The Future of Work: Arenas & Dilemmas

October 16, 2021

Reflecting on the future of work involves the very word "work".

Its origin related to effort and sacrifice – often under vassalage and slavery regimes – has alienated the individual from their trade. It would be something inexorable in the pursuit of familial financial support, but far from being a space for fulfillment and connection. The enterprising image of the small crafter or trader has crystallized as something minor compared to the mythic aristocratic image of the owners of the lands and the capitals. Nobility, power and human self-realization in itself have been more associated to shareholders, to the detriment of workers and small business owners.

Centuries of evolving work arrangements have multiplied the possibilities. Different work arrangements have been experienced, many of them distant from the precarious conditions found in the long ago. Far from a naïve romantic approach, here I am referring to the very transformation of the work environment owing to two great and more recent global phenomena: the transition of the social ethics and the change in the technological paradigm.

On the one hand, the transition of the social ethics has changed the ethos of work relationships previously marked by loyalty, stability and discipline for connection, trial and expression. On the other hand, the change in the technological paradigm has also brought to the work environment the search for interdependent ecosystems, interactive agility and cellular autonomy. The combination of the two phenomena has caused an implosion in more conventional corporate structures, while also challenging centuries-old labor practices.

The recent pandemic crisis and the digital acceleration have also influenced greatly the transformation of work environments – from the change of value propositions to scarce associates, to the very use of artificial intelligence more trivially in several processes and systems.

To illustrate the current arenas and relevant dilemmas, the work environment can be organized in three complementary dimensions:

• Configuration

• Relations

• Design

The Configuration of the work environment may take several forms. Especially, four more frequent types are observed: On-Stage (fully office-based), Home-Based (fully home-based), Hybrid (partially office- and home-based) and Field (fully field-based – for instance, sales or factory).

Work Relations may also vary a lot. Here, the following models stand out: Uniform (dedicated, full-time employment), Flex (part-time employment), Orbital (continuous rotation in multiple initiatives around the organization) and Critical Mission (restrict assignment to solve specific problems).

The organizational Design, naturally, may also take on numerous forms. The following stand out amongst some possibilities: Functional (organization by specialist functions), Multifunctional (combination of multiple functions), Matrix (intersection of responsibilities by functions and segments/businesses/products) and Network (organizations in cells).

Two quick comments:

• Firstly, there are twelve possibilities distributed in the three dimensions, resulting in sixty-four (!!) possible work-arrangement combinations.

• Secondly, the same organization may experience multiple arrangements dynamically over time.

It is redundant to say that each of the arrangements above – formed by the combination of one of the respective possibilities in each of the three dimensions – results in a specific arena, with its specific dilemmas. As such, reflecting about leadership, culture and high-performance teams may be something completely different according to the particular arrangement.


Daniel Augusto Motta é Managing Partner e CEO da BMI Blue Management Institute. Doutor em Economia pela USP, Mestre em Economia pela FGV-EAESP e Bacharel em Economia pela USP. É Alumni OPM Harvard Business School. Atua também como Managing Partner da corporate venture capital WhiteFox sediada em San Francisco (EUA) e como Senior Tupinambá Maverick na content tech Bossa.etc. Também atua como Diretor de Planejamento Estratégico da UNIBES e Membro do Conselho Deliberativo do MASP. Foi Membro-Fundador da Sociedade Brasileira de Finanças. Foi Professor nos MBAs da Fundação Dom Cabral, Insper, FGV, ESPM e PUC-SP. É autor de diversos artigos publicados por Valor Econômico, EXAME, VocêSA e Folha de São Paulo, e também tem três artigos publicados pela Harvard Business Review Brasil. É autor dos livros best-sellers A Liderança Essencial e Anthesis.