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This Conversation on the Future of Business is brought to you by SAP & MIT Technology Review Custom

Much of the response to this important question was focused on the future of the relationship between employees and employers. Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen how shorter product lifecycles and unpredictable economic environments have dramatically reduced the number of long-term employees in many industries. And a higher percentage of the workforce now works on a contract basis, from remote offices or at home. So it’s not all that surprising that @KCross asked the follow-up question that’s on everyone’s mind: “We’re already seeing virtual collaboration, but in five years will that mean the death of the office? Why commute to work when you can connect to work?”

There are many who believe the work commute is an endangered species, and many who do not, like @AndyF, who says “the death of the office is greatly exaggerated.” But we believe the more important question is whether economic and technological trends will facilitate the rise of a freelance economy — regardless of where we work — with self-organizing ecosystems of flexible, project-oriented labor, driving radical changes in the way people lead, manage, and work. We believe this is already happening.

The implications of this shift are profound. Management techniques will need to evolve quickly, and organizations that nurture creativity and empowerment are likely to win out over those that rely on command-and-control. As @BillPontikakis points out, motivational and compensation systems will need to “shift,” striking a delicate balance between projects that are intrinsically appealing and those that are less attractive but more lucrative. And of course, new collaboration and social tools will need to support and enable productivity among these loosely organized, global talent pools.

The bringing together of multiple disciplines, skills, and cultures through technology could unleash massive waves of creativity and innovation — but only if some basic rules of engagement are established and systems of governance are in place, for everyone’s protection. Perhaps that’s why @teacher41 had this to add: “The current trend to convert jobs to contract labor will continue and be accompanied by a resurgence of ‘unionization’ through the expansion of social media. This ad hoc grouping will result in workplace changes as a result of short-term ‘unions’ with specific goals.”

Some readers called the workplace of the future a “freelance economy,” others called it a “micro-skills marketplace,” and still others called it a “Mom-and-Pop Renaissance.” Some saw face-to-face collaboration becoming increasingly scarce, while others argued for its necessity. But there is one thing that no one disagreed about: “At the core of work and collaboration are trust and the exchange [of] information,” says @bill_workbar. “I don’t see this changing in 5 years, or ever really.” Indeed — but we also believe that the proper technology and resources are needed to engender and maintain that trust, and how companies leverage those tools to communicate and exchange information with employees, business partners, and customers will ultimately determine the winners and losers.

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