What is the future of work?
Unless you’ve been living on a desert island, you will have noticed that change is a recurring theme at the moment when it comes to our working world. With the advancements in technology and the influence of the global pandemic, the way we work has changed, and continues to change, significantly.
Change brings challenges but also opportunities. Understandably, a lot of our reflection will focus on the effect of these changes on the here and now, but what about the future? Not just the near, but the far, too?
Sadly, we don’t have a crystal ball, but we do have access to insights, intelligence, and real-world data to help us form a picture of what the future workplace might look like and what sort of workers we might evolve into. Much of the changes we are seeing now will continue into the near future, whilst some are temporary to transition the workplace into its next chapter. Let’s take a look at some.
Probably the most visible and talked-about change is the inception and influence of Generative AI. For many of us, this has nudged its way into our lives in the form of ChatGPT and similar apps, but the acceleration of this area is significant, and conversations are being had about the possibilities for AI and also the risks associated with it.
At the forefront of many debates is concern about how AI will affect jobs. Specifically, will it mean some jobs no longer need to be carried out by humans? This is an understandable worry, particularly as this technology is still showing us what it can do and how it can help automate work processes. Indeed, there are already predictions of some jobs being lost. But it isn’t inevitable. There are those who predict AI won’t replace jobs, but instead will give people who can use it an advantage over those who cannot; it will change the skills requirements of jobs and it will bring about new jobs. So, it is partly about skills change and partly about the jobs market needing to adapt to how AI is used.
AI has enormous potential, but it doesn’t replace the need for compassion, creativity, and innovation. There are risks, of course, including the potential for misinformation, bias and inaccuracies, malicious uses of AI to target organisations, and concerns around data protection and copyright issues. AI cannot mitigate its own risks, and the ideal scenario for the future working world is one where AI complements rather than takes over what we do. And where it becomes a very valuable tool to help automate parts of our work and improve the way we approach others.
There will likely be jobs now that won’t exist later because their functions are to enable the introduction of AI into the world rather than sustain it. And, likewise, there will be jobs not yet created but needed for the future. Creative and media professions are likely to be early receivers of AI changes, but the potential for other industries is already emerging. Gartner predicts that by 2030, a major blockbuster film will be released with 90% of the film generated by AI. And areas such as materials science, drug development, and parts design, could all see advancements too.
Hybrid Working & Flexible Workplaces
We’re already at a point where hybrid working is a standard way to work, and that isn’t likely to change. Traditional concepts, such as working 9-5, having a job for life, and commuting to the office, are being replaced with a more forward-thinking, adaptable, and flexible way of viewing work. Work isn’t simply about doing a task in a place at a time. It’s about being fluid and understanding that collaboration and creativity can happen anywhere. The future workplace is the office, the home, the co-working space, the hot desk. The future company may be hybrid or office-less.
The Four-Generational Workforce and the Rise of Gen-Z
Experts predict the increasing age of our populations will signal a move towards four-generational workplaces, where multiple generations work side-by-side. Rather than being organised by hierarchy and seniority, these workplaces will place value on skills and expertise sharing, and diversity and inclusion.
Whilst it is often thought that Generation Z lack the soft skills of their predecessors, thoughts are now turning to the positive influence of the newbie generation as they enter the workforce.
This is a rapidly growing group of creative, tech-savvy young people who are brimming with fresh ideas and an open-mind to new concepts such as AI. Unlike us older folk, Gen-Z haven’t grown up expecting to have one job and one way to work. They are digital natives who are open to the idea of working in a gig economy, having multiple jobs, and having a side hustle.
In a four-generational workplace, these future-proofing skills of Gen-Z work well with older generations who possess different skills, such as those softer, communication skills.
Who is the employee of the future?
And how do they become forever employable?
The employee of the future is like an evergreen tree. Built to last and to keep going whatever the season, whatever the change.
To survive the evolution into the future workplace, employees need to become lifelong learners and upskillers. With every new concept, there is expertise to be shared, knowledge to be learned, and new skills to develop. Workers need to not only be prepared for this but to understand this is a continuous process. Skills development extends to areas such as developing emotional intelligence and empathy, and understanding the importance of data-driven decision-making.
Employees will be expected to take on much more individual responsibility and are likely to be expected to shoulder more. They will need to commit to advancing their own professional development, and to support their organisations in their economic social governance duties. They will need to work in a more collaborative way, particularly in a multi-generational workplace, and be able to adapt to a world where teams are spread around the world.
The employee of the future is one with high expectations. Wellbeing, work/life balance, personal growth and skills development will hold a place of great importance, and companies will be expected to deliver on these as well as competitive remuneration to attract workers.
The future workplace should be an exciting place to be. Flexible, inter-connected, diverse, ever-changing, and always moving.
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