Spotlight

Managing the future of work

Dec 03, 2018
Employers face a host of challenges as they seek to future-proof both their people and their businesses.
The future of work can be both exciting and worrying depending on your perspective. Will robots, machines and artificial intelligence take all the jobs? Or will they support workers and produce many new jobs while improving working conditions for all workers?

The future rarely turns out the way we imagine. In 1899, the head of the US patent office was quoted as saying: “Everything that can be invented has been invented”, so predictions may make us look foolish. However, that should not stop us considering the opportunities and threats for business and how we can future-proof our organisations. Here are three issues businesses should consider as they prepare for the future of work.

Workplaces

Technology allows us to work from pretty much anywhere in the 24/7 global workplace. Companies are rapidly moving to agile workplaces and hot-desk environments with more flexible working arrangements. The challenge for organisations has little to do with technology capability; the willingness – or lack thereof – of executive and management teams to support employees who work remotely is arguably a more pressing issue.

This is a particular challenge for managers who prefer to see their team in person but, more worryingly, reward those in close proximity and ignore those who work remotely. There is also a reluctance to use the gig economy – a market of independent workers available for short-term engagements – within more traditional organisations.

Innovation

Hyper-growth companies have one thing in common: an innovative culture. Innovation is something organisations can cultivate, but most companies are risk-averse. Innovative employees take risks and break the rules, and they need to be supported while doing so. Without making mistakes, trying out new ideas and working on new disruptions within their own sector, companies will not be able to build new, innovative products and services.

To achieve this, you must have the right people in the organisation and provide continuous learning for staff. Many jobs will go and it is critical that employers encourage their staff to be more flexible and self-directed in their learning so that they can contribute to the company’s ongoing success – even if it means moving regularly within the organisation. Such internal moves can be an excellent way for organisations to share information and work in a less siloed manner.

Technology overload

The final point relates to the dangers technology can pose for employees. The proliferation of smartphones and screens has led to dysfunctional behaviours. Email, a tool that purports to make us more productive has become a huge burden in organisations. Screen and smartphone notifications interrupt staff on a constant basis, giving them very little time to perform deep and meaningful work. We are busier than ever, but probably much less productive. Even the bedroom is now overrun by smartphone technology, which is spawning a multitude of over-tired and under-productive employees. One insurance company is actually paying a bonus to staff who have 30 good nights’ sleep in a row, as it recognises how critical sleep is to performance.

Summary

Governments will have to tackle work displacement for older generations as automation, digital platforms and other innovations change the world of work. On the plus side, careers we couldn’t even envisage today will soon become reality and this will provide myriad opportunities for those armed with the right skillsets.

Our key job is to support the next generation coming into the workplace – those who were born into the internet and smartphone generation. We need to build on their human skills as these will be critical to their future success.

Peter Cosgrove is an expert on the future of work and author of Fun Unplugged, a book to engage children without the use of screens.