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Preparing For The Future Of Work: Christopher Kuhn of OTRS Group On The Top Five Trends To Watch In The Future Of Work

An Interview With Phil La Duke

Artificial intelligence and automation will expand opportunities. People worry about losing jobs to artificial intelligence and automation, but it’s important to remember that these are simply tools for helping get the core work done…whether that’s helping customers, producing a product or delivering goods. By embracing these “tools,” there’s more time, energy and creativity for the finding better ways to help, faster ways to produce a product or easier ways to deliver goods. It’s just a matter of keeping flexible and constantly learning.

There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.

To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.

As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Christopher Kuhn.

Christopher Kuhn is the Chief Operations Officer for OTRS Group and is responsible for the Managed Services, Consulting and Sales organizations. Prior to that, he held the positions of Vice President and VP Global Consulting at OTRS. In his free time, he enjoys caring for his horses and spending time outdoors.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

I started working a bit over 20 years ago in the financial services industry as a solutions developer. Trained in ITIL, BPM and international project management, I’ve spent the past 16 years of my career in various roles with OTRS Group, headquartered in Germany. My passion has been on promoting and improving open communication — internally among our teams, externally with customers and via the tool that we produce.

What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?

The pandemic has thrown a wrench in today’s business operations, but it’s effects will likely be felt for years to come. Businesses are going increasingly remote and work-from-home is becoming the new normal. With that drastic shift comes new technological developments. The new technology is sure to cause major disruptions for employers as employees learn and adapt. Employers should stay ahead of the trends by encouraging ongoing employee education through training programs and technology courses. Some businesses even choose to offer incentives for employees through a rewards program.

Additionally, there is almost certainly going to be a leap in technology. I feel like so many fields are on the brink of major breakthroughs. Virtual reality, for example, could leap in popularity. Meetings might be held in virtual reality board rooms. In order for employers to be ready for these technological leaps, I believe they should keep an eye on emerging technologies and educate themselves whenever possible.

The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?

Choosing to go to college is a very personal decision. I would encourage young people to consider their long-term goals and devise an achievable plan that works for them and their lifestyle — whether that be working through internships, community colleges, university or trade schools. The key is to keep learning and keep preparing yourself for what’s next.

Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment, but employment that fits their talents and interests?

Job seekers will need to be more technologically competent in order to stay competitive. It would certainly be a good idea to research what programs are commonly used in their industry and familiarize themselves with those.

Additionally, job seekers today must get comfortable with change. Today’s companies can’t stay stagnant and keep up with the ever-changing business climate, so employees must get used to being flexible. For some, this means adapting in their existing role. For others, it may mean embracing the “gig economy” and striking out on their own or finding another unique way to position their talents.

The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?

Be flexible. You can never know for sure which jobs will become automated, so be ready to pivot as needed. Expect to consistently work on expanding and adapting skills so that you can keep up with the way in which your industry will change over time.

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?

I do see the work-from-home trend continuing in the coming years. Many companies have realized that a remote or hybrid work environment can have many benefits such as improved employee morale, cheaper office space and the ability to hire workers from anywhere.

What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?

One of the biggest challenges for employees who work from home is the inability to separate work from home life. Society needs to stop encouraging being accessible 24/7. Instead, we should normalize that work stops at the end of the work day. I also encourage all remote workers to have a designated workspace separate from their living spaces in their home.

What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept?

I think the concept of actually maintaining a healthy work-life balance will be difficult for employers to accept. At this point, it’s considered the norm to be answering emails or texts in the evening, on weekends and even on vacation.

As for employees, I think setting work boundaries in their home will be the most difficult. At the start of the pandemic, many employees were working from bed or their couch, sleeping in, or working late. In order to be successful while remote working, employees must think of their home office as “going to work.” Yes, the commute may only be a short walk down the hall, but that separation is vital to success.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?

I do think the issue of inadequate social safety nets should be addressed; however, there isn’t one, simple solution. It is a complex problem, that calls for a complex, multi-tiered solution. In large part, governments weren’t equipped to handle a crisis on the level of the pandemic, but even under normal circumstances I believe more programs are needed. I also think companies should be active in their respective communities and help wherever they can on a local level. For example, we work closely with a women’s shelter in Oberursel, assisting with donations and social media support.

Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

We, as the human race, are incredibly adaptable. The pandemic has shown us that. Now that remote working is becoming more normalized, I think there is tremendous opportunity to grow global businesses. When you don’t have to search for only local candidates, you can acquire more premium talent from around the world.

Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?

As employers, we can take it upon ourselves to develop people in a way that points them in a direction needed by the company, instead of simply letting people go as the needs change. Of course, this is not always possible to do, and this is when social programs must step in. Reasonably price or free education that help people find a path forward, as well as the active promotion of such opportunities, should be emphasized.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

My “Top 5” list of top trends for future work:

  • Artificial intelligence and automation will expand opportunities. People worry about losing jobs to artificial intelligence and automation, but it’s important to remember that these are simply tools for helping get the core work done…whether that’s helping customers, producing a product or delivering goods. By embracing these “tools,” there’s more time, energy and creativity for the finding better ways to help, faster ways to produce a product or easier ways to deliver goods. It’s just a matter of keeping flexible and constantly learning.
  • Cybersecurity will continue to evolve as a career path. Cyber attacks were named as a key threat for the next decade in the Global Risks Report 2021 by World Economic Forum. The risk to people, processes and technology from cybercriminals is huge, and we simply need more skilled people focused on this topic to help combat the risks.
  • The idea of and skills required for leadership will change. The shift to remote working highlighted how important it is to emotionally support employees, keep focus on the corporate culture, and lead from a distance (without micromanaging). As we know remote work will continue, managers of the future will need to become more skilled at being empathetic, conveying the purpose of the work being done and being present through digital tools.
  • The traditional idea of a “career path” will be lost. As more modern and flexible methods of project and team management continue to take hold, the traditional corporate hierarchy will fade. Employees will talk about their careers more in terms of the results and the experiences they have had than in the number of rungs climbed on the corporate ladder.
  • Climate change will impact both hiring and employee satisfaction. As the global risk continues, employees will demand that employers take an active role in reducing climate impacts. From carbon offsets to reduced travel, employees will act as consumers, expecting businesses to step up in a very real way to help make changes. People will weigh with whom they want to work based on the impact made by the company.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?

Certainly. My quote would be, “The value of a dialogue depends primarily on the diversity of competing opinions.” To me, it touches on the importance of surrounding yourself with people of varying capabilities, backgrounds and experience levels. It means being curious in times when there is dissent. It means not trying to be the loudest in the room or just talking to get noticed, but rather to talk with the intent of sharing ideas back and forth in an effort to get to the best option or solution.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

Would love to connect with others:

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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