What’s up with this future of work thing?

If you like scrolling through newsfeeds, you’re part of the startup world or you’re somehow connected to the fields of leadership, human resources/talent management, you’ve no doubt noticed the remarkable and ever-growing amount of talk, number of articles, books, events on this topic.

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Source: Time Magazine

A telling stat: Google brought up 48 million hits related to the phrase in November 2016 and that number grew to over 260 million by May 2017!

No one can deny that work is rapidly changing in front of our very eyes and that it’s soon going to be fundamentally different from what it was like 50, 20 or even 10 years ago.

The “breaking news” is that the “future” of work is already here — and it’s less scary and more exciting than some will have you think.

And why would you read what I write about it?

*if you know and already trust me, scroll through to the next subtitle :)

I’ve spent the last 2+ years in a startup ecosystem where we constantly fine tune an already super-progressive work culture (think flat hierarchies, getting paid to work out/invest in personal development & the like).

Source: Project Getaway

I also run Project Getaway, a series of events for entrepreneurs that creates the opposite of everything traditionally considered to be a work environment.

Before that, I was organizing international events on talent management and, in the process, hanging out with some of the most brilliant minds in the field at a global level.

I also wrote an MBA dissertation on what makes an employer attractive to talented millennials in different cultures.

And, over the last half a year, I’ve intensively consumed everything I’ve stumbled upon on this timely topic.

This is therefore an attempt at summarizing what I’ve learned about something I’m deeply passionate about.

I’ll get started with an overview.

Why are things changing in the realm of work?

The main disruptors could be summarized as follows:

  • New, game-changing technologies: increased connectivity, artificial intelligence, automation, robots, etc — they’re impacting everything in our lives right now, so they are of course changing the way we work, the way we think about work and our expectations.
  • Generation shift: millennials (the generation born between 1980 and 1995-2000) will make up 50% of the workforce by 2020. Being a majority will allow them to shape the work environment based on their wants and needs.
  • Globalization: we can now virtually work anywhere in the world and from anywhere, skills are transferable, many of us don’t only compete with people in our city/region for a job but with… well, the whole world. Migration, both in physical form but also tele-commuting, is also now easier than ever.

How are things changing in the realm of work?

Simply put, in many many ways.

Let’s start with a big one:

1. The disappearance of jobs

Automation + increased productivity + smart algorithms + robots = 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030

That’s substantial — and scary for a lot of people. What can we replace them with?

a. A shift from large corporations offering many jobs to an entrepreneur-driven economy:

  • 100 million new businesses appear yearly (at a global level)
  • by 2020, it is estimated that 40% of the US workforce will be entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, freelancers

b. Universal Base Income — a form of social security in which all citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money. We’re taking about a controversial concept that can count the likes of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg among its proponents. Countries like Finland are already experimenting with this. Bill Gates and other luminaries see this potentially financed by taxing each robot that replaces a job.

Will all kinds of jobs disappear in the near future?

No. In fact, certain categories of “workers” are advantaged. There are now, at the same time, fewer and fewer jobs for low and medium-skilled workers (the left side of brain, algorithmic kind of work that can be easily replaced by robots) and more and more opportunities for highly skilled workers. The combination between globalization + urbanization + technology boom means the war for talent is actually getting tougher than ever.

2. Organisational culture & job mobility

a. Leadership is rapidly changing. A few of the telling signs:

  • smaller distance to power (more colloquial cultures where leaders have to earn authority and trust)
  • flatter hierarchies (you have specialists ultimately in charge of a specific area/task rather than a decision maker for everything)
  • transformational and situational leadership (smart organisations no longer manage everyone the same way nor do they focus on maintaining the status quo, but on enabling change and growth).

b. Millennials will change a job every ~2 years over the course of their life

Source: http://www.smartmeetings.com

Job switching is starting to be encouraged/beneficial — the old goal of maximizing employee retention is being replaced in competitive companies by considering team members as smart contributors for a few years — and getting the most out of them while they are here. In creative, right side of the brain kind of work, the learning curve flattens so much after 3 years that it’s basically not worth retaining people on the same job anymore.

3. Shaping work around your lifestyle

A shift from work as a physical place (and building your life revolving around work requirements), to work as a satisfying experience that fits into your life rather than running it.

Which brings us to the rise of:

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Source: itakecontrol.hu
  • remote work (tele-commuting) & location independence
  • digital nomadism (using telecommunications technologies to earn a living while on the go and conduct one’s life in a nomadic manner).
  • coworking (a shared working environment, where one undertakes an independent professional activity side by side with other like-minded people)

George Eliot cautioned us that “among all forms of mistake, prophesy is the most gratuitous”. So I’m cautious about venturing into the longer term future. But making sense of what’s already happening around us is always a good skill to have.

All in all, we are now talking about an economy low on labour and high on technology and entrepreneurship; about more mobile, lean, flexible, inspiring work environments; and about governments that are slowly waking up to these realities.

Have I told you it’s extremely exciting?

More on what you can do about the future of work here.

Written by

Future of work enthusiast running Livit International, a support system for entrepreneurs and startup teams.

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