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The Future of Work - it is here already

Artificial intelligence, demographic shifts and the increasing importance of social purpose are changing how we work. Our jobs will not necessarily vanish in this future landscape, but instead they are likely to change shape, becoming more fulfilling by leveraging what makes us uniquely human: the ability to generate meaning and interpretation, think creatively and make emotional, social connections. To ensure your talent is ready for these changing demands, organisations will benefit from focusing development opportunities on stimulating minds, growing emotional intelligence and creating resilient employees who thrive on change.

If, like me, you are hearing the “future or work” being discussed and debated at every event you attend you may have also come to question why, a large majority of the time, this future of work is being discussed as an end state; we are supposedly wondering what it will be like when we arrive at this destination. The “future of work” it is actually more like a never-ending trajectory of change along which we are already part way. It isn’t something that is coming - it is the impact of a series of changes that we are starting to see in organisations already that will drive incremental shifts in how we work and what we do on an ongoing basis from here.

What is changing the nature of our jobs?

Against a background of political and economic change (as discussed here in our article on collaboration), artificial intelligence, new technologies, demographic changes and global trends related to society and the environment are changing how we think about the world and how we work. Organisations and individuals alike are redefining success and how value is created. It certainly feels we are at a time of transition, not necessarily of a ‘big-bang’ type, but definitely a rapid succession of changes which, when we reflect back upon them, will be the markers of progress.

AI & emergent technology

Since the Oxford University study in 2013, which highlighted that 43% of jobs could be disrupted by automation, a huge amount of attention has been placed on the technological transformers that are creating sizeable shifts in the workplace. With technology replacing the knowledge industries, there is no denying that in 20 years time we won’t be doing the jobs we do now in the way we do them now. It is anticipated, predominately due to technological advancements, that 65% of the jobs that generation Z (i.e. those currently in education) will being doing don’t exist today.

Social purpose

With 69% of CEOs believing that their strategy is linked to social and environmental issues and 86% of millennials stating that organisations’ success should be evaluated on more than just profit, the need for organisations to prioritise social and environmental impact and use innovation to drive societal change is evident. Organisations must become more outward looking and more astute to the causes of societal and environment challenges, whilst coming up with solutions for these critical issues at a faster rate.

Demographics shifts

Another media favourite, with the buzz surrounding Millennials dominating. The personality and value differences between Millennials and other generations are likely to be less than the individual differences seen within all generations. Therefore, organisations will see greater results from focusing on how a more diverse workforce in terms of age, gender, social demographics (more diverse, not diverse - yes, we still have a long way to go) impacts the workplace. Organisations need to address inclusivity beyond the focus on improving diversity statistics and instead ask how they can create a truly inclusive culture in every corner of their organisation. One that values and leverages the breath of thinking and creativity that diversity brings.

What will the impact of these changes be on organisations?

In a world where AI is prevalent, the social motives of organisation and individuals are at the fore with corporates having greater societal impact and collaborative networks of diverse experts are driving the progress of the organisation, what will the jobs we do look like?

Human roles for the uniquely human

Firstly, this future of work does not paint a picture of fewer jobs, but rather that the type of work we do will shift to focus on maximising the value we can add through the abilities that make us uniquely human. We are generally confident that shift this will improve our roles and that the future is not bleak - with 64% of people believing that technology will improve their job prospects. It seems there is optimism about what changes to jobs will mean in terms of being challenged and intellectually stretched, doing interesting work and ultimately having a fulfilling career over time. This enthusiasm has been supported in research by Deloitte, which looked at hundreds of job profiles and identified 25 critical "human skills" that are expected to become ever more important as technology evolves. These skills, which provide a guideline for the redesign of jobs and careers in the future, include cognitive, sensory, social and management skills. They indicate the direction jobs are going - placing a premium on the value humans can add.

What are the ways in which human contribution can add unique value that technology cannot?

Meaning & interpretation

Human interpretation is a powerful thing. The ability to see things outside of the black and white, provide meaning and insight well beyond the output of an algorithm. Human processing and intuition can provide solutions to problem that knowledge and predictive technology alone cannot. Take this one step further and consider the value that collaborative interpretation can provide – multiple minds and perspectives, which are more diverse than ever before, forging new perspectives and utilising subjective judgement and debate to create new ways of seeing the world. Roles that utilise our interpretative powers will become more highly valued and prevalent, for example the ability to making subjective judgements in healthcare or law from incomplete information will ensure these careers continue to flourish.

Innovation (social and otherwise)

Creativity and innovation thrive on curiosity, collective intelligence and shared knowledge. This is seen through the power of an active network of innovation, in which the social processes produce results greater than the sum of its individual parts. Not only will these highly networked organisations need to foster creativity and innovative thinking that can’t come from technology alone, but they too will be designed in a way that optimises the execution of ideas.

Highly fluid, agile networks of teams will in turn be highly efficient – knowledge will transfer quickly and people will be able to connect the creative ideas to the skills and the systems needed to deliver. Complex systems can be set up and managed by networks of specialists, removing bottlenecks when setting up in a new market, launching a new product or going after extremely ambitious operational growth. When this is met with an increased prioritisation of social purpose in organisations the impact will be wide reaching for our global communities.

Hitachi’s social innovation strategy is an early example of the impact we will see – large, global networks utilising collective intelligence and efficient systems and processes to tackle some of the biggest issues society faces, from cancer screening to providing state of the art infrastructure in developing economies.

The human touch

One of the single most powerful tools most companies have is the human connection. From retailers to investment banks, the power of emotional engagement can drive customer decisions in a way that defies logic or reason. People respond to people, and finding a way to create personal chemistry between your business and your customers at a time when technology is prevailing ultimately increases your chances of survival.

Of course, that does not mean eschewing new technologies to stick to tried and tested offline models, but rather evolving the offline models so they place emphasis on the human connection, and using the technology available to support that emotional engagement.

Burberry, who have embedded tech in their business models and stores alike, still place an emphasis on hiring the right people for their stores who can deliver an incredible customer experience using technology to complement their sales skills. This is transferrable to all industries, whether selling trench coats or inspiring your customers to transform their business models with a new, unproven solution, emotional engagement is key.

So, how do you ensure your organisation is equipped for the changing shape of jobs?

With these shifts placing increased demands on employees’ cognitive resources and social skills, ensuring your talent is able to evolve as quickly as the context relies upon a development strategy that supports the growth of stimulated minds, social fluency and personal resilience.

In particular, by focusing on providing thought provoking stimuli and continual learning to broaden the mind, complex group environments to develop enhanced emotional intelligence and the resilience to not just adapt to change but thrive when failing fast, employees will become increasingly agile and have the building blocks for high performance in the future.

  • First, targeted stretching development opportunities in-role will allow individuals to try out new ideas and ways of thinking, provided they are given the freedom and social support needed to fail fast and learn from the attempt.

  • Second, employees must be provided with a range of interactions and relationships within a psychologically safe environment to grow their social fluency, enabling them to not only perform in highly networked, collective structures but critically to increase their emotional perceptiveness and interpersonal adaptability.

  • And third, development must not overlook the need to build resilience on an individual level. With up to 75% of organisations stating they have overwhelmed employees organisations must prioritise protecting the mental and physical resilience of their employees, providing them with coping mechanisms for rapid change and increasing their self awareness & self regulation