The age of information is upon us, and much has been made of the great improvements to communication, collaboration, and business process efficiency as we transform from an industrial- to a knowledge-based economy. However, despite all the rapid technological changes of the past 20 years, we are still at the very beginnings of the knowledge work era. At the dawn of the industrial age, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, society underwent a similar set of changes. The agrarian life was upended, as the industrial life took hold, and people flocked from the countryside to the booming cities looking for work in newly created factories. These people were faced with whole new ways of working, new expectations, new dangers, and the new tensions as working class and management sorted out the methods for engagement and production that would eventually take hold and slowly evolve over the next 200+ years. In many ways, we are at a similar inflection point in our societal and economic transformation. What this means, at the most basic level, is that we're still figuring out how to work together in an environment that is newly defined, and spans both the virtual and physical worlds. And while there have been many discussions about how best to relate to each other virtually, and manage the tactical aspects of technology — from e-mail to instant messaging to video conferencing to cloud software — there is less discussion about how we structure our agreements, how we collaborate in a larger, strategic sense.
For designers and engineers and other innovators, perhaps the first step on this path to the new virtual knowledge work, was exemplified by the birth of freelance nation, which was well-documented by author Daniel Pink in his groundbreaking 2002 book "Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself". Knowledge work can be done anywhere and, freed from the confines of geography and the purview of one employer, we may work with anyone we please. And so, the permanent employee model has has been relegated to one possible working arrangement out of many. Now, there are new ways to engage, and knowledge workers are experimenting with, and discovering these — from the "The Hollywood Model" of pure project-based collaboration to other, more long-term methods of partnering. We are no longer beholden to the industrial age forms of working, so why should we be constrained by the business structures that have evolved to make that type of work happen? We shouldn't. But it will, no doubt, take time to get there.