be able to specify with great detail on what’s needed to be done at any given time. Instead, managers are more becoming enablers and orchestrators of productive work environments — which is now largely knowledge work in most cases — and much less overseers or micromanagers of the actual work itself.

Everything About Work Will Be Personally Designed

This is part of a broader trend towards what I call a designer career experience, which describes the growing reality of being able to creatively influence or outright direct just about every aspect of our work environments, employee experiences, and career trajectories. Workers increasingly would like to not just choose the tools they use to do their job but just about all elements of their job, from work hours to the processes and approaches used to carry out the work, to even who the employer is for a given project. This designer career experience is becoming increasingly possible due to several key trends: Changing viewpoints of employers to provide more flexibility (to attract talent and maximize outcomes) and more effective models of work, as well as a dizzying array of old and new tools that not just make this possible, but already push the boundaries of what can be done by the individual worker to shape their work and careers.

How should businesses attract and retain workers by taking advantage of their desire to be the artisans of both their work and their careers? There are several key dimensions that businesses and workers may focus on to different degrees depending on the local situation. But generally these break down to 1) a changing attitude about the suitability of a one-size-fits-all employee experience and 2) the growing assumption that everything can and more importantly — should — be readily personalized and customized today The result: Jobs that fit the worker and unleashed their potential far more effectively.

These new dimensions of personalized and customized work are:

  • A designer work environment: The location, hours, digital tools, and overall employee experience will be as shaped as possible by the worker, within appropriate but highly flexible and lenient employer policies. Employers will provide a default, best-of-breed employee experience for top personas that can be tailored easily and will be personalized already to some extent to each worker, using analytics and AI.
  • A designer team: The team for a given task or project will be dynamically assembled in an emergent fashion by the best available on-demand, opt-in talent from within the organization as well as outside it. This means designer teams tend to be much more distributed, which is friendly to today’s hybrid work models. This means traditional hiring processes will also be augmented by online talent marketplaces that allows teams to be assembled from a composite group of the best available talent, with the knowledge retained by the employer. Teams and individuals will be ranked by quality of contributions and the data shared within the source platforms and within the organization for future use.
  • Designer work: The processes, approaches, and even the critical methods can be shaped within reasonable guardrails. Projects are chosen by the individuals, and if they are not desirable, then they can opt to bid for external projects in the open market. This will no doubt require serious mindset shifts, but will also make employers more responsive and employees much more engaged and productive (and profitable), even if it is for someone else.
  • A designer career: A career will become more of a portfolio of projects and achievements, and less about a list of previous employments. Actual performance review data from stakeholders about the work in the portfolio will be retained and shared if desired by the worker to gain access to new projects.

Designer Work is Already Here, Just In Early Days

While this might seem far away and even far-fetched to some, the reality is that almost all of this is available today, just in various pieces and early stages in many organizations. Low code tools are already making it possible for workers to build their own employee experiences, and some are doing so. Online talent marketplaces like Upwork and a whole list of white collar platforms I track are making designer careers a reality for millions as well. Crowdsourcing and dynamic teams/matrixing has been with us for two decades. But like so many digital advances, they are often have a piecemeal and patchwork presence, and the dial isn’t turned very far to the right on them.

However, the demand is very much there for these shifts by many workers. While some workers will no doubt still prefer that someone thinks through many of the details for them — and that option isn’t going away — many workers now want the kind of malleable consumer-grade digital experience they find in so many other places, where they have a voice and their opinion on how their job/work/employee experience could be made better doesn’t just matter, but can be made reality in a short time.

While there is no doubt that knowledge workers will have better access to these kinds of designer career experiences in the short term, the overall trend is evident: Work is becoming almost entirely what we make of it. And this is a good thing that will unleash far more personal and professional fulfillment along with much greater innovation. Managers will still have to sort out when things go wrong, but they will be able to tap into workers who have a much better handle on how to achieve mutual goals and objectives.

Other important activities will result from creative job design, such as a marketplace for better ways of working will grow and spring up, and workers can share their best ideas and discoveries, driving greater overall progress in how work improves and evolves. Again, this is already happening in thousands of workplaces today, but can be far better realized that most of us are doing currently. It just takes a vision and a strategy with an open-mind on what the future of work will become.

Additional Reading

My recent research on the future of work:

How to Think About and Prepare for Hybrid Work

Why Community Belongs at the Center of Today’s Remote Work Strategies

Reimagining the Post-Pandemic Employee Experience

It’s Time to Think About the Post-2020 Employee Experience

Research Report: Building a Next-Generation Employee Experience: 2021 and Beyond

The Crisis-Accelerated Digital Revolution of Work

Revisiting How to Cultivate Connected Organizations in an Age of Coronavirus

How Work Will Evolve in a Digital Post-Pandemic Society

A Checklist for a Modern Core Digital Workplace and/or Intranet

Creating the Modern Digital Workplace and Employee Experience

The Challenging State of Employee Experience and Digital Workplace Today

The Most Vital Hybrid Work Management Skill: Network Leadership

My 2020 Predictions for the Future of Work

Can we achieve a better, more effective digital workplace?

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