The Future of Work

Over the past six decades, NASA has attracted relentless adventurers and brilliant explorers who have a passion to explore the unknown for the benefit of humanity. This workforce has achieved the impossible, from the unforgettable feats of the space race and Mars rovers, to building of the International Space Station and the development of new technology that has ushered unparalleled discoveries. As we contemplate the next 60 years, NASA recognizes that today’s environment is significantly different from its past decades of success. Join us in this series as we explore the disruptors driving the Future of Work and provide insights our Future of Work study.  Each week we will publish a new post from our study and invite your feedback.  You can view the past posts by clicking any of the links below or simply scrolling down:

Future of Work – An Introduction
The Four Meta Forces – Mission, People, Technology and Place
Environment and Culture
The Future of Work Framework
Designing for Agility, Focusing on Impact
Redesigning for the future: the age of impact
Redefining Talent
The Future of the No-Collar Workforce
Learning and Developing for a Lifetime
Changing Attitudes Toward Learning & Development
Developing Cross-Generational Talent
What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?
Embracing Modern Workspaces and Collaboration
The Changing Office Space
Why I Gave NASA A Second Chance
Confidentiality, Integrity, Availability
Digital Transformation
Unleashing Algorithms, Analytics, AI and Automation
Conclusions for the Future of Work
A Marketplace for Talent

Conclusions for the Future of Work

We live in a time of volatility, complexity, and transition, and it is here to stay. Between technological advancements, demands for re-defined careers and for work–personal life balance, the next decade will see a transformation in the way we work, learn and explore. Sweeping global forces are already reshaping the workplace, the workforce, and work itself. The nature of work, even in the traditionally slow-changing government environment, is increasingly dynamic. Projects are multifaceted and interdisciplinary with requirements rapidly emerging in the midst of team-based collaboration in virtual environments. 

The shift is not just generational: most people are experiencing an increase in complexity and pace in a world that is more interconnected and dependent than ever before, and their expectations have changed. Our workforce is more geographically dispersed, the organizational structures are flatter, responsibilities are matrixed, and work structures are more complex. Individuals want modern places to work, both physically and virtually, enabling flexible and team-based work to thrive. To navigate this time of tumult and uncertainty, NASA will need new strategies for resilience and adaptation. 

The uniqueness of the compelling NASA mission, the experience of the existing workforce, and the promise of secure virtual talent marketplaces are the avenues where NASA may begin to uncover new opportunities to recruit top talent. NASA is embracing this change and accepting the challenge to innovate in order to retain, attract, and engage the next generation of talent. To lead this shift and re-conceptualize the Future of Work, NASA must begin intentionally developing a multidisciplinary talent pipeline, lean-in to a new definition of careers, and amplify the definition of working for NASA to meet the needs of ever-evolving work. At the same time, the Agency may fully leverage the benefits of skills-based learning and reward the growth and development achievements of interdisciplinary talent and agile teams. 

The response to this study is a call to action. Before this study was completed, the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division initiated steps to pursue policy revisions, identify new hiring authorities, create a new people analytics capability, implement an agency-wide talent marketplace and begin the design of an entirely new personnel system. The Talent Strategy and Engagement Division will remain focused on these bold efforts, while prioritizing initiatives that champion career creation, growth, and mobility based on the results and findings from this study. Each initiative or program will seek to align with goals to tackle the challenges and seize the opportunities uncovered from this body of work. The resulting shift will be a tremendous step forward for both NASA and our people: it will provide employees with opportunities to design and grow their own experience, which will help attract and engage a thriving workforce; and it will help our organization identify and more efficiently address critical talents, skills, and capabilities needed across the Agency. Overall, this approach will require us to become more agile and customer-focused and shift structures from traditional, functional models toward interconnected, flexible teams composed of committed, engaged, and inspired people. 

Future of Work Theme 1: Design for Agility, Focusing on Impact

At the intersection of technology, mission, and people is NASA’s need to continuously redesign how we accomplish our work while, at the same time, preserving our core values and ethos of what makes NASA uniquely NASA. Today’s complex and interconnected work environment requires a different approach to sustain organizational success. Organizations face the growing imperative to redesign themselves to move faster, adapt more quickly, facilitate rapid learning, and embrace the dynamic needs of an increasingly diverse workforce. As such, organizations are shifting toward structures built for agility and a network of teams that have overarching goals tied to organizational performance and productivity. Agile organization designs foster autonomous teams able to engage in fluid work arrangements based on the nature of the work; organizations are afforded the ability to quickly mobilize “talent to task” to achieve mission success (2017 Global Workplace Trends – Sodexo, 2017).

A trait that unquestionably arises in any conversation about the the Future of Work is agility. From the agile workforce to the agile organization, the future is marked by constant waves of change and new approaches to navigate the currents with an agile posture. This persistent fluctuation of everything is being largely driven by the rising rate of technological change. In contrast to the rapid pace of technology are organizations, individuals, and, particularly policy, which drastically lag in keeping up with unprecedented change (Hagel & Schwartz, 2018).

Organizations are responding with structural redesigns and process reengineering. The designs of tomorrow demonstrate greater awareness that boxes and lines no longer visually depict the way organizations operate. The attempts to draw out reporting lines do not authentically represent how real work gets done and decision-making transpires. Future designs gear toward networks—teams of teams—and attempt to understand the connections and relationships that matter most to organizational performance and productivity. Pushing less for structural approaches and building more toward shared platforms is becoming a best practice rather than the far-reaching goal (Deloitte, 2018). Regardless of the final construct, designing for agility creates a stable environment for structured flexibility.

Individuals are responding with demands for greater work–personal life balance and wellness while simultaneously building greater capacities to manage change and increase resilience; rising Generation Z highlights such capacity building with natural tendencies toward self-reliance and entrepreneurship (Merriman, 2015). The workforce of the future thrives in flexibility and, as noted, organizations are responding in kind with structural redesign while expecting agile reciprocation.

NASA was designed for efficiency and effectiveness in the 1960s and 70s around its Space and Research Centers. This decentralized model fed silos of Center-centric cultures, missions, processes, and infrastructure all built to optimize services and results for the Center construct. And the system, processes, policies, and regulation that serve as the foundation for the NASA of today is collectively based on the industrial work of the past. As work requires more cross-Agency collaboration and pressures increase for NASA Centers to share resources and information horizontally across the enterprise, Center-centric models inhibit these exchanges and result in costly duplication. As budgets have become tighter, data more available, and operations oversight more detailed, NASA, like many Agencies, is being asked and is expected to run like a business. Few incentives today promote cross-Agency engagement to improve efficiencies or encourage behaviors that support a shift towards the NASA enterprise operating model, or a “One NASA” culture sought by the Agency.

NASA must seek to design a talent-based organization (as opposed to position-based) driven by teams empowered to accomplish mission goals. As NASA has embarked on a new operating model where mission work is shared and accomplished across Centers, where technology and automation are replacing manual and labor-intensive processes, and where requirements now rely on the private sector for mission accomplishment, the fundamental organizational design and flexibility of our workforce must be structured for speed, agility, and adaptability to enable NASA to compete in today’s global environment.

Newly conceptualizing how work is accomplished at NASA requires an understanding of the work. With this understanding, NASA may construct a view of the current network and social architecture of the organization to explore the current structures, dynamics and overarching decision-making practices. This view is used to map teams to tasks, coinciding with the establishment of principles and practices for matrixing and collaborating to achieve designated goals. The success of team networks for NASA largely hinges on cataloging our peoples’ talent, crafting effective team engagement practices, leveraging top talent and rising leaders to guide team performance, and aligning performance outcomes to mission goals.

About the Authors

Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).

The Future of Work: An Introduction

For the last 60 years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has successfully attracted the innately curious, the relentless adventurers to explore the unknown for the benefit of humanity. Our workforce has achieved the impossible, from the unforgettable feats of the space race and Mars rovers to lesser known inventions like a reimagined hearing aid enabling people deaf at birth to hear for the very first time. These accomplishments are the results of lasting inspiration and enduring commitment.

As NASA contemplates the next 60 years, we recognize that the environment we operate in today is significantly different from that of past decades. We live in a world dramatically affected by the rapid pace of radical change—organizational, demographic, structural, and technological. Technology is impacting how, when and where we work, as well as the work itself, and how we think about talent and careers. Critical talent is getting harder to attract and deploy. Industry and organizational borders are disappearing, challenges transcend boundaries and are more complex, and solutions no longer belong to one organization or nation. Our workforce is navigating a more complex, fast-paced and interconnected world where work is less geographically-based, organizational structures are flatter, responsibilities are matrixed, and work structures are more complex.

NASA has taken noteworthy strides to ensure the Agency remains well-positioned to hire, develop and motivate the very best and brightest talent. With the introduction of teleworking policies and flexible work schedules, a culture of keeping current and retaining stature in technical fields, and the maturation of world-class leadership development programs, these actions exhibit future-forward steps. However, the Agency recognizes the dynamic landscape of the future requires not only continuous evolution, but in many ways, the reinvention of NASA’s Human Capital program.

NASA’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer is rethinking the talent continuum and leading the way to understand the future of work, its challenges and opportunities.  This blog serves to share our insights and introduce new approaches for developing people, launching new platforms to match people with opportunities, and embracing technology and digital transformation to modernize human capital service delivery.

We hope you will follow us over the coming months as we discuss the disruptors driving the Future of Work and key insights that are informing our own human capital transformation.  Together, we will continue to explore how we might evolve our talent strategies and unlock a new frontier for the workforce of tomorrow.