When we think about the future of work, anxiety inevitably creeps in. Will our ability to perform survive the constant onslaught of distractions? How will we create workable processes that have a meaningful impact on our organizations and careers? How should we take advantage of advances in AI and automation so that people are trained and empowered to use the unique skills that only humans have?
I’ve been researching and writing on the future of work for nearly a decade, and this fall will chart a course to 2035 in a book calledHumanity Works: Merging People and Technologies for the Workforce of the Future. In this much more concise series of two blog posts, I’ll hit some of the highlights, zeroing in on the challenges facing today’s professionals and providing guidance for developing people-oriented solutions using an agile mindset, applied technology skills, and the right technology platforms.
You don’t have to be afraid of the future because you are in the driver’s seat. If you embrace and invest in it today, your adaptability and willingness to take risks will be rewarded with more meaningful work and increased versatility to pursue that work, greater personal and professional freedom, and stronger organizational performance than you ever thought possible.
Mid-21st Century Workforce Challenges
Today’s business world is undoubtedly a complicated one. Many organizations are plagued by ever greater levels of uncertainty and unclear visions and values. We have more data than we can absorb or handle. According to a report from IBM Marketing Cloud, 90 percent of the data in the world has been created in the last two years alone, but we lack effective ways to cope with this overload. A recent Harmon.ie survey found that 74 percent of respondents reported having more than five apps open at once and that knowledge workers are increasingly frustrated because they must pay attention to dozens of applications and data sources.
If you look at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ productivity statistics, you can immediately see the impact. In the last five years, labor productivity in the nonfarm business sector grew by just 0.5 percent annually, compared to two percent to three percent in the decade before the 2008 recession.
Global professionals don’t like to be confused, and they don’t like to be unproductive, so, not surprisingly, in 2017, Gallup reported that 85 percent of employees were either not engaged or actively disengaged at work. Unfortunately, these challenges are unlikely to reverse themselves anytime soon because, every time we try to master them, the environment in and people with whom we work evolve again.
What’s the outlook for 2035?
By 2035, most organizations will not have large, company-sponsored physical offices but instead will lease chains of interconnected hubs for both full-time and contract employees to work and meet when they need to. This kind of flexibility will, however, have its downside. Thanks to the rise of the Rateocracy pioneered by websites like Yelp!, customers will evaluate your products and services in real-time and will expect concerns to be addressed immediately.
We must also contend with unprecedented diversity. As of this year, there will be five generations in the workforce, led by many traditionalists (born before 1945) and baby boomers (born 1945-63) who are determined to contribute to their organizations beyond typical retirement age. Due to the small size of Generation X (born 1964-79), the millennials (born 1980-95) are moving into leadership positions an average of 10 years earlier than their predecessors and require extensive learning and mentorship to be effective managers.
The oldest members of Generation Z (born 1996-2012) are now graduating from college and arriving in the workforce expecting to wield technology for instant business impact. Organizations that want to keep top Gen Z talent must provide tools that allow them to do their jobs with maximum efficiency.
Members of all generations who wish to be gainfully employed will come face-to-face with a different set of hiring practices. For instance, your competition for jobs won’t simply be in your backyard but will be all over the world thanks to virtual and remote work and larger populations of working-aged people in China and India, which will shortly become the leading exporters of qualified talent.
In the work world of 2035, team work will be shorter-term in nature and involve high levels of human and machine collaboration. Constant innovation will be a given, meaning that if you want to keep pace with technology and use it to drive business results, you can’t wait for a vendor or consultant to hand you a solution. You must take development into your own hands.
So if you’re a leader, how can you prepare your organization to compete in this very different world? The answer is simpler than you might think. Focus on your best people, in all generations from all backgrounds, and with various work arrangements – and empower them with the right tools. Stay tuned for the second post in this series, and in the meantime, check out our State of Business Apps report for more advice on how to leverage your existing talent to solve just about any business problem.