Five Questions Answered About the Future of Work
Pam Sornson, JD
Why do we talk about the future of work? We talk about it because, on a grand scale, ‘work’ – human labor, technology, industry, etc.- drives the economy, which is the platform upon which a society is built. From a personal perspective, work provides the resources upon which a happy, successful life is built. A thoughtful and comprehensive workforce development strategy that supports both industries and individuals will optimize and maximize the success of both. So, when we’re talking about the ‘future of work,’ we’re talking about what that strategy could look like and how we might implement it.
There’s No Better Time
A variety of influences over the past decade have created chaos in the workforce development sector. Changing political perspectives, climate variations, social unrest, and global health crises combined to compel an overhaul in thought processes about how work gets done and even the considerations about what work needs doing. The phenomenon is experienced at a global level and a personal level, as industries innovate to accommodate supply chain challenges and workers re-educate to gain newly emerging skills. Consequently, the responses to those phenomena are also occurring at both the global and personal levels. The challenges posed to industries and individuals involve how to embrace new ways of working that also optimize the success of businesses, employees, and society as a whole.
Human resource experts have been tracking these trends for decades (although it’s arguable that they’ve never encountered as full a constellation of workforce disruptions as those that are occurring now). A 2020 report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) asserted that 85% of the occupations expected to exist in 2030 had not yet even been invented, and that was before the world experienced the full brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rate of change in industry and workforce development is continuing to accelerate. That unbridled momentum makes it more imperative than ever that all participants in every economy understand the reality of the “future of work” and can make appropriate decisions to embrace those evolutions.
There’s No Wrong Way
Every company will approach its future workforce and economic development processes with a unique strategy to achieve its proprietary corporate goals. To achieve those goals, the organization must coordinate its workforce, its technology, and its productivity efforts. These five questions explore how that coordination might play out.
What work needs doing both during the transition and in anticipation of future production ambitions?
Getting from today’s standards to tomorrow’s innovations will take a defined strategy that accounts for investments, effort, and the attainment of interim goals. Most companies should by now recognize how present circumstances are impacting their production, revenues, and markets. Their next step is to assess where within their organization they are unable to meet these developing demands. That information will inform their decisions regarding production line innovation, product restructuring, supply chain needs, and more. As the C-Suite approaches these changes, it should consider its next steps as bridges to its future configuration and design its strategy with those long-range goals in mind.
How will work be accomplished and measured?
The proposed future of the full scope of organizational productivity assets includes human workers, of course, but also robots, automation, and artificial intelligence. The mandate for isolation drove the explosion in technology adoption to perform tasks that were no longer safe for human workers to do. That rapid transition continues to grow, and some experts see a significant trend of transitioning labor-intense but mundane tasks to technological resources. The trend itself will not necessarily replace workers because the machines doing the work will, themselves, need oversight and management.
Where and When Will Work be Done?
Technology is also evolving the fundamental nature of productivity. Today’s workforce has become significantly more dispersed throughout communities, as businesses and their employees gain value from the opportunities presented by the remote work option. The consequence of this evolution for many companies is the development of a “colocated workspace,” where dispersed teams of remote workers contribute their individual assets to a single monolith organizational project.
Further, those workers who can remain productive and contribute to the quality and success of their employers while working remotely are also gaining more control over their own personal activities. Remote work allows flexibility in scheduling and eliminates the cost and time involved in commuting to an office, all of which enhance the employee’s satisfaction with their work. In fact, employee satisfaction and “the employee experience” are becoming more significant as employment benefits in the eyes of both current and future workforce participants.
Adjunct to the ‘where work is done’ concept is the companion concept of ‘when work is done.’ Many occupations lend themselves to a deadline-driven schedule as opposed to an hourly measure of productivity. Again, this concept of employee control over time and activities is growing as an influence over who they work for and the labor they sign on to do.
Who will do the Work of the Future?
Of course, no work gets done without some worker somewhere contributing that effort. However, what’s changing is the tool set employees will use to pursue corporate projects. Also, employers are experiencing a wider range of worker options than they’ve had in the past:
Innovations in and adoption of technology are changing how to perform ‘work,’ and many existing workforces either are trained in or need training on the use of technology in the performance of their job. Organizations that prioritize technology to enhance workforce performance are fast becoming leaders in their market.
In addition to the dispersed workforce, companies can now also access disparate labor pools by engaging with “gig workers” or accessing “crowdsourcing” resources. Both employee alternatives gain productivity from specially trained contractors as individuals (the gig worker) or a crowd of specially trained, well-informed industry consultants. Technology typically affords access to these workforce enhancements.
So, What Does the Future of Your Work Look Like?
In theory, these concepts offer insights and guidance for every enterprise in exploring its future workforce and corporate success. In practice, however, today’s corporate leaders can learn from the professionals who do this work every day.
On November 8th, 2022, Pasadena City College will host its 4th Annual Future of Work Conference in Westerbeck Hall from 8:00 AM to noon PST. Attendees will hear government, industry, and education professionals discuss the conference theme – Removing Barriers to Increased Job Placement and Work-based Learning – and its nexus to regional policy, productivity, and workforce capacity.
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