A lot of what is written about the future of work is conjecture and supposition. We are all preparing for impending change without understanding what this change will actually look like. In order to properly adapt, it is necessary to consider the finer details of what is to come.
What is the future of work that you are preparing for?
When we are asked to think of the future, many of us share a similar imagination. Robots. Automation. Growth. Innovation. The future is pictured as a time of excitement and change; it is thought of as much more of an opportunity than a risk.
But there remains another question to be asked: What assumptions are you making when you conjure
this image of the future of work?
Try as we might, human beings cannot help but be biased. Our inclinations are subconscious. Even the most neutral, objective people are not absolutely free of subtle influence. There is nothing wrong with bias in and of itself. However, it can be incredibly problematic for executives attempting to restructure their organisations so that they thrive in the future.
One component of an executive’s adaptive capacity is the ability to forecast macro-level change and act accordingly. If an executive’s conception of the future of work is somewhat biased – or riddled with incorrect assumptions – then his or her attempts at adapting their organisation will be completely compromised. If you are planning for a future that is premised on a narrow or flawed foundation, then your entire organisation will suffer.
A great example of this is the narrative surrounding the automation of employment. Most people assume that the development of new technologies will mainly affect employees lower down in the organisational hierarchy. Those jobs tend to be more menial, rendering them the perfect fit for AI and robotics. However, research from Oracle and FutureWorkplace tells us that executives themselves could be impacted by these changes. Over two-thirds of workers say that they would trust a robot more than their current manager because robots are more reliable. This finding suggests that executives are overlooking the impact AI can have on the nature of their work. As such, it would appear that there is a gaping hole in many organisations’ strategies when it comes to the future of work.
The purpose of this article, therefore, is to shed some light on the major challenges and changes that executives might not be considering.
The pace of change the future of work will bring is unprecedented. According to the World Economic Forum’s research, disruptions will emerge in a way that executives are not accustomed to. Therefore, it is vital that the strategies executives are beginning to implement are flexible enough to accommodate changes that arise with little notice.
Traditionally, government and policy makers have had the time to consider the impacts of particular strategies designed to regulate organisations and businesses. However, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will not allow for this, such is the pace of change. Therefore, the typical ‘top-down’ approach to regulation will no longer be suitable. The relationship between government and organisations will alter dramatically in light of this. Organisations must be vigilante to new risks and ethical issues so that government and regulators can be informed. Without this collaboration, organisations and the public will be exposed to variables that could undermine the expected benefits of the future of work.
Impact on Humanity
It’s easy to get lost in the hype of technology. We all know the feeling of getting a stylish, new smartphone or computer. The temptation for executives might be to wholeheartedly embrace innovation at every opportunity. However, executives should not lose sight of the impact this can have on employees. Face-to-face communication will die out if we don’t encourage employees to shut off their technology. Moreover, an overemphasis on using smartphones and laptops to stay connected to work from home can discourage the pursuit of a healthy work-life balance.
The future of work is not simple. We all know that.
But it’s easy to underestimate just how difficult this future will be to navigate. We are in unchartered territory. Nobody knows exactly what the next decade will look like. We can only make educated, evidence-based estimates.
As such, you must always second-guess your assumptions. For every plan you make, consider what
will happen in the alternative. Always look for those subtle, macro-level changes other people might
ignore – their impacts can be massive.
Executives are brilliant at adapting to known and unknown futures. Part of this stems from their imaginative capacity to consider the world in 10 years. But no imagination is perfect.
Research. Interrogate. Second-guess.
Adaptation is a whole lot more than planning for your organisation’s ideal future.