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The Future Of Work : Four Scenarios To Consider

In / By Doug Belshaw / 26 January 2017

In this article we attempt to predict the future of work and according to the Global Consortium to Reimagine HR, Employment Alternatives, Talent, and the Enterprise (CHREATE) the diagram below represents the next decade of work.

CHREATE - four kinds of work in the future

You don’t have to be a techno-determinist to realise that technology has a material affect on our working environment, the way that we communicate with one another, and what’s possible in the world. 

As William Gibson famously stated, the future is already here (just unevenly distributed) which means that in some places the top-right quadrant is close to being an everyday reality. In other places, this may take longer — or the other two imagined states may be more apt.

The research carried out by CHREATE identified five ‘forces’ driving changes in the world of work:

  1. Connectivity — it’s never been more possible to work wherever, whenever, and however you choose. This breaks down social boundaries, and is likely to lead to greater diversity in the workplace.

  2. Global talent market — related to the first point, companies can source and tap into talent wherever it happens to be geographically located. Further, workers are likely to choose employers for reasons beyond mere renumeration — for example, the opportunity to work with people they already know and trust, or on issues important to them.

  3. Flexible org charts — strict hierarchies are defaults for organizations, but in a technology-mediated world, there’s no reason for much flatter structures. Relationships can be re-configured on-the-fly based on roles within projects, rather than location on an org chart. Emotionally-intelligent leadership is therefore likely to become even more important.

  4. Collaboration with AI — we’re likely to lose jobs that can be more efficiently and effectively carried out by artificial intelligence, robots, and machine learning. Being able to interact with automated processes and the ability to tell the story of what the data shows will become crucial.

  5. Exponential technological changes — Internet of things devices, sensors everywhere, autonomous vehicles, AI assistants, and other new technologies will make workers and organizations even more flexible. This will be necessary in the face of uncertainty, as will rapid re-tooling and re-skilling of the workplace.

Returning to the diagram, it’s clear that any change from the grey ‘Current State’ box involves changes both in terms of skillsets and mindsets. Depending on factors including industrial sector, location, and age, we’re likely to see ‘democratisation of work’ (vertical axis) be a greater or lesser driver of change than ‘technological empowerment (horizontal axis). 

While they often go hand in hand — technological empowerment often leads to the greater democratisation of work — there are factors that may pull a sector into the ‘Today, but turbo-charged’ or ‘Work reimagined’ boxes. For example, heavily-unionised industries are likely to see greater changes on the technological side of things before the human side. 

The ‘Uber empowered’ quadrant is an interesting scenario for workers, some of whom might relish the flexibility and empowerment, while others would be concerned at the precarity of their income. What is clear is that there are a number of things workers can be doing right now to prepare themselves:

  • Always be learning —don’t rest on your academic credentials and/or job history. Use every opportunity to level-up in new skills, and consider yourself only as good as your last project. Push the envelope.

  • Take control — find ways to collaborate with others. For example, form a co-operative or other form of organization that allows you to work in solidarity with the people you work with best.

  • Be a connector — grow your network, find ways to be what Seth Godin calls a ‘linchpin’. Make yourself indispensable to individuals and organizations.

Ultimately, this is one group’s view of the future — albeit a very well-informed group, who have kept a close eye on recent trends. The future is, as ever, what we make it. Let’s make sure that we’re ready to co-create it!

Doug Belshaw

Doug Belshaw

Dr. Doug Belshaw is an 'Open Educational Thinkerer' who works at the intersection of education, technology, and productivity. Formerly at the Mozilla Foundation, he now consults on a worldwide basis.

Morpeth, England
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