Future of Work: What are we missing?

Each day, I walk my dogs down the same streets in my neighborhood, by the same neighbor’s homes, by the same corner market, by the same breweries. Although I noticed minor changes, a new neighbor, a newly painted billboard, and new beers on tap, it felt like the same place until recently.

Something changed. There was a fundamental shift; the underlying currents that made my neighborhood special changed. Living in one of America’s fastest-growing regions, change is to be expected. It wasn’t bad. I wasn’t good. It was simply different.

And I hadn’t noticed it was changing until it had.

This is also happening in the workplace as well. There are signs of a fundamental shift in how Americans work, what Americans expect from their employers, and even how they perceive the concept of work.

And I am not the only one thinking this; Jim Clifton and Jim Harter from the Gallup organization have penned a new book titled Culture Shock: An Unstoppable Force is Changing How We Work and Live. In the book, they discuss how the pandemic is reshaping where and how we work.

And although I agree that the pandemic has changed Americans’ relationship with work, I don’t think it is the only force of change. Artificial Intelligence, Advanced Technology, Increase Accessibility to Work, Automation, the Gig Economy, etc. will influence the future of work. (See below for the full list of factors changing the future of work.)

But what if we are missing something?

From our perspective in 2023, it is easy to look back and understand the significance of January 26th, 1926, when Johan Baird demonstrated a mechanical television system in his laboratory on Frith Street in the Soho district of London. It literally changed the way we see the world. It allowed live-motion pictures to be seen from someone in a different room to a different street, town, or country.

It was the earliest precursor to a Zoom Meeting. Watch the NBC/RCA Studio video and see if it reminds you of your last Zoom call.

But did Baird see the force he was unleashing on the world?

Probably not.

It would take hundreds of new discoveries and technology to make global video calls possible. What event, discovery, trend, or force might we be missing that changes the future of work?

Here are the forces that will shape the future of work:

  1. Accessibility of Knowledge. The average person can access the world’s knowledge with a smartphone and a few finger clicks. Challenging a boss or subject matter expert is much easier than ever before. Employees are not turning to their boss for knowledge but for direction.
  2. Advanced Technology: At this very moment, thirty-five to forty percent of all jobs can be performed remotely. As technology advances, more jobs will be able to work remotely. I can imagine the day when a warehouse technician is at home with their virtual reality goggles and controls moving pallets of product around.
  3. Automation: With the increase in automation, jobs will be eliminated. If a system can be created, a job can be eliminated. We have grown accustomed to self-checkout, robotic vacuums, and electronic money transfers, all of which have increased efficiency but also caused the loss of jobs.
  4. The Rise of the Individual: Since 1984, when Apple released its advertisement proclaiming the importance of the individual, employees around the country have spoken up for themselves and their authentic identity and asked to be treated as individuals. We see this in a widening of acceptable behaviors in the workplace. No longer is strict guidance to a uniform way of doing things, but we are now embracing our differences.
  5. Generational Shift: Baby Boomers are out. Millennials are the generational force in the workplace. As Generation X moves into leadership positions, they are responding to the Millennials’ power in and out of the workplace. This trend will continue but will be pushed aside as Generation Z and Alpha gain prominence in the workplace.
  6. The Employee Power Shift: If you don’t count the eighteen months of the pandemic, the unemployment rate has been at 5 percent or below since 2016. Meaning that there are more jobs available than people to fill them. I heard that we have a deficit of 4 million workers in the US. This means that in most industries, employees have choices, and when you have choices, you have more power.
  7. Union Power: The National Labor Relations Board has made it easier to unionize a workplace. IN 2022, they saw a 53% increase in union election petitions, the highest single-year increase since fiscal year 2016. This is expected to climb. As more employees demand more from the workplace, the more likely they will rely on unions to have companies meet those demands.
  8. Ease of movement: Moving from town to town makes it easier to find a new job than ever before. One of my personal heroes, Scott Fleury – left his hometown of Philadelphia Pa because he wanted to live in Seattle Washington. He didn’t have a job; he just knew that was where he wanted to live. An increased number of people are deciding where they want to live and then figuring out the job.
  9. Remote Work: Yes, if anything, the pandemic proved that many jobs can be remote. According to Gallup, at one point, almost 65 percent of all jobs were working from home part of the time. The number has settled to around forty percent of employees who are working at least in part remotely. The underlying factors are freedom and autonomy. Employees like to be in control of their work, which shows in engagement scores across the United States.
  10. Gig Work – The Accessibility of Jobs: No longer are workers tied to an employer to make money. They can work as an independent contractor driving their car for Uber, Lyft, or DoorDash.  Or they can start their own business on Etsy, Fiverr, Upwork, and TaskRabbit, putting their skills and efforts toward improving their lives. Nearly fifteen percent of Americans are self-employed, according to Bloomberg.  

The big question is, “What should we as leaders be doing to prepare for the future of work?”

I am not sure if there is a singular answer to this question but here some actions you can take.

  1. Forecast your organization’s future: Where do you expect your organization to be five years from now? What profitability level will you be reaching? What reach will your organization have? Who will be your typical customer? How will automation be incorporated into your work processes?
  2. Envision the environment your organization will inhabit: What technological advances will affect your organization? How will changes in the economy affect your organization? How will the generational makeup of your workforce change the employee demands?
  3. Create a strategic plan: Incorporate the forces above into your strategic plan to use them to your advantage.
  4. Understand employee (and candidate pool) workplace sentiment: How employees envision work has changed and will continuously change. As leaders, we must watch our employees and the candidate pools’ workplace requirements and adjust accordingly. We can use stay interviews, employee engagement surveys, and small group conversations.
  5. Be ready to adjust. In the workplace, trends come and go, and we need to be ready to shift our priorities based not only on organizational priorities but also on our employee bases’ priorities as well.

John Thalheimer

Guiding Excellence in the Workplace

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