In the technology space, we’re always thinking about what’s next for innovation and development but tend to stop short before applying those lessons and thoughts to the broader future of work.
After some great reading and new research, we thought it was time to dive deeper and see how the current state of work is changing at a breakneck speed and what technology, as well as how we treat people, can do to help us keep up.
While full of robots, the future of work is less Terminator and more Robot & Frank, where we together to accomplish our mission. How we get there is going to be fascinating.
What does “the future of work” really mean?
When most of us think about the future of the work we do, we get caught up in ideas of automation and AI designed to remove manual and repetitive tasks as humans take on more managerial and service-oriented responsibilities. It’s easy to assume that companies will continue to minimize headcount relative to expansion, making us feel less needed and a little bleak if we’re honest.
That’s just part of the equation, however. Other fundamental changes are things we’re already seeing in our daily lives and often enjoying thanks to their convenience. There’s rapid expansion of food and grocery delivery from third parties, dog walkers that can be ordered via an app, joining meetings with teams around the country from your couch, growing side hustles when you want some extra vacation money (or unfortunately can’t find full-time work that pays enough), and much more.
Deloitte has a good look at this trifecta of what work is done, who makes up the workforce doing that work, and where the modern workplace is moving: “What’s going on is that work is being disconnected from jobs, and jobs and work are being disconnected from companies, which are increasingly becoming platforms.
Approaching them from a high level, we see:
Work is becoming a collaboration of people and machines, designed to address concerns and problems (think of how marketing today is all about helping you feel better or solve an issue) instead of completing a list of tasks. The good news for people is that this may ultimately create more job opportunities, though they’ll require greater creative and interpersonal skills.
The workforce is getting older and becoming more diverse, no matter where a company is. There’s greater access to talent — ranging from cheap to highly specialized — thanks to online services and rising costs. More than one-third of U.S. workers are taking on project-based and contract work, and freelancer numbers are growing faster than traditional workers.
The split is in the growing commoditization of human labor and advanced industry needs. For commoditization, think the delivery services and other app-based solutions where a rotating roster of people who need to work that day are filling tasks. For enterprise and businesses with specialty needs, companies are building up rosters of freelancers to work projects while in-house teams are specializing in their management.
Some enterprise efforts are bringing the whole team back in-house, but this often occurs when specific technical expertise is required, and the company wants to control training and safeguard this precise workforce from going to competitors.
Physical locations of specific work are on the decline. Some see this is a reaction to the growing perk-related demands of workers, while others may use remote work as a way to reduce overhead. Traditional retailers are reacting to growing ecommerce trends by shifting stores to serve more as warehouses or locations to have products repaired and services. Others are getting a bit avant-garde to transform browsing, which requires a sizeable creative workforce shift.
Distributed teams are the new norm.
As the people performing work and the type of work they do shift toward greater collaboration and discussion around creative and interpersonal skillsets, a location has the potential to become less relevant. But this only works if the technology can back up these shifts. That means these teams need to be highly trained in the latest innovation, and there’s going to be a lot of excess training
Which is the most essential ‘future of work’ trend?
It’s easy to look at the tech requirement of every team and task and believe that this software is the most important thing to the future of work, but we think that comes up a little short.
At its core, all of these changes require a workforce that can adapt and be flexible. Picking the right people has always been one of (if not the) most important parts of a business and work we do as a society. The future isn’t changing that now.
The trend that is shifting is the characteristics of that workforce. People working in newly industrialized cities and countries needed to be able to handle repetitive tasks at a massive scale. The tech revolution is asking our workforce to handle shifting requirements at a similar scale.
Technology itself is adapting to this need, but there’s still a lot of training required.
You can see this right now as your favorite tools and apps integrate with leading business software to make task completion easier and facilitate all the things we had to do in a traditional office. Walking down the hall to someone’s office or the meeting room can now be accomplished with a Slack message or a Zoom meeting. Basecamp and Asana replace to-do lists and whiteboards that keep everyone on track.
Some of these are on our list of favorite productivity apps that you should check out before the future of work arrives.
Machines are supporting the shifts in the way we work, and automation is happening around the edges here. For instance, when you create a Basecamp task, the platform can automatically email everyone assigned when that occurs and automate reminders to get things accomplished. Some chatbots and AI assistants can even work with people across multiple channels to set meeting times.
Workers must be flexible enough to adapt when these activities change. With the meeting time AI, that means being willing to respond to email from an AI system and work within it, as well as using the system to create meetings, so everyone is involved.
Less than 5% of all jobs can be automated entirely, but for the majority of jobs, at least 30% of activities can be automated with today’s technology.
Not coming for your job, yet.
No matter who you are and where you’re operating, AI is likely to play a role in how you communicate internally or with your customers.
This is going to have an incredibly exciting impact on different regions in the U.S., not just careers. Dive into what the future may look like for traditional urban environments, rural areas, niche cities, and more in this piece from McKinsey & Company.
Older workers impacting younger teaching
Discussing the future of work typically includes a push toward STEM education, as many high-need skills are in STEM roles, and these jobs are becoming more common in every industry. Analytics managers can be found in nearly every mid-sized company, and the many databases available for purchase by small firms are expanding analytics service providers into niche markets too.
If we turn back to that flexibility required for our workforce, the younger and older generations are going to have something in common that can be overlooked: a need for ongoing education.
Today’s and the future’s workforce will constantly be adapting to innovative technologies and business channels. Instagram shoppable posts expanded to businesses in 45 countries in March 2018, and brands are reporting 20% to 100% increased channel revenues within the first 12 months. While it built some existing knowledge, this new channel required teams to figure out:
- New tech solutions
- How to integrate the option with inventory tools
- The mix of ads and other content to encourage purchases
- Proper attribution for sales analysis
- How to adjust marketing budgets
- Ways to refine their audience to optimize all of the other efforts
- And more
Adapting to these challenges requires a focus on lifelong education and learning.
School is where we must train minds to think and be flexible and engage, but it shouldn’t be positioned as the place you go to get educated and then stop. Workers at every career stage are going to need to train for what’s new.
We can’t go back and adjust the practice and teaching for those of us out of school, but we can help our educators, leaders, and local officials create programs that encourage students of all ages to learn how to be open to learning.
There’s always something next and new, but this cycle of needing to respond is happening faster and faster.
What’s creative collaboration?
Another future-of-work skill that will likely need to be trained in our workforce and encouraged by company culture is collaboration. To do this now, companies are getting a bit creative. So, the latest buzzword in the space is “creative collaboration.”
At its core, this is all about getting people to work together in a way that’s easier and more enjoyable so that people are better at it. Most efforts come from companies like WeWork and are focused on getting people to interact and engage more in person — they’re actively trying to push back against people working from home and coffee shops, partially because it’s beneficial to their business model.
If you take a step back and look past the significant networking aspect of co-working spaces, there’s a bigger trend to see for both people and work. Companies are trying to understand how to make it easy for everyone to collaborate on projects, especially those that are “creative” and will have a vast number of iterations, tweaks, and conversations.
By helping people be social together, work becomes more than just a to-do list, and feelings are less likely to be hurt because there are more interactions outside of a task. In your workplace, especially if you have a traditional office or mostly home-based workers, you can foster these interactions through your tech stack.
One of the most popular Slack channels for almost any organization is going to be its #random channel, where people share articles, photos of kids and pets, recipes, and weekend plans. In channels with international teams, I’ve learned a lot about other cultures and the origins of their holidays and traditions thanks to #random. Plus, tons of great coffee tips to help when the day is off to a drowsy start.
Information is shared generously, and people are able to ask questions and have conversations. Or as the Forbes article put it, someone who is having a bad work day can still contribute to a conversation and engage so that they get the strength to push through problems.
Success here comes from leadership, however. Your company’s culture needs to demonstrate openness to this sharing and encourage collaboration on these “silly” efforts in order for it to truly help the company-focused creative.
As your teams spread further apart, time zones change, and tasks diversify, keep coming back to your tech stack. These tools allow everyone to participate and engage with a communal activity. Even if the conversation starts while you’re asleep, Slack and others allow you to easily see it all and provide your thoughts.
At work, time is flexible too.
Is video the top tool needed for the future?
The discussion around the future of work is long and varied. We see broad changes and potential differences in many areas and calls for a variety of safeguards. The themes, on a broad scale, are about the ability to embrace change and find new ways to connect. Each is central to things like lists of the skills you’ll need to succeed from here on out. The more I think about them and how similar demands have already changed the fundamentals of logistics and international manufacturing efforts, one piece of tech seems like the most important to drive things forward: video.
Video is a way we can build intimacy at great distances. It allows us to share thoughts and express passions in ways that aren’t as flat as text or emojis. Video can also help transcend many of the boundaries that international teams face.
For instance, some companies are putting internal training video on YouTube because it can auto-generate captions. You can also upload captions in multiple languages (and add them later) so people are able to see how to operate a piece of software, fill out a form, or do something else by both seeing the task (often language-independent) and getting context in their native language.
When we share videos of our reactions or thoughts, people can get the visual cues to help understand the proper context of a comment. That’s especially important when an organization’s culture and style is a little sarcastic but still trying to be fun — flat text is easier to misunderstand and can lead to issues more quickly.
Technology is going to augment human effort in the future of work. Video is a leading piece of that, helping to clarify all aspects of the way we operate and interact. This is true whether you’re having a meeting at a virtual coffee shop or are incorporating the latest Agile project management process into your operations. Not to mention all of the customer service benefits it gives us already.
To help companies like yours meet these demands, Zight (formerly CloudApp) provides a variety of visual and video communication tools that you can use internally as well as integrate with leading productivity tools (grab your free trial here). Fire it up to see how you might ease into the future of work and get your team prepared for what’s next a little sooner.
If you’re a global organization, here’s a specific example of Zight (formerly CloudApp) improving communication across global offices, helping Intercom stay fast and flexible.