If you’re like most business professionals, you actively rely on social media and social networks for news, insights, and knowledge regarding not only specific industries, but trends related to the overall evolution of the greater market. And, if you happen to be a functional leader in procurement, HR, human capital management, or finance, there’s typically one concept that is talked about more than others: the Future of Work.
#FutureOfWork and Work Optimization
At the end of the day, no matter how in-tune executives and professionals are in regards to what is happening from technology and market perspectives, there is one major element at play: the world of work is changing. The non-employee workforce is rising (no pun intended): 40% of today’s total workforce is considered non-employee in some sense (from freelancer to contractor to professional service), and, to boot, the very realm of talent engagement is taking a page from the consumer playbook.
The continued consumerization of business doesn’t just translate into the transformation of talent into real-time engagement; we now expect everything from process efficiency to key data and intelligence insights delivered in an on-demand fashion. This consumerized way of thinking about business signals that the concept of ultimate work optimization is the very foundation of any Future of Work model: work needs to be seamlessly addressed, from engagement and skillset-alignment to operational processes and project management.
So, what is the Future of Work? Simply put: the Future of Work is an amalgamation of various strategies, approaches, and new technologies that shape and innovate how work is addressed and done. From artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to a complete transformation in how talent is sourced, the concept of the Future of Work is actively changing how enterprises optimize work. However, with this newfound focus on this model comes a variety of myths that need to be dispelled:
MYTH: In this Future of Work model, AI and robotic process automation (RPA) will replace human-led jobs and roles.
REALITY: Too many people have apocalyptic and/or nefarious visions of the potential of AI. The reality is that, in 2018, only 13% of business are leveraging artificial intelligence in some capacity to support business operations. And, while 49% of organizations plan on tapping into the power of AI and machine learning over the next two years, they won’t be utilizing these innovations to outright replace their human-led roles; they’ll leverage cognitive technology to augment both tactical and process-driven tasks as a means of freeing up valuable time that can be spent on more strategic activity. From chatbots to predicative analytics and scenario-based intelligence, AI and machine learning will be supreme outlets of business augmentation over the next 12-to-24 months.
MYTH: Technology is the only driver of the Future of Work.
REALITY: When it comes to how work is addressed, more than technology comes into play. In order to thrive in the new world of work, it is imperative to implement transformational strategies to ensure that the “talent” side of work is a strategic driver of work optimization. Attributes like cultural and demographic diversity, along with aspects like the promotion of “soft” skills such as design thinking and emotional intelligence, are critical elements in transforming how work is actually done, and, more importantly, how talent can be better-aligned with the requirements of key initiatives and projects.
MYTH: Traditional business aspects, such as physical offices, will become obsolete within the next decade.
REALITY: “Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.” For every person that sits in a cubicle, this famous quote from the 1999 move Office Space still rings true, even nearly 20 years later. However, while many of us toil away in drab-colored cubes in non-descript office buildings, the reality is that remote work and telecommuting have been on the rise for over a decade, especially as more and more businesses tap into the power of on-demand talent. The very notion of pushing “talent” over “cost” has another side effect: it doesn’t matter where the skillsets are situated, it only matters that they can contribute to the organization in some fashion…be it in within only a city or two away, or even thousands of miles from HQ.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual collaboration tools are quite prevalent in 2018; in fact, soon-to-be-published Ardent research on the Future of Work (more details soon!) finds that 64% of today’s businesses are currently offering support for remote working via conferencing technology, AR, and co-working spaces. However, while these aspects are critical for both traditional and non-employee talent, nothing will ever truly, completely replace the fact that businesses require live, in-person interaction to facilitate enterprise strategy and spark true innovation. The fact is this: AR and similar solutions that enhance the remote work experience are and will always be augmentative at the core…not replacements for all traditional work activity.
MYTH: The workforce of the future will be dehumanized.
REALITY: Much like the first busted myth in today’s article spoke to the relative outcries over the robotic apocalypse, there is a growing concern in the general business market that attributes that make up talent (the human elements, of course) will be dehumanized to better fit tasks and projects (i.e., the pure focus on “hard” skillsets). However, there has been an emergence of hiring managers and executives understanding that, in a new world of work, simply engaging or sourcing talent based solely on technical skills is not enough to ensure that this talent becomes the pure competitive differentiator it needs to be to spark business growth and contribute to enterprise innovation.
Over the next 12-to-24 months, nearly 62% of businesses today expect to adapt how they prioritize skillsets to meet evolving market dynamics. This new focus on “soft” skills, such as design thinking, collaboration, positive attitude, emotional intelligence, and problem-solving, will surely humanize the way talent is engaged. And, too, this is a valuable proof-point: while automation, robotics, and AI will be incredibly prevalent and critical in the future, these soft skills (as well as aspects like diversity and inclusion, which greatly opens the talent pool to new voices, new ideas, and an expanded repertoire of innovative thinking) reinforce the reality that the “human” elements of talent and work will always be crucially important in how work is ultimately optimized.
At the highest of levels, all Future of Work drivers will have a profound impact on business, the “humanity” of work, economic and market conditions, and societal norms. Too, there is no doubt that the world of work is being transformed. However, it is critical to take a step back and realize what is at stake currently before making grand assumptions of how the Future of Work will continue to develop in the years ahead.