This is Your Life in 10 Years Time

What do you, the worker of the future, look like?

It's happening. All around us people are slowly (or sometimes quickly) transitioning into the future of work. The future of your work. Your job. Your life.

The full-time job (9 to 5, traditional career, etc.) is about to become a rarity; only available to a select group of people who represent the core of an organization, or who possess a very specific skill set. Why?

Because we live in a society increasingly shaped by tech. Automation will take over many of the tasks previously assigned to people. And the youth of today (and tomorrow) will have no problem transitioning into that situation. Already used to juggling flexible hours at the two or more jobs they're working, the school or university they're studying and the intense social schedules they're following; their entire lives are formed by on-demand.

The technology to facilitate that lifestyle has matured too. Facebook, Skype, Whatsapp, Snapchat and the likes make managing those chaotic lives a breeze. And on the professional side, platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, and Taskrabbit are great at making on-demand, freelance-like work situations (all over the globe) a sustainable lifestyle.

So when we tell you work as you know it is about to change, we're not kidding. Still not convinced? Read on!

No more jobs?

It might seem like science fiction, but robots are taking over. Industrial robots are already commonplace in factories all over the world and have shown to have positive effects on productivity. According to research from Georg Graetz of Uppsala University and Guy Michaels of the London School of Economics, the use of industrial robots even increased human productivity.

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But aside from industrial application, robots are also making their entrance in other sectors. Think of robots helping the elderly in Singapore as well as Europe. Their usefulness stretches further. Robots in different forms are currently performing tasks as varied as keeping watch, building websites, cleaning and chatting with customers.

Will this development completely remove all of the jobs available to us? Not if we're to believe Lilly Irani, assistant professor of Communication & Science Studies at the University of California. She argues in her treatise: “Automation doesn’t replace labor. (…) It displaces it”. Irani points to the digital microwork industry as an example of how labor displacement generates new kinds of work: “This is the hidden labor that enables companies like Google to develop products around AI, machine learning, and big data”. Labor, she says, that’s often carried out by contractors working from home.

Irani is not alone in this. Oxford University Associate Professor Michael Osbourne thinks the job market will change fundamentally, but believes it will take a long time, and not every job will disappear.

“We’re not necessarily speaking about all these people being put out of work because, of course, there will be new jobs created and there might be some kind of difficulty in obtaining public acceptance for a lot of these kinds of automation.”— Michael Osbourne

Furthermore he argues: “the more creative you are, the more safe you are from automation”. And admittedly the idea of robots venturing in the domain of what good and bad taste is, seems difficult to imagine.

It's an On-Demand world

But even if you're safe from a witty robot taking over your job; companies don't like a house full of permanent contracts anymore. The 2008 economic crisis forced a lot of businesses to lay off a large part of their employees. And taking them back permanently? Well, with the chaos of the last economic crash still fresh on their minds, that doesn't seem an option.

Retailers, fast food companies, and coffee companies have been taking working with on-demand employees the furthest, even introducing on-call shifts, where employees have to be on standby for hours on end. Carrie Gleason, Director of the Fair Workweek Initiative, however believes that development is not good for any party.

“A sustainable work schedule balances critical business priorities with the needs that arise from being human; that equilibrium can only be achieved when employees have a real voice in the process.” — Carrie Gleason

Instead she argues employees should have more input in scheduling. This is in accordance with the future of work how Chauncy Lennon of JPMorgan’s workforce initiatives sees it: “The workforce of the future is organized around the worker. If we can’t find the right people, it’s going to hurt our bottom line.”

The youth doesn't know any better than working flexible hours. And it's up for debate whether they would ever want a steady 40-hour workweek. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 6 million millennials are already choosing to work part-time for non-economic reasons.

And they might be onto something. As an employee you not only have limited flexibility, you're also oblivious to incoming risk. Nassim N. Taleb explains this danger in a conversation with Fast Company:

Let's compare two brothers: one an office worker, the other a taxi driver. Volatility is present in the career of each: while the office worker has randomness “smoothed away” by the regularity of salary and employment, he is like a turkey in mid-November, fragile to risk presently out of view. On the other hand, the taxi driver — who Taleb describes as being of the class of artisan, much like a carpenter or plumber — experiences a natural randomness in his daily fluctuations of fares, but is less prone to large shocks.

The self-employed, the flexible individual, the hourly worker. They have more optionality. If one thing isn't working, you can quickly adapt and move on to the next thing. But if you're wholly focused on your one job, which you are also bonded to by a contract, then all your optionality is gone and you're open to large risks.

Everything will become a Platform

The big facilitator in all of this will be the platform. That's something that Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar and writer of Peers Inc says:

“In the transitioning world economy, everything that can become a platform will become a platform.” — Robin Chase

In her article she argues that legacy companies have to evolve fast if they want to stay relevant. Chase believes that a Peers Inc organizational structure might be the solution. The promised benefits seem compelling: exponential scaling, exponential learning, and very low cost innovation and localization.

To get there, it requires the development of technological and social platforms, the existence of a central core of workers and skilled individuals connected to that platform who can provide services to its customers. Three things that we're already seeing happening today.

The rise of SaaS platforms has been enormous, organizations have (forcefully) scaled their human resources down, and skilled individuals are more and more becoming self-reliant. And that also opens up the door for cost effective businesses, better known as bootstrapped startups. Working without an office (or a very small one) is possible when you're working with distributed teams. Or as John O'Duinn argues:

“Distributed teams let you focus the company time and money where it is most important — on the people and the product.” — John O'Duinn

Again, the platform functions as the facilitator. In this case, it facilitates the rise of small scalable businesses. It facilitates skilled individuals coming together to work on a vision of a core group of people. It facilitates learning from different views all over the world, different kinds of problem solving and different kinds of skill sets.

Social Productivity

So if we were to make a list of what the worker of the future looks like. It could be something like this.

The Worker of the Future:

  • works in distributed team(s)
  • depends on skills and ability to understand client needs
  • has a core network of recurring clients
  • works globally and across cultures
  • does not sign permanent contracts, nor are in search of them
  • sees scheduling of work hours and private life as a challenge

And likewise, organizations could look a little something like this.

The Organization of the Future:

  • has a core of founders, and small group of essential employees
  • uses platforms to (temporarily) hire people with the skills needed at that time
  • has a core network of reliable people that have those skills
  • works globally and across cultures
  • sees scheduling of professionals as a challenge

Naturally, not all organizations or all employees will fit these profiles. Still, the trends towards these specific views of the future of work are convincing. One of the major challenges in this painting of the future will be availability; as organizations wanting to move forward fast do not have the skills needed on-hand, but will need to venture outside (using platforms) to find those skills.

The people who possess those in-demand skills are juggling clients and will find difficulty in balancing their time between whoever they work for, and their private lives. Time surfaces then as the one important resource.

Because as a skilled individual, you want to spend the limited time you have working with the right people, on the right goal. And as an organization you want the same. You want the best people working together at the same time. In other words: only using the best combination of human and tech is it possible to create the most value.

We're calling that Social Productivity. And done right, it allows people to create more value by working with more people (online as well as offline), while having to spend less time and effort to make that happen. In turn facilitating the Future of Work.

But that's just us… How do you see the Future of Work panning out? What are your feelings about robots performing tasks previously assigned to people?

We'd love it if you hit Recommend, so the discussion about the Future of Work can open up to many more people!

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And if you haven't seen it yet, you should definitely visit Tim O’Reilly’s publication WTF? What’s the Future of Work. It's full of great articles.