January 25, 2018 • 6 minute read • by Saeed
“The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” ~ William Gibson
The world of work is changing fast. Through technology and demographic trends, we are witnessing a movement away from cubicle farms where the physical nature of work was emphasized to decentralized nodes and networks where the virtual reality of work is the new normal.
By 2020, Millennials will constitute 50 percent of the workforce while Baby Boomers continue to work into their 70s and 80s. Yes, the generation that has (wrongly) developed a reputation for too many tattoos, too many piercings and too much entitlement will wield major influence on how work gets done. In truth, they represent the first generation of digital natives and the generation most ready to adapt to the future of work.
Major trends in technology that make remote work increasingly possible and more affordable for companies coupled with a globalized economy will accelerate the movement towards virtual work that out of necessity will be more collaborative and knowledge based.
Simply put, workers will continue to have more choice in how, where, and when they do their work. Therefore, leaders would be smart to adapt now to this new reality by enabling system and networks across their organizations that accommodate the new normal. To prepare for the impact and capitalize on the opportunities introduced by the future of work, leaders must adjust their organizational cultures and models now.
We don’t need to look too far to see this new reality. It is all around us.
The Future is Freelance
Nearly 10 years ago, Daniel Pink foresaw this phenomenon in Free Agent Nation, where he documented perhaps the most significant transformation since Americans left the farm for the factory as he witnessed the abandonment of the Industrial Revolution’s most enduring legacy, the job, in favor of freelance, independent work.
Technology, market demand, and generational differences have fueled the expansion of the freelance economy and so called ‘gig workers.’ So much so that a new NPR/Marist poll, which surveyed workers across all industries and at all professional levels, found that 1 in 5 jobs in the U.S. is held by a contract worker.
For freelancers, the appeal is obvious—unlimited vacation time, ability to earn more from anywhere, and overall freedom. But there’s also plenty of benefits on the company side, such as reduced costs in recruitment, training and orientation as well as performance management and liability.
The Future is Autonomous
Take as evidence the rise of results-only work environments, or ROWEs. In a ROWE, employees are allowed to work whenever they want with no set schedules. Employees are also allowed to complete their work however they want, and wherever they want, as long as it gets finished.
ROWEs leverage the powerful innate human desire for autonomy by giving people the freedom to choose when and how they will meet their goals. While ROWEs are still relegated to a handful of Silicon Valley start ups like AirBnB who practice the model with great ehem, results, they are an inevitable wave and future trend in the world of work.
The Future is Flexible
People want and need flexibility. Flexibility signals trust in an employee. According to the 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey, 84% of Millennial employees report some flexibility at their job:
· 69% have flexible start/end times
· 68% have flexibility or crossover in their role
· 64% have flexible working locations
If the work doesn’t require the employee to be in a physical location, why require it? Remote work is not the same as contract work, of course, but combined, the two definitely represent the future of work.
The Future is Growth and Learning
People want to grow, learn and continually develop. We know from the same Deloitte study cited above for example, that 44% of those employed plan to leave their current role within two years, with lack of professional development as one of the primary reasons. Companies must place a greater emphasis on nurturing and developing their people in order to keep them. At the same time, the learning and development field would do well to demonstrate the value and ROI of such programs to executives. Demonstrating business impact to leadership and ensuring the right metrics are being used is still the holy grail of employee training even though the field has matured tremendously over the years. Proving value to learners is equally important but so is keeping up with the way learners are evolving at a quicker pace than the learning programs that support them.
The Future is Automated
We live in a digital economy. We also live in a market economy, where supply and demand will ultimately determine the level and type of employment. Technology will eliminate many middle-income jobs or push them down into lower categories but remain complementary to more high skilled knowledge workers. This trend is already happening. If you’re a truck driver concerned with self-driving technology taking your job, you should be. If you are a writer, concerned with artificial intelligence taking yours, you should be too. It already is.
That said, the key to job security in the age of AI isn’t competition, but collaboration. Including collaboration with robots. Most of the automation, will come down to human–machine combinations.
The Future is Collaborative
Digital technology is having a profound effect on the workplace. The days when the office was the hub of productivity are over. Communication, collaboration and connectivity are being transformed by technology, which has enabled remote work but also collaboration across organizational and geographical boundaries. Traditional face-to-face meetings are becoming obsolete while collaboration software is becoming omni-present. This will change team dynamics as well as procedures and policies. Team productivity will receive even more attention than personal productivity and visual communications will take on an even more important role.
The Future is Designer
If you want to keep your people — especially your stars — it’s time to pay more attention to how you design their work. Most companies design job descriptions and then slot people into them. This trend will be reversed. Companies will continue to compete for talented people and when they find them, they will create jobs around them.
Take as evidence a recent study by Wharton’s Adam Grant and members of Facebook’s HR of workers who remained at the social networking company and those who quit their jobs despite the perks of working at FB. The study revealed that when managers tailored a job to a given employee’s passions, talents and priorities, rather than try to slot them into a preconceived role, they ended up with more satisfied engaged workers who they retained longer.
The Future is Purposeful
People want purpose. This is especially true of Millennials, who have a different set of expectations from their employment and are attracted to careers that give them a sense of purpose. Just last week Laurence D. Fink, founder and chief executive of the investment firm BlackRock sent a letter to business leaders that their companies need to do more than make profits — they need to contribute to society as well if they want to receive the support of BlackRock. This is a seismic shift in the business world.
A final Word
The bottom line is that work in the future will be more networked, more mobile, more team based, more project based, more de-centralized, more collaborative, more real time and more fluid. The new reality will require better and different structures, models, policies, and procedures to more effectively help people communicate, collaborate and network. Therefore, leaders must begin to think of themselves as network architects increasingly experiment and role model their openness and flexibility to the new ways of working. Done well, the future of work offers the most exciting revolution since the industrial age in how employees will be motivated and engaged to impact the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profits. Oh yes, and purpose. As the old expression goes: “When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: 1) Those who made it happen, 2) those who let it happen and 3) those who wonder what happened.”
Which kind are you?
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©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.