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The Future of Work

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I recently interviewed Inder Guglani, founder and CEO of Guru.com. You might think they’re something like Monster.com, or maybe eLance.com; but their use of heuristics to define competency makes them unique. Quality not quantity is what they’re all about. Mind you, I’m not saying that eLance or Monster don’t care about quality, but Guru’s heuristic approach is extraordinary.

We have a lot more to say about Guru.com in the book we’re working on, but check this out: they’re considering offering freelance contractors “real company” perks such as insurance and 401ks beyond the contacts, intellectual property protection and contract dispute mediation services they already provide. They understand that pajama professionals, those who work from home, need a measure of security that goes beyond jobs and income.

I’m struck by how the future of work seems to be a return to a guild-like system, associations of merchants and craftsmen.

The earliest such organizations were probably formed in India as far back as 2000 BCE, but Roman collegia, and Muslin ilm also brought together knowledge workers. By about 1100 the guilds (or gilds) began their metamorphosis into consortia and institutes, corps de métiers in France, and eventually modern-day business corps.

In the end, guilds failed because of they seemed to oppose free trade, and hindered innovation and development in the interest of self-preservations. Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith targeted guilds as obstacles to the laissez-faire free market economics. But they did offer members security and a career path in an uncertain environment, and provided consumers a measure of price and quality protection.

I’m not alone thinking that something like guilds may be the future of work. I just read a book by MIT’s Thomas Malone, The Future of Work. He promotes just such a concept for modern “e-lancers,” as he calls them. Sound familiar?

But don’t confuse Malone’s book with what Jim Ware and Charlie Grantham are doing at thefutureofwork.net. They started working together in 2002 on what became groundbreaking research on the future of work. They looked at the changing workforce, emerging technologies – even workplace design, and discovered it was all changing the essence of what we call work.Times they are a changin’, and so is the future of work.

Today they focus on the changing nature of work, the workforce, the workplace, and management practice, and bring together a growing network of HR, IT and design people.

Head over there, rummage around, and read their blog. You’ll be glad you did.

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