The future of work is being shaped by two powerful forces: The growing adoption of new technologies such as artificial intelligence in the workplace, and the changing demographic profile of the workforce. Organizations are becoming flat, adopting newer technologies, rapidly globalizing, and embracing the challenge of a diverse workforce. These forces are driving the organization to rethink the way they are structured and redefine their ways of working.
- Change in the nature of work: Traditional work is being re-framed. Organizations are considering making the shift from ‘work as tasks to be accomplished’ to ‘problems to be solved’, enabled by technology. One of the key challenges is to create not just jobs, but meaningful jobs that harnesses the inherent nature of creative problem identifiers.
The change to the nature of work is also fueled by the digital disruption and increasing use of artificial intelligence at the workplace. Technologies such as smart devices, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, robots, blockchain, and the internet of things are changing the way companies design and deliver their products and services, while digital platforms are driving a change in the way organizations hire, manage, and develop their people. Innovative companies are seen adopting design thinking techniques with these technologies to develop processes that simplify and improve the work experience. Rather than replacing humans outright, the introduction of new machines change the skills and requirements the workforce needs to be able to take advantage of the new technologies.
- Change in the workforce and their expectations: Workforce is seen becoming multigenerational with people born between 1960 and 1994 working together. Millennials (1981 – 1996) now make up more than half the workforce and look for rewarding, purposeful work experience with continuous learning opportunities and dynamic career progression. At the same time, Baby Boomers (1946-1964) are being challenged to adapt to new roles as mentors, coaches, and often work with junior colleagues. Millennials and now the Gen Z (1997 – onwards) look for meaningful work that aligns with their goals. These generations are seen adopting digital disruption head on and thinking out of the box to find solutions to problems. But Gen Z is also aware of the fact that dependence on technology has caused a disconnect in their personal and professional relationships. In a study of 4,000 Gen Z participants, 92% are concerned about the generational gap that technology is causing in their professional and personal lives. Another 37% expressed concern that technology is weakening their ability to maintain strong interpersonal relationships and develop people skills.
- Change in the skills required: In hindsight, technology also seems to have impacted the development of cognitive skills, including intellectual curiosity, among millennials, creating the risk of skill gaps when they enter the workforce. The skill gap can be broadly categorized into two (i) Ability to think like a human which includes empathy, communication, cognitive, social skills, adaptability, and ability to deal with ambiguity and (ii) ability to understand various technology implications. Organizations are realizing that tasks based on math, science, and engineering can be automated or performed by robots. Hence the need for people with skills in communication, interpretation, design, and synthetic thinking. In a way, we can think of these as the arts, hence the evolution of education from STEM to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths).
With increasing permeation of technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation in the workplace, leading organizations are realizing that these technologies are not to replace humans but to complement them. But with this increasing dependency, there is also the demand to be able to foresee the implications of these technologies on the job, workplace, and technology-human interaction model.
Marrying the innate ability of humans to take risks and conceptualize solutions from the unknown with artificial intelligence is likely to help organizations redesign work.
In an environment where 92% of HR leaders believe that emotional and social skills are increasingly important, organizations are likely to feel the effects of this gap keenly. If organizations are to organize work around problems and successfully integrate humans with artificial intelligence, then they need to hone skills such as cognitive and design thinking, empathy, adaptability, and ability to deal with ambiguity. Most of these skills cannot be taught in a classroom. Hence organizations will need to create a learner experience that, through tacit knowledge, can instill these skills. This learner experience, supplemented by a continuous learning culture, with employees at the driving seat of their developmental journey will likely be ready for the “Future of Work.” Organizations that are able to create new ways of interaction, communications, decision making, and a flexible work environment are likely to outperform, out-innovate, and out-execute their peers.