Kenan Update: The 21st Century Workplace

As I am knee-deep in Kenan Fellowship research and planning, this will be a short post.  It’s based on my experiences on my first day today working at the Cisco Systems campus here in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina.

I hear/read/talk a lot about 21st Century Skills and the unknown workplace of the the future for which our students need to be preparing.  I have no idea what careers will be in high demand when my 12-year-old students enter the workplace in 6-10 years.  If history is any judge, the growth fields of that time don’t even exist today.  That’s why I firmly believe that we need to teach universal skills–problem solving, communication, and collaborating–rather than specific tech tools.

With that said, however, yesterday I witnessed the cutting-edge workplace of today and it was MIND-BLOWING.  I saw rooms where video conferencing can be as productive and natural as an in-person meeting.  I walked through modular workspaces in which employees grab an empty desk each day, log into their phone, and turn any space into their office while they are there.  I saw collaboration happening in the break room, the cafeteria, and the courtyard.  I got to see a telemedicine station that allows a corporate medical clinic to diagnose ailments and write prescriptions with the help of one nurse on site and one remote doctor that never sets foot on the campus.

And, the best part of all wasn’t the technology that made so much of it possible.  It was the company culture that lists “fun” and “team-building” alongside “inclusion” and “autonomy” as priorities.  This isn’t the workplace of tomorrow; it’s today’s office.  And, it makes me want to be twelve years old again so that I can work in whatever comes next.

Ah, but there’s the rub.  As a teacher I won’t ever work in one of these ecosystems.  Why aren’t our classrooms even remotely similar to these awesome business environments?  What would it take to get us there?

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