Our modern economy runs on knowledge. Today, knowledge lives in the cloud as digital content, information, and data stored across an increasing maze of productivity, collaboration, and communication apps and repositories. The content, knowledge and intellectual property residing within organizations are assets that must be managed and leveraged just like physical assets and human assets, in this case, knowledge workers.
So lets take a look at knowledge workers, and how they and their markets are evolving. First we'll define the modern knowledge worker, then at look the growth of knowledge work occupations using facts and findings, and finally take a look at some of the technology trends in the space.
Defining the modern knowledge worker
Jamie Johnson defines knowledge workers as the “people who are developing new strategies and coming up with ideas for new products and services” and are “individuals with a high level of education and experience. The main focus of their job is to use and apply knowledge in a creative and innovative way.” She further describes their main characteristics as having “Specialized knowledge of a subject, The ability to find and access new information, The ability to utilize new information, Good communication skills, and A growth-motivated mindset.”
Knowledge workers can be programmers, architects, engineers, marketers, design thinkers, public accountants, lawyers, and academics, and essentially any other white-collar worker who uses judgement and critical thinking in their role.
Peter Drucker first coined the term in 1959 when he stated: “The most valuable asset of a 21st-century institution, whether business or non-business, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity.” Three years later the famous consultant, author, and scholar stated that increasing the productivity of knowledge workers was “the most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century.”
The Growth of Knowledge Work Occupations
Despite advancements in technology (like AI, automation, robotics) that are supposedly going to wipe out jobs, knowledge workers continue to be the most prolific area of job growth in the modern economy. In 2012, McKinsey & Company estimated there are 230 million knowledge workers in the world. The Wall Street Journal states “knowledge work occupations have been adding more jobs than any other since the 1980s — about 1.9 million per year. The other categories are growing too, but only by about 100,000 to 250,000 per year.”
The Wall Street Journal also states that when looking through the past thirty years, the number of jobs for knowledge workers has never been rising as quickly as it currently. The graph below highlights the growth of knowledge workers comparative to routine and manual workers.
Not only are the numbers of knowledge workers increasing, but their demographics are shifting dramatically. Millennials will make up 75% of employee demographics by 2025, and with 70 million baby boomers set to retire over the next 20 years, the demographics of knowledge workers will undergo a dramatic cultural shift, re-imagining the way workers learn, work, and collaborate.
In the past, employees were driven by external lifestyle motivators such as salary, benefits, and location. The modern knowledge worker is more interested in workplace flexibility, technology, social impact, collaboration and a desire for continuous development. Learning matters more than ever to knowledge workers, with 65% of employees identifying career opportunities and training as their most important motivators.
As knowledge workers become learning workers, they will also become way more technologically advanced. Workers will have increasingly high expectations for how their role, team and tech stack function together, thus reducing their patience for inefficiencies in the workplace.
A 2016 Ericsson Mobility study found a single website loading delay lead to a 38% increase in heart rate, roughly equivalent to how someone would feel watching a horror movie. Millennials have the desire for instant gratification, and this carries over to the workplace as well.
This is also the case with communication. For example, workers 18–44 years old prefer team messaging like Slack (43 percent), and find it the least disruptive work activity while workers 45+ years old not only prefer email but also find communication apps the third most disruptive work activity after unscheduled meetings and phone calls.
The modern knowledge worker will value experience, teamwork, and collaboration while bringing a more adept view on tech in the workplace. This will also lead to much higher expectations on the tech they use to enable them to work faster and more efficiently while breaking down company silos by enabling flatter and more collaborative team structures.
Technology Trends and the Knowledge Worker
Now that we covered the makeup of the knowledge worker and how they are evolving over time, it is important to understand the technology that is essential to their performance and how market trends are shaping the ‘future of work’ for the knowledge worker.
First, we need to define the technology markets at play. What markets have the biggest impact on knowledge workers everyday activity, and ultimately their organizations at large?
The markets we are going to look at are Enterprise Collaboration, Next-Generation Data Storage, Document Management Systems, Enterprise Content Management Systems, and Enterprise Collaboration Systems. While these markets are inherently bigger than just “tech for knowledge workers”, they all play a integral part in a knowledge workers ability to perform their roles.
The Next-Generation Data Storage Market is expected to reach 144.76 Billion USD by 2022, the growth of which is mainly driven by the increasing volume of digital data, the proliferation of mobile devices (smartphones, laptops, and tablets) and the growth of new markets like IOT.
The Document Management Systems Market is expected to grow to 6.78 Billion USD by 2023. Separately, the Enterprise Content Management Market is expected to grow to USD 67.14 Billion by 2022, with the largest contributor being the exponential growth of digital assets a company creates and uses.
Finally, we consider The Enterprise Collaboration Market, currently valued at USD 31.25 billion and expected to register a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of over 10.62% over the next 5 years. When combined, we’re looking at ~ USD 300 billion in market size.
The knowledge worker has been the most important employee of the enterprise for thirty years and will continue to be crucial for the operations of companies regardless of industry.
For everything we hear about artificial intelligence and the rise of the robots threatening jobs, it’s clearly creating knew ones while adding value to the knowledge worker markets as a whole. As the demographics of knowledge workers shift to a younger generation, the capabilities and demands of the average knowledge worker will shift as well.
But that being said, companies need to understand where challenges and inefficiencies are being created. Increasing app fragmentation, evolving device and data policies, and the consumerization of the workplace are all going to propose a new set of challenges and opportunities.
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