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Four “Future of Work” Trends to Act On Today

Each year I interview dozens of organizational leaders on their most pressing business challenges. In my conversations during the past year, operational and crisis-driven issues — keeping employees safe and supply chains functioning — have predominated. And even as readers in some countries (Brazil and India) are experiencing infection surges and rising deaths due to the ongoing Global Pandemic, the signals are increasingly clear in other parts of the world: an economic boom is beginning to take shape that will bring a host of different challenges.

As a futurist and innovation coach, I believe in the power of foresight and preparation. I believe in skating to where the puck is going to be, not just being overwhelmed with where it is now.

Now is the time to get a jump on vast workplace changes underway, and issues that lie just ahead. Take a minute to ponder the four “future of work” forecasts below. Use them to challenge your organization and yourself to prepare to benefit from what promises to be an exciting and dynamic period – for those who anticipate and take action.

Forecast #1. Working from home is here to stay. But firms will need to actively design a hybrid workplace.

The work at home trend may be here to stay but not everyone is pleased. JPMorgan’s chief, Jamie Dimon, says remote work has “serious weaknesses.” Goldman Sachs CEO, David Solomon, calls working from home “an aberration.” And in his new book, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings writes: “I don’t see any positives [to the trend]. Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative.”

The solution many firms are beginning to evolve is the hybrid workplace, where employees spend several days a week (or month) in the office. Hastings wants his super-achieving team to brainstorm together and challenge each other’s thinking in real time, face-to-face. At Netflix they call this “radical candor,” and Hastings is convinced it’s essential to innovating at warp speed. He’s convinced that having everyone playing nice and “go along to get along” in virtual meetings stymies the drive for excellence.

The post-pandemic workplace will be defined by the remoteness of co-workers physically, but some degree of physical in-person interaction will be essential to building and maintaining trust, and to allowing new hires to build their networks. While it no longer matters where you’re working from so long as you’re productive, that’s not enough in the age of collaboration and creativity.

The issue to be concerned about is: can your distributed workforce foster insanely great innovation, to borrow Steve Jobs favorite phrase? Or will it lead to greater conformity and a “just keep your head down and execute” mentality? Will it lead to cultures where risk takers feel safe to foist crazy and disruptive ideas that require persistence and sometimes all-nighters to translate vision into reality?

Action steps: Take charge of the greatest transformation in modern workplace history by being aware of how your culture is changing, and what is happening to the priority to innovate, not just execute. Wrestle with the need to make it work. What will it take to make remote work on a permanent basis? What new systems and practices do you need to put in place to insure that your innovation culture is helped, not damaged by this trend?

Forecast #2. Job category churn will accelerate, creating sunrise and sunset occupations. 

A year ago, AI specialists, robotic engineers, cyber security experts topped the list of hiring managers. Today, according to research by LinkedIn, the most explosive growth has shifted to more familiar job titles: educators, healthcare workers, sales professionals, along with digital content creators, marketers and e-commerce workers. And beneath these shifts, lies a mega-trend that demands our attention – the declining and accelerating pace of job category demand.

Before Covid, the fastest-growing category in the United States, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, was solar panel installer, followed closely by wind turbine technician. But other occupations and professions are going the way of the buggy whip makers.

In 2005, more than 1,200 people applied for home appraiser traineeships. In 2016 only about 100 did, Reason: enabling technology — in this case, artificial intelligence — is sunsetting this profession at a rapid pace. Lenders such as Fannie Mae, Zillow and others are allowing certain loans to be approved without an appraisal by a human being. If present trends continue (always a caveat), the occupation of home appraiser may go the way of the buggy whip maker over the next decade.

Action steps: Feel the “churn” in your own industry and line of work, then “futurize” your thinking, and plan accordingly. Whether you’re just starting out or are well along in your career, successful navigation in the 2020s involves more than just following your passion or going with the flow. Choose proactively and wisely based on sunrise/sunset projections. Mentor others. If someone you know is thinking of paying $5000 to become certified as a home appraiser, help them out. Suggest they first consult LinkedIn’s lists of fastest growing (and fastest disappearing) occupations.  Avoid occupations with no future or plan to reinvent them as booming luxury travel broker Virtuoso has done. Even if you’re well into your career, pay attention to future forecasts in your profession and industry.

Forecast #3. Lifelong learning, up-skilling and re-skilling will no longer be optional activities. They will be vitally necessary habits for sustained career success. 

The median age of workers at Facebook, LinkedIn, SpaceX and other tech companies is 29. The hiring rate slows markedly at 34. Generation Z’s recent arrival in the workplace is jolting Millennials into realizing that they are no longer the new kids on the block, and irrelevance happens faster today than ever before. The solution? Constant up-skilling (expanding your capabilities) and re-skilling (learning new skills) so you can do a different job or keep on doing your current job once routine parts of it have been automated by software.

Don’t expect your current employer to do this for you. A relatively few firms are as forward-looking as AT&T in this regard. Each year, AT&T’s CEO shares where the company is going, and gives insight into what skills will be needed to remain employed in the foreseeable future. AT&T then partners with Udacity to create “nano-degree” courses which help employees develop needed emerging skills, for which the company is willing to pay for. The only caveat: employees must take these courses on their own time.

Action steps: To thrive in this new world of work, think of yourself as You, Incorporated. Today You, Inc. is selling services to your current employer. But what about your next move or even your next career? Avoid putting all your eggs in one basket, explore other careers, keep; your resume current, volunteer for new projects and stretch assignments, especially those which develop your “soft” skills and innovation skills. Be willing to relocate for new opportunities. Take risks that pull you out of your comfort zone.

Forecast #4. Automation will accelerate job displacement. But “augmentation” rather than joblessness will be the norm. 

There’s no question that Covid-19 accelerated the digital transformation of every industry, job and occupation. According to research, currently available technology, if fully implemented, could automate almost half of the activities people are paid to perform today. And “currently existing technology” is advancing at the rate of Moore’s Law, which predicts a doubling of capacity every 18 to 24 months.

In 2017, McKinsey ‘s research brought ominous headlines with a report that indicated 73 million people were in danger of losing their jobs through automation. But then a funny thing happened. The unemployment rate in the United States plummeted to a 50-year low, and employers and employees alike now wonder: if automation is going to wreak such havoc, wouldn’t its effects already be starting to show up in unemployment rolls? Instead of massive displacement, there will most likely be continuing and constant displacement of workers as automation becomes a driving force in both the service sector and manufacturing. The new trend, however, is augmentation – technologically enhancing the worker’s unique skills to create a greater whole.

Action steps: Look at how automation is impacting and will likely impact the work that you do, the profession you are in, and the company you lead. Ask: where are present trends headed for your profession? How will you need to add value differently in the coming years?

In the past decade, job category churn has accelerated to the point where front-line workers, professionals, and employers alike must “think ahead of the curve” or face unpleasant surprises. But those who anticipate and plan for change can create their own reality and ride the waves of change.

The new world of work is taking shape, not so much before our eyes, but beneath our noses. Because of Covid, it will never be the same. Take time to ponder these forecasts that follow. Use them to prepare your company and your own career to prosper in what promises to be an exciting and dynamic period.

 

 

 

 

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