How is the Workplace Changing?

How is the Workplace Changing?


How is the workplace changing? And what does that mean for Learning and Development?

The late 1970’s saw the introduction of the commercial fax machine. The World Wide Web arrived in 1991, and globally interconnected email shortly thereafter. The social Web 2.0 became realized around the year 2000, with Facebook and Twitter launching in 2004 and 2006, respectively. Then came the intelligent/semantic Web 3.0 in the late 2000s. We’re on the precipice of the Internet of Things, which may represent the beginnings of Web 4.0, characterized by intelligent personal agents.

There’s no doubt that today’s workplace is markedly different from the workplace of 2005, which is clearly different from the workplace of 1995. So now, in 2015, what is changing today that will affect learning and development in the workplace? What risks to workplace learning do you see? What changes can we take advantage of to make a significant difference for our organizations?

Whether it’s the emergence of wirearchies, the approaching explosion of wearable technologies, or the increasingly social workplace, let us know your thoughts in a comment below.


  1. One of the largest changes I have observed is the transient workforce. Very few employees seem to be in a “cradle-to-grave” mindset and it is not uncommon for folks to have multiple jobs but even multiple careers; a far cry from my father’s day when one was expected to “pick a job you love because you’ll be in it for the next 40 years”.

    With the ever-changing makeup of the workplace, putting stronger efforts into knowledge management, knowledge capture, and performance support will may big dividends for the individual and for the organization. Accept that a) you will have new hires, b) the new hires need a strong path to integration, and that it will take a good 6 months; and, c) Letting knowledge walk out the door uncaptured is worse than losing money.

  2. Excellent points, Mark. I tend to focus on technology changes, but certainly the mobility of workers has increased dramatically over the last several decades. Perhaps that’s also related to technology, or perhaps not.

    As for technology, I remember when the fax machine dramatically changed work. Deadlines got moved back, knowing information could be transmitted without accounting for days in the mail. That meant that teams could work on projects at a frenetic pace longer. That situation has only become worse with global interconnectivity and the Internet, even as it brings more resources to bear in less time.

  3. I see the workplace informalising. Working from home, video conferencing and the like are disrupting our traditional concepts of what it means to “go to work”.
    Concurrent with this trend is how we consider learning & development. I’m seeing less reliance on F2F training courses, and more reliance on self-paced learning resources and job aids.
    Jane Hart & Jay Cross nailed it with their 5 stages of workscape evolution: While we will (and probably should) always have elements of the left-hand side, we are marching over to the right-hand side.

  4. I agree with the comments made above. Some time ago, I had the opportunity to visit my husband at his place of work. I walked into his office which was a rabbit warren of cubicles, filing cabinets and storage boxes. Folders, reference manuals, books lined peoples desks. I walked into his “cubicle space” and saw years of accrued training material, newspapers, journals and dare I say it, I had found the missing breakfast bowls and cutlery which were all on his desk.

    My first thought was I was “there’s too much stuff!”

    It made me think about what we had to let go when we moved into a flexible workplace arrangement. I recalled the angst and the anger that people expressed for having to remove or throw out years of paperwork, files, training manuals and ring bound folders. I recalled the images of my colleagues (and me included), sitting on the floor next to our desks or our lockers emptying out YEARS of our work.

    “Oh? That’s where it is! I was looking for that!”
    “Remember this course? What a waste of my time!”
    “*Shudder* Awful project – thankfully shelved!”

    And so on.

    I am thankful that our workplaces are much open, flexible and clean of clutter. Also we don’t have to work away hidden in cubicles anymore – we can work anywhere, any time – but to some this is a threat to the last bastion of our “identity” in the workplace.

  5. Agreed. I believe in general L&D was unprepared for the dispersed workplace. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the scope in which people would be working remotely or the rapidness of how social media has become an extended part of our day to day lives. Not unlike seeing a wave build on the ocean. You see it in the distance, then suddenly it’s massive and over your head. Not everyone was the surfer dude, prepared to ride the wave. Because of this we have done our customers a disservice by not knowing the “how’s, why’s, and what’s” of all the possibilities to bring discovery to their work stations and beyond.

    Helen – I had to laugh when I read your post. Years ago I came on board to a company to lead the training program, I kid you not when I say they had a FILE ROOM of training documents. Some documents going back to the early 1980’s. The person who managed this room was horrified when I rolled a dumpster cart in to the room to start sorting. Her thought was, “What if we need this information to reference”. It was a hard battle, but eventually brought her over the light. Thus is the crux of the matter isn’t it? We feel connected to all this “stuff”, like hoarders. Clear the files, clear the space, clear the mind. (although you wouldn’t know by looking at my workplace right now).