[Skip to content]

FM World logo
Text Size: A A A
17 January 2019
View the latest issue of FM
Sign up to Facilitate Daily >
FM World daily e-newsletter logo


Life and work 2020: Seminar three

22 September 2010

Cathy Hayward

Social networks will fundamentally change businesses, eradicating the traditional command and control structure within organisations and replacing it with a peer-to-peer network by 2020.

That was the message from Leon Benjamin, one of the UK's experts on social software, speaking yesterday at the third seminar on Life and Work in 2020, organised by Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA).

“Too many corporates spend too much time thinking about social media externally, but the bigger transformation can take place if you use this technology inside the organisation,” Benjamin told the group of senior property and facilities people. 

Churches, armies and business need orders, stability, continuity, rules, fear, withholding information, measurements, incentives and competition, he said. “Social networks cut across this structure.” Benjamin told the audience about a personal experience of an organisation which was very rigid and unaccepting of change. Benjamin had been successful in his work there because he had approached key employees through Linked-In before he arrived and set up quick meetings with them. “But when I suggested they develop an internal network, based on the Linked-In model I was told if I mentioned it again I would be fired.” 

“Networks allow insignificant people in organisations to influence senior staff which hasn’t happened before, that’s why middle managers are so frightened of it – it cuts across command and control. They allow people to share ideas, information and work on open source projects across organisations and countries.


But where internal networks exist, they need to be managed carefully, though censorship should be kept to a minimum, Benjamin added. He cited the BBC’s forum as being a prime example of a well-managed internal network where employees can vent their frustrations and are responded to by senior managers, which means they feel listened to and don’t feel the need to leak to the press. “Networks must be moderated to both stoke discussion and teach new behaviour.” The organisation must also adapt to the peer-to-peer network model, Benjamin added, citing the example of another firm where the only real sharing on the internal network took place at partner level because there was too much competition at other levels of the organisation.

Virtual reality

Ian Hughes, a consultant on virtual worlds, took Benjamin’s example a step further predicting that virtual worlds, such as Second Life, will be a key form of communication and an essential working environment by 2020. “Virtual worlds will allow people to create networks and work with any number of people anywhere in the world, share ideas and expertise.” But, thanks to new technology like 3D printers, the virtual world is merging with reality, he said, adding that the most successful social networks and virtual worlds are the ones which encourage conversations offline.

The 2020 seminar series aims to build a picture of how life, work and the workplace will be in 2020. The inaugural seminar, focusing on the likely macro-economic, demographic and social context for the UK in the world in the next decade, took place in April; the second explored the future of sustainability; the third will look at technology; while the fourth, to take place in November will be hosted by Will Hutton from the Work Foundation and Regus’s Mark Dixon and will be reported exclusively in FM World and at www.fm-world.co.uk 

Predictions for 2020

Leon Benjamin

•    Social networking becomes the default channel to market for the distribution of goods and services
•    The rise of networking societies with their own currencies
•    Intranets are replaced by social networks where employee engagement is no longer optional
•    Peer to peer becomes the default model within organisations and outperforms command and control – particularly with new entrants to the corporate world
•    The increase in fractional work – the unit of work, not the whole job
Ian Hughes
•    Manufacturing will equally spread across the planet; 3D printers will become common
•    We will interface with computers in ways that suit us humans
•    Gesture, depth, emotional and brain interfaces
•    Displays are not about fixed screens but projections, augmentation and immersion
•    Gamification of everything, adding interest and narrative to the most mundane tasks