It’s time to think about the architecture of work

5 min read

By Shawn Fields, Senior Field Services Strategist, Field Nation

Convention is an innovation killer. 

Convention dictates that we do things the same way we’ve always done them, even though there’s often a better way of doing them.

There are plenty of reasons for sticking to convention, of course. People are often so busy doing their job that they just don’t have the time to improve their job. For years, I’ve referred to this as being “too busy working ‘in’ the business to work ‘on’ the business.”

People are often so busy doing their job that they just don’t have the time to improve their job.

Make no mistake, however. The fact that you aren’t working “on” the business doesn’t mean your competition isn’t. Plenty of businesses find themselves outpaced by their competition because they were so busy executing that they let the world pass them by and got “out-innovated” often making them obsolete.

Convention also causes corporate inertia – the inability to move off of status quo. Unfortunately, status quo has a shelf life. A tremendous amount of energy is required to overcome our tendency to do things the way we’ve always done them. Innovators willing to transform and overcome the associated risks are few and far between.

So why bother? Why is this important? Why is it imperative now to overcome convention and corporate inertia to examine doing things differently and making progress vs. doing things the way they’ve always been done?

The future of work, that’s why.

While some aspects of the future of work were actually developing prior to the pandemic, COVID accelerated these trends out of necessity. Businesses have had to find ways to get work done differently. To their surprise, 16 months later, they now find themselves coming out of the pandemic with unprecedented productivity, innovation, and collaboration borne purely out of necessity.

This is because the nature of work – its very architecture – has never been more important.

The changing dynamics of the workforce are forcing businesses to reexamine who does that work. Unprecedented levels of job changes, the “great resignation,” and an aging workforce (a speaker from a recent TSIA webinar referred to as “the silver tsunami”) has put a premium on qualified resources.

In order to stretch the current available resources, keep them from burning out, and improve their employee experience, businesses are being forced to question convention – and ask if the way they’ve always done things is the way they should do things going forward.

In many cases, asking these questions are long overdue. Some conventions related to work have existed since the industrial revolution. We work from 9:00am to 5:00pm because early manufacturers needed daylight to light their factories before the advent of electricity. We have meetings because sending memos took too long. Corporate headquarters became the center of work because there were no tools that allowed remote collaboration and innovation. 

Those conventions are outdated.

It’s time to look at the architecture of work differently. And it’s not enough to just automate the current work architecture. We must really look at the discrete components of work and examine how they might be most effectively and efficiently performed.

Additionally, the way work is prioritized needs to be reimagined. In many companies today (especially in field services), all work is done by permanent (W2) employees by default. If the W2s can’t get to it, the work either waits until workers become available or until more W2s are hired.

Hybrid workforces are providing a mechanism to overcome that limitation. Hybrid workforces aren’t just composed of W2’s, but contractors and gig workers – even robots! Any entity that can perform work can be a component of a hybrid workforce.

Let’s think about the basic components of work using today’s conventional terms:

Work Composition

  • Conventional view:
    • Who = Why + What + How + When + Where

In most companies, the “Who” is already known before the work comes in (as in: “all the work is going to our W2 workforce”) and is assigned without regard to the nature of the work or its suitability for permanent staff.

  • Modern view:
    • Why + What + How + When + Where = Who

In this revised view, companies will let the rationale for the work (Why), the scope of work (What), its technical requirements (How), its time requirements (When), and the location of the work (Where) determine “Who” does the work. In other words:

Let the work determine the workforce.

In order to do that, we’re going to have to start thinking about work differently. Turn the evaluation of work over to a “Work Architect.” Their function is to dispassionately look at the work itself, break it into its component parts, and then determine where those parts are most effectively and efficiently performed. I specifically said ‘dispassionately” because these architects have to be empowered to make decisions without any personal or professional attachment to the status quo. In other words, they have to make decisions that may defy convention. Overcoming an entrenched corporate culture that dictates how work is performed – and who performs it – will be challenging.

The simple fact is, however, that without this discipline companies will find themselves less and less competitive in comparison to those companies that embrace this change. In a recent article, Forbes said, “That’s a lot of change to take in, but one thing is for certain. The old school model of corporate leadership will no longer work. Leaders who insist on an outdated, hierarchical, in-person style of management will not be able to compete in the new war for talent.

Leaders who insist on an outdated, hierarchical, in-person style of management will not be able to compete in the new war for talent.

Interestingly enough, companies don’t hesitate at all to automate every piece of field work they can today via AI and RPA. What they don’t seem to realize is that they’re already performing this necessary evaluation to determine whether work can be automated. What is the difference in determining whether work can be moved to the talent marketplace?

As I stated earlier, the status quo has a shelf life, and trust me, your competitors get that. Evaluate the “why” of workforce ecosystems and determine how to transition to this more flexible and innovative work deployment model. Position your company to enjoy the lower costs, the improved employee experience and the improved competitive position of a market competitive workforce ecosystem labor model.


Shawn Fields brings more than 30 years of IT industry experience to Field Nation — with expertise aiding clients in retail, financial services, manufacturing, life sciences, food and beverage, state government, IT, and utilities. He has successfully led the entire spectrum of IT services in the outsourcing arena, advising notable clients like Intel, GE, Citi, NASA, Rockwell Automation, Coca-Cola, Honeywell, AT&T, Bank of America, Booz Allen Hamilton, SunTrust, Georgia-Pacific, Southern Company, Levi, and BMW. Additionally, Shawn had led innovation, design thinking, and digital transformation projects for large clients across multiple continents.