The future of work: What’s really next.

by | Apr 7, 2020

  • The line between the Future of Work and the Now of Work have been blurred for a while.
  • What was impossible only a month ago has become not just “doable”, but absolutely required.
  • We could be seeing a permanent shift in how people feel about (and perform) work.

Fun fact. I began this blog post in late February. It started something like this…

Earlier this month I attended Pausefest, a conference known for being at the intersection of tech, entrepreneurship, business, and creativity.  It was terrific – I had an enjoyable time and saw a lot of great speakers.

But, I walked away a little disquieted. 

There were several speakers purporting to be talking of Future of Work (FOW), but the content of their talks was very much the Now of Work (NOW). Or, at least it is for many of my clients. 

So, for example, what I would have said to be the now of work are:  

  • AI / VR / ML and ethics of tech. 
  • Distributed workplace.
  • Flexible work.
  • A focus on diversity and inclusion.
  • The human zeitgeist – vulnerability, empathy, courage.
  • Agility. 
  • Micro and nano learning.
  • Freelancer / gig economy. 
  • Neuro anything. 
  • Human-centred design / design principles / design thinking. 

But as the noted Science fiction writer William Gibson might have said, “the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed”. All considerations of future are relative to where you are now. 

Which had me thinking: What percentage of businesses do you need adopting these FOW practices to make it NOW practice? Is it just that I work with those who are early adopters? And I was reminded of Roger’s Diffusion of Innovation model, which tells us that innovators make up 2.5% of the market, and early adopters 13.5 % – and the market share of new technology doesn’t come close to saturation until you have the late majority (34%) and laggards (16% across the line).

To be honest, I’m not across the latest innovation research which might show that this model from 1962 is now superseded (do let me know if you are across more contemporary modesl!) But, in thinking about this, I wondered what it will take to accelerate the uptake of these practices for those who are laggards etc?

Which led to me thinking: “Well, if these trends are not the Future of Work, what are the FOW trends?”

And then I parked the post to go and do some research. 

And then our worlds got it a little shuffled up with a pandemic. 

 

And so, my second question was answered for me quicksmart.

Rapid, large-scale, forced disruption will move whole industries into flexible work / gig economy and distributed organisational forms. Whole technology budgets could get thrown out the window and reworked to ensure that organisations have the technology infrastructure to support the new world.

However, without vulnerability, courage, and empathy, leaders will quickly work out that they do a pretty crap job of leading remote teams in a crisis. 

Which left me with my third question.

What’s next? What is the Future of Work? 

 

Amy Webb in the Future Today Institute Technical Trends Annual Report (released a few weeks ago) says, from a technology perspective, there are nine key takeaways:

  1. We are entering an era of synthetics which will lead to transformational improvements in vaccine production, tissue production and medical treatments.
  2. We’re heading towards augmented hearing and sight. Beyond the implications for medical and fashion industries, what does this mean for people who traditionally have been excluded from certain careers because of hearing or sight impairment? 
  3. As-A-Service continues, this time with AI and Data. 
  4. China has created a new world order – it’s probably too late if you have not considered what will change in your business because of this. 
  5. Hello Alexa – home and office automation is mainstream. 
  6. Hello Black Mirror – we are all being scored, and that will determine our offers, our services, and our social class. 
  7. Fear is great for business, outright scaremongering is a core strategy for political parties and organisations alike. It’s going to be a great time for therapists, medication, and security companies. 
  8. There is no forgetting, technology will ensure everything is recorded and recalled and we do not have a right to prevent that. 
  9. With respect to 5,6, 7, and 8 we are now entering into the commercialisation of trust. Services to create, engender, and manipulate trust will explode. 

Simon Mair, Research Fellow in Ecological Economics, Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, University of Surrey presents a slightly more grim perspective based on what this all means for our economic models of being.

These include:

  1. State capitalism: centralised response, prioritising exchange value.
  2. Barbarism: decentralised response, prioritising exchange value.
  3. State socialism: centralised response, prioritising the protection of life.
  4. Mutual aid: decentralised response prioritising the protection of life.

The bottom line is this:  Assess what will be deemed necessary in each of these models and make your move if you’re not in that line of work NOW. 

From a skills perspective, Tim Rayner, UTS entrepreneurship lecturer and author of Hacking Culture and the New Rules of Innovation says in his article “It’s 2038: What kind of jobs are available?”  

  1. Widespread automation of formulaic tasks.
  2. Human work focussed on problem-solving in teams. 
  3. Soft skills required = empathy, active listening, non-violent communication, plus a host of capabilities associated with art and design – creativity is essential. 

And, adjusted for current conditions: 

  1. Remote/virtual work is the norm

From my perspective, I’m thinking closer to home.

What’s next for the coming 3 – 6 months. 

 

Reintegrating – for those companies who will take some of what they have adopted to handle the pandemic and align with past practices that worked well. It will be a hybrid model that will be confusing for many – this is an area that strong change communication will be essential. 

Renewing – for some organisations, it will be an opportunity to renew – start from scratch, nurture the growth of the new organisation perhaps in different patterns of operation. Renewal brings with it a tempering of aspiration and a softer, kinder way of being. 

Revolting – some organisations won’t be able to return to the way they were. They will have changed irrevocably for the better, and any attempt to return will be met with revolt. This will be exceptionally painful for those companies whose governance models are based on security and stability. 

Reinventing – those businesses who now find that the ‘now’ has left their services and products obsolete, but still have the financial and spiritual means to do so, will reinvent themselves. The trick in this one will be the level of authenticity needed to do it. Previous examples of re-inventions have worked because of a passionate founder, or complementary capabilities. You will need credibility to achieve this. 

And with all four of these options I cannot highlight enough how critical it will be to have people with strong organisational psychology / counselling / coaching skills and very high emotional intelligence by your side in the move. 

Many people will be entering into these changes from a traumatised state. Others will be experiencing survivor guilt because they didn’t struggle a huge amount with the forced change. Some will be surging ahead, buoyed by post-traumatic growth

If we thought organisational change was a complex psychological process before, it has just got exponentially challenging for many.

1 Comment

  1. Patricia Meier

    Thank you for this insightful article. It is fascinating to see that 95% of the company I work for is now WFH (working from home).

    When the idea of teleworking first was brought forward 5-6 years ago the uptake was minute.; trust and technology were touted as impossible hurdles to overcome.

    The fall of 2019 brought a labour disruption which gave those with the knowhow a chance to strut their turn-on-a-dime stuff. A very brief preview of what was to come.

    Now 7000 utility workers in our small province are successfully working from home.

    Even the stodgy companies can adapt if the conditions are dire enough.

    I look forward to seeing what the new normal of the world is.

    I see a place for the People centric type jobs as this is quick paced and sometimes lonely change.

    Maybe we can flatten other curves such as wage disparity, time balance between work and home, etc.

    I have hope

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