A little girl facing a long road with her hands on her hips. She means business when it comes to the future of work.
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It’s time to get serious about the future of work

31 Oct 2018

There’s a lot of talk about what the future of work entails but WorkMatters founder Kevin Empey believes it’s time to move the conversation on.

While no universal definition of the ‘future of work’ even exists, it has become one of the most common management buzzwords over the last decade.

Used and abused as a ‘label of convenience’ for everything from robotics and AI to millennials and the gig economy, not a day passes without news of the latest survey, report, summit or social media post on the subject – including this article, I guess!

However, having worked in and researched this field over the years, my sense is that we now need to move the conversation on regarding the future of work.

The message has been clear for some time that major converging forces such as emerging technology, rapid change, globalisation, shifting demographics, gig working and so on are all combining to herald in what is becoming the biggest disruption to the world of work since the industrial revolution. We get it.

But when you talk to many leaders, employees and policymakers today, who are often consumed by current challenges and priorities, they are asking the question of what exactly is so different, what is the impact to me, to my organisation, and what should/could I do about it today? Basically, where do I start?

Getting personal about what really matters 

Part of the issue is how distracting all the information and noise around this sprawling topic can get, between digital this, robotics that, and gig working the other, and every subject in between. Many people are left asking what is ‘really real’ for me in all this; what are the practical and relevant implications for my context, my situation and my future?

These are some of the basic questions we need to address for people, moving beyond the flash, drama and glitz of the latest technological advancement and millennial or Gen Z survey.

Basic themes of the future of work

When you do look beyond the hype and headlines and at how others have successfully travelled this path, you are left with some concrete themes that each business leader, HR leader, employee and policymaker does need to consider.

Themes such as the capacity to manage greater complexity, embed agility and rethinking how work can get done are among the relatively few but fundamental strategies that will enable all of us to navigate whatever the future of work throws at us. Nothing new perhaps, but ideas that now need to be more deliberate, thought through and front of mind than ever before.

Commonly quoted essentials such as embracing new technology, dealing with continuous change and managing diversity are now just simply ‘givens’ in the new world of work and business, to be accepted as business-as-usual realities rather than anything new or in the future.

Making work better and making work matter

Another basic truth we have to face as leaders, work architects and policymakers is how to make work better and matter for everyone on the spectrum of technologically empowered possibilities and options presented by the so-called future of work.

As Martin Ford says, “Crafting a future that offers broad-based security and prosperity may prove to be the greatest challenge of our time.” Declining engagement levels, increasing levels of precarious work, workplace stress and widening pay gaps are just some of the current warning signals that suggest we have some tough choices ahead to create broad-based prosperity and sustainable work models for the future.

A fascinating and important journey ahead

All in all, this ‘future of work’ journey will continue to be a fascinating one, scattered with many unmapped routes, speed bumps and cul-de-sacs along the way.

But it is a journey for which we need to prepare ourselves and others, and to take with purpose, so that we establish a route for future generations that is characterised by good work and opportunity, where people can thrive and not just survive at work. A future where organisations build the capacity to adapt and change with confidence and skill over time, and don’t just exist to deliver on short-term priorities.

By Kevin Empey

Kevin Empey is an expert on the future of work and the founder of WorkMatters, an organisation dedicated to helping leaders, organisations and employees thrive in the changing world of work.

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