Unsurprisingly, the future workplace will be driven by technology. The rapid advancement of artificial intelligence (AI), automation and robotics will dramatically change both the number of jobs available and the skills required to do them.
We are now moving towards a future where machines help humans process, analyse and evaluate the huge amount of data created. Yes, this will mean that some jobs will become redundant. However, it is important to remember that the ultimate goal here is to allow humans to spend more time engaged in value-adding activities such as strategic thinking, creativity and decision making.
So, what does this all mean for the future workplace?
The future workplace will be less centralised, extremely mobile, more flexible and more virtual. This is already happening in many organisations with the introduction of flexible working arrangements, activity-based working and a shift to cloud-based systems. Our organisation, Change2020 is a perfect example as we have no physical office and much of our collaboration is done virtually. Coming from a big-4 professional services firm, this was a big adjustment for me as I had to relearn that work is an activity, not a place. For this kind of workplace to function properly, businesses will need to establish a relationship of trust and accountability with their employees and ensure that they don’t lose their sense of belonging to a team as a side effect.
Retaining and developing the right talent becomes pivotal. The automation of routine tasks means that employees with critical skills that cannot be replaced will become the ultimate prize. The workforce of the future will be made up of millennials and Generation Z. Without falling into the trap of generalising too much, most of us compared to the generations before grew up under a style of parenting that encourages individual empowerment. As a result, we long to feel that we are making a difference in our workplace and are more than just cogs in a giant machine. Therefore, it is crucial for employers to start to pay more attention to their employee value proposition e.g. as an organisation that empowers and supports its employees’ personal growth and is socially responsible.
Adaptability and the ability to handle ambiguity will be the key to success. This applies to both organisations and individuals. People need to be willing to acquire new skills, try new tasks or even to rethink and retrain mid-career (embrace ambiguity!). Although this may prove difficult as we have an ageing workforce, businesses and leaders can still take the right steps to prepare their employees for the future. For example, businesses can implement rotations, regular training or job mobility as ways to improve their employee’s tolerance of ambiguity and employability.
The future workplace may look very different to what it is now but there is no reason to fear change. In order to thrive in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, we must learn to look forward, work together and embrace ambiguity. Let’s start working on this now.