Work Without Jobs by Ravin Jesuthasan Book Summary

Work Without Jobs, How to Reboot Your Organization’s Work Operating System by Ravin Jesuthasan and John W. Boudreau


Forces such as new technologies rapidly disrupt the workplace, say Ravin Jesuthasan and John W. Boudreau, and the future of work no longer centers around jobs or employees. Organizations that want to get ahead of the curve must “deconstruct” work into its component parts and reassemble all the moving pieces, such as tasks and worker capacities, into more effective arrangements. Jesuthasan and Boudreau urge leaders to adopt agile practices and prepare for disruption of their roles as they help organizations embrace a new paradigm of work.


  • Winning organizations of the future must “deconstruct” and “reconstruct” the current work paradigm.
  • An experimental approach to deconstructing work can create better work flows.
  • Augment employees’ performance with automation and AI.
  • Consider alternatives to the traditional employee-and-employer model.
  • Future workers will advance their careers through their skills and capabilities – not through seniority.
  • Replace work norms with a culture of continuous reinvention and agility.
  • Deconstruction will change the role of leaders and disrupt hierarchies.
  • In the future, work won’t be merely transactional; it will be social.
Work Without Job Book Cover

Work Without Jobs Book Summary

Winning organizations of the future must “deconstruct” and “reconstruct” the current work paradigm.

As the gig economy and technological advances in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI) disrupt the traditional workplace, organizations must develop new approaches to the future of work. Traditionally, employers “constructed” work into specific job descriptions – featuring skills, remuneration, awards and performance reviews. Future-oriented organizations must deconstruct and reconstruct traditional jobs.

Deconstruction refers to breaking jobs down into their main components – projects and tasks – and reconsidering the strengths of current jobholders’ skills and capabilities. Reconstruction means reassembling the elements of a job from assigning tasks to making the best use of specific employee strengths. 

“The new world of work is one ‘beyond employment’.”

Just as different computers and devices have different operating systems, workplaces also have operating systems of their own. Traditional work operating systems create a framework that supports certain job hierarchies, titles and qualifications while also supporting connections to external elements, such as unions and even social policy. 

Agile organizations of the future cannot rely on a cumbersome paradigm based on jobs and employees. Employers must rethink work arrangements as contractors, freelancers and automation will radically alter many tasks employees currently perform. The notion of the “displaced jobholder” is becoming obsolete, as a new paradigm – in which talent flows to work in a global marketplace – takes hold.

An experimental approach to deconstructing work can create better work flows.

Make your enterprise more flexible, inclusive and agile by creating a work system with the built-in capacity to deconstruct work continuously and to assign activities using the best possible work arrangement by reassigning employees, hiring gig talent or deploying tasks to AI. Take special notice of situations where you face operating challenges, such as any bottlenecks in the form of resource shortages or rising costs. Pay attention to areas in which you currently are experimenting with new technologies, and monitor shifts in your organization’s priorities.

“Organizations need to approach implementing the new work operating system in the spirit of agile experimentation, recognizing that it will not be perfect in its first iteration.”

Experiment on a small scale with different configurations until you identify ways to trigger a value-creating “return on improved performance” (ROIP). Reflect on which tasks or activities will continue to be relevant and which will become irrelevant in the near future. Reconsider who ought to perform each task and when, how and where they will do so. Your new approach should reduce errors, and incrementally and exponentially trigger an increase in value. 

For instance, the biotechnology company Genentech deconstructed work by creating personas, or archetypes, of people capable of handling certain deconstructed tasks. For example, “Persona A” manages time-sensitive work independently at a specific location on Genentech’s campus. Deconstructing roles allowed Genentech to give existing employees more flexibility and to attract new talent by offering more fluid arrangements.

Augment employees’ performance with automation and AI.

People fear that automation will replace them, but an improved work flow can harness the strengths of humans and machines. Three main types of automation are disrupting workplaces today. First, “Robotic Process Automation” (RPA) is the most mature and the simplest. Organizations use RPA to perform tasks such as connecting data from different systems. Second, AI automates some aspects of human cognition with tools such as machine learning and pattern recognition. Some organizations also rely on AI to augment human labor. Third, “social robotics” are automated robots with the capacity to interact with and work alongside human workers. A subset of social robots – called “collaborative” robots or “cobots” – perform physical tasks.

“The new work operating system reveals more optimal and nuanced solutions, but it requires abandoning the old job-based system, analyzing the deconstructed tasks independently and then reconstructing the work tasks in a more optimal way.”

When considering how automation might transform your workplace, ask if you can automate any of your deconstructed tasks and, if so, which type of automation would best serve your purposes or solve any process constraints? What forms of automation would you consider introducing? And where in your workflow might be the best place to experiment with emerging forms of automation? 

For example, the grower-owned fruit processing co-op, Tree Top, improved its work flows by using new technologies, such as automating repetitive tasks like data entry and fruit checking to free human workers to focus on more variable, complex tasks.

Consider alternatives to the traditional employee-and-employer model.

Consider the following alternatives to today’s standard work arrangements:

  • Talent exchanges – Consider swapping or rotating your employees with those of another organization to gain new perspectives, capabilities and relationships.
  • Freelancers or gig workers – Use external talent pools to find workers with the capabilities and skills a project requires.
  • Crowdsourcing – Solicit ideas, feedback or information from an internal or external audience you curate.
  • Innovation partnerships – Consider working with academia or start-ups to generate new ideas, launch new ventures or expand aspects of your business.
  • Co-ops, apprenticeships and internships – Connect your organization to talent pools of students or workers embarking on their career paths or navigating career transitions.
  • Nontraditional talent – Reach out to potential talent, such as people in marginalized communities.
  • Internal talent market – Encourage employees to tackle tasks their previous roles excluded to create a more flexible work environment.

Future workers will advance their careers through their skills and capabilities – not through seniority.

In the work operating system of the future, organizations will place less pressure on workers to complete traditional postsecondary degree programs, as opportunities to build additional skills will appear as they move along their career path. Companies now can offer jobs to more unconventional candidates, because employees can accumulate “stackable credentials,” when they learn new competencies or skills. Deconstructing training and education will disrupt how workers climb organizational hierarchies. They’ll advance according to whether they have the capabilities a job requires – not based on traditional factors such as time with the company.

“The new work operating system must increasingly support workers who move quickly from one organization to another or who never join an organization at all.”

Columbia University researchers Thomas Bailey and Clive Belfield urge universities and colleges to offer more stackable credentials, as opposed to focusing on multi-year degree programs. This would give students the ability to earn their degrees slowly in a deconstructed manner while taking breaks to focus on their careers.

The US National Skills Coalition created the “Quality Postsecondary Credential Policy Academy” to help six states reach a consensus regarding what defines a “quality” non-degree credential at postsecondary institutions. Organizations must find a common language with which to describe workers’ capabilities so they can share personnel.

Replace work norms with a culture of continuous reinvention and agility.

Don’t expect traditional legacy roles and qualifications to remain stable in the future workplace as winning organizations commit to reinventing work arrangements perpetually. Workers can no longer count on the hierarchies of the past, but must instead rise to the challenge of reconfiguring and crafting their own roles, taking advantage of deconstructed work and learning opportunities. 

Rather than constantly revising job descriptions, leaders must keep pace with the rapid evolution of the workforce. They must coordinate processes or workflow, manage organizational culture, structure the way work is organized, work with technology, and coordinate talent with the necessary capabilities and skills.

“Perpetually upgraded work means that each day, the work becomes a little more automated, the source of workers becomes a little more boundless, the rewards become a little more immediate and nonmonetary, and learning becomes a little more virtual and community led.”

Perpetual upgrades are commonplace in the tech industry. Organizations also must commit to a model of perpetual improvement. Teams must become more agile, replacing outdated habits and work routines with new, improved methods to boost performance. Small, incremental changes can trigger exponential impacts over time.

Deconstruction will change the role of leaders and disrupt hierarchies.

Top-level leaders and managers will eventually face the deconstruction of their own jobs. Executives must establish their organization’s strategic mission and define its standards, resources and goals. Corporate leaders also must prioritize the processes that midlevel leaders will use to carry out those goals. Midlevel leaders break down the company’s broader goals into strategic objectives for their specific teams.

“This new agile, serial leadership will require leaders/managers to excel at human leadership as they perpetually reinvent work; construct more transient, deconstructed and highly efficient teams; and blend humans with technology.”

As organizations make the transition to the new work operating system, management must establish the “guardrails” that delineate and coordinate work across different functions, such as legal and finance, because job descriptions will no longer set boundaries. As teamwork becomes more fluid and cross-functional, firms will face difficulty defining, for example, who gains clearance to sensitive information or access to certain secure systems. Job hierarchies will erode as many frontline leaders will work as project managers, quickly assembling and disassembling agile teams. Models of work must evolve for the distribution of accountability and power.

In the future, work won’t be merely transactional; it will be social.

Workers who aren’t employees, such as independent contractors, frequently feel they have a “psychological contract” with organizations, as opposed to a purely transactional, economic one. Emotional and social forces connect them to the company. Leaders can engage these nonconventional workers by giving them emotional support and nurturing a culture that does the same.

Gig or platform workers who move between deconstructed tasks will emerge as a powerful social network in the future, creating new clusters of connections and forming teams. Researcher Rob Cross and his team discovered, for example, that 3% to 5% of workers at a company often create 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations, yet now it’s hard for leaders to identify these crucial employees. In the future, understanding how these social networks function will become critical to employers. Social policy must evolve to protect gig workers to ensure their quality of life.

“Confining ‘work’ into a job and worker into a jobholder forces a perspective that is incapable of illuminating and optimizing the wide variety of alternative ways to engage human workers and to combine human and automated work.”

The World Economic Forum’s Charter of Principles for Good Platform Work urges platforms to prioritize diversity and inclusion, worker well-being and safety, fair conditions and flexibility, social protections in collaboration with governments, opportunities for learning and development, responsible data management, reasonable pay, and channels for workers to express themselves and resolve disputes.

The adoption of new work operating systems will create more agile, empowering, proactive and inclusive organizations.

About the Authors

Ravin Jesuthasan

Consulting Magazine recognized Wall Street Journal best-selling author Ravin Jesuthasan as one of the world’s top 25 most influential consultants on the future of work and human capital. University of Southern California professor at the Marshall School of Business John W. Boudreau, PhD is the research director of the Center for Effective Organizations.

John W. Boudreau

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