Six lightbulbs hanging against a grey background. One is lit up representing the one that’s prepared for the future of work.
Image: © Zffoto/

How can individual employees prepare for the future of work?

22 Jan 2019

While a lot of leaders like to pontificate about the future of work, it can be hard to know what individual employees need to know.

For the individual, a lot of thought leadership around the future of work can seem too vague to matter on a micro level.

But the future of work is important for us all. It’s how we each choose to prepare for the future that will make the difference.

The future of work has already arrived in many ways, so it’s important for workers to understand the concept itself.

Founder of WorkMatters, Kevin Empey, told said the major problem around understanding the future of work is the fact that it appears to have become a buzzword. “It is a label of convenience used to capture everything from robots to gig working and all the other trends we are seeing rapidly develop in the world of work,” he said. “One of the more helpful descriptions I have seen for the future of work is the ‘fusion of rapid business adaptability, organisational agility, and the changing nature of work and the workplace’.”

Empey said that this description suggests the future of work comes down to adaptability, agility and being comfortable with change. “So, if I know that the world of work is changing at an increasing pace and I will need to be adaptable and agile, the question becomes, ‘How do I do that?’ and also, ‘How can I enjoy work and succeed in a healthy, sustainable way given all the present-day realities of burnout, work-related stress and so on?’”

How can individual workers future-proof themselves?

Being ready for change is one thing, but how are individuals really supposed to future-proof themselves and their skills to ensure that they’re ahead of the change instead of simply waiting for it to happen?

Naturally, the skills you will need for the future will largely depend on what you want to do, the industry you’re in and the experience you have. However, there are some general skills that can help you thrive in the future of work.

Empey said that WorkMatters was keen to look into the softer skills that everyone might need regardless of their job. “These skills were identified based on the known global qualities of workforce agility, and validated through primary research of business leaders and staff of organisations covering more than 150,000 employees,” he said.

Infographic: WorkMatters

The above diagram shows personal skills such as purposefulness, a learning mindset and ‘changeability’. It also shows skills in the social domain such as relationship management and collaboration. These are the more specific skills individuals can look at when evaluating their readiness for the future of work.

Empey advises employees to first be more aware of these skills and then be more deliberate about using them more consciously in an effort to improve them. “The thing is, we already have these skills and we use them all the time, probably subconsciously, every day one way or the other,” he said. “We are just not used to calling them out and mindfully saying, ‘These are important, I need to work on them when day-to-day opportunities arise.’”

Examples of putting these skills into action include trying new technology on your next project, learning about a different aspect of the business, or finding a mentor who will open up new conversations and test your assumptions.

“Overall, I think identifying the driving purpose behind yourself and your work is probably the most practical and powerful tip that will serve people well for their future careers and choices,” said Empey. “Our research clearly showed that those who were self-motivated in their work and driven by something bigger than the job and the task at hand were those who were most open, creative, resourceful, and resilient in dealing with change and the challenges that they encountered.”

More than upskilling

Individuals should be aware of traits that will help them prepare for the future and will also make it easier to develop these soft skill areas, one of which is self-awareness.

“This self-awareness around purpose is a prime source of energy, resilience and clarity when it comes to dealing with all the choices, challenges and changes around us,” said Empey. “It also helps with a second key point, which is being ‘open’ to change, other points of view, other ways of doing things and so on.”

A third strategy he suggests is authentic networking – that is, being quite deliberate in seeking a connection with those who can be of value to you, and you helping them in a generous, mutual and non-favour-expecting way.

Individual employees should also remember that it’s not all about the skills we need at work.

“The last point I would make is around health and wellbeing,” said Empey. “We need to be able to switch off, recharge and spend time with those close to us, but we also need to find a way of working that is sustainable and healthy, both physically and mentally.

“The solutions and strategies for diet, health and relative fitness are all very individual but the proof is compelling that this is a subject that we need to address for thriving in a fast-changing and longer working life.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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