A Global Look At The Future of Work

FOW Meme

I had the privilege of being invited to the first ever IBM and Purematter Thinkathon: Hacking The Future of Work event in New York City last month. It has taken me this long to properly synthesize all of my thoughts and experiences from the event.

Why Hack The Future of Work…

The purpose of the “Thinkathon” was to get 30 people who influence the world of work in one room over three days to discuss the future of work. Over the course of these three days we were met with mind-bending presentations from IBM’ers as well as other notable keynotes. We also spent time in groups discussing how we see things like workspaces, communication, talent, technology privacy etc. working in the future.

Of the notable keynotes, was a woman by the name of Faith Popcorn. She was charged with providing the group with a glimpse of the future of the work circa 2025. While I believe we all came into this presentation with our eyes wide open and ready to be schooled, many of us became a little disheartened with what we learned of the future. In this keynote, 2025 was a vision of robots having governance over pretty much everything, simulated living/working, and the disappearance of careers. It’s important to note that Faith Popcorn is known for making wily predictions that come to pass 95% of the time (check out some of them here). As someone who has a passion for the human touch in business, I felt like someone punched me in the gut listening to her go on about a world 100% driven by robots and technology.

Based on her view of the future of work, the human touch is extinct and we all live and work in a simulated, computer amplified world. The idea that humans relinquish more and more control as technology advances presents a pressing question for HR professionals. If careers are obsolete, and people can work via simulated workspaces with a bevy of robots running about our communities and companies- what will HR’s role be?

Jay Kuhns and I at the IBM Design Camp

Jay Kuhns, fellow HR expert and I with IBM employees and VIP Futurists at the IBM Design Camp.  Photo courtesy of @kwheeler

The facts are…

HR will have to transform more rapidly in the next 10 years than it has the past thirty to keep up with societal and technological advances should Ms. Popcorn’s predictions hold true. Will there be whole HR departments run by robots in 2025? I don’t think so, but do I believe that we will see more and more outsourcing of functions that are better delivered by technology or people specifically dedicated to that one function? Yes.  As far as the talent goes, we are all reported to be free agents by 2025 and solely responsible for marketing ourselves to companies for work. The idea that there are no more defined roles within an organization filled with professionals with a finite set of skills creates complexities for recruitment teams and every other facet of HR as we know it today. Which begs the question will there be a need for recruitment teams in 2025? I think there will be reverse recruitment in the sense that jobseekers with broader profiles will have the ability to actively recruit or seek out companies that align with their values, passions and that have a need for their skillsets. We already are starting to see this with the concept of employer branding and candidate experience. In 2025, Onboarding may be a thing of the past or repurposed, if people are no longer in traditional roles requiring the usual assimilation into their companies.

When asked about the economical impact of this new reality of the future of work, Faith Popcorn responded “there will be the haves and have-nots.” Which leads me to address the global implications of this new reality of the future of work. With companies outsourcing work to alternative markets abroad to create efficiencies and lower labor costs- will we drive these advances in how we work or will the U.S be a late adopter? Admittedly, Faith’s research and predictions are based on the American market, so she could not speak to the global implications of what she was proposing. However, with an economic reality of haves and have-nots and no real mention of those that “have a little” a.k.a. the middle-class, who are the future workers? Are they humans, robots or a mixed bag? If any of the future scenarios involve robots as actual workers this changes the entire landscape of employment law and labor relations. We will have to start thinking of things like “do robots have rights or does being human need to be a protected class?” Wild!

My opinion is change is often far more gradual than the vision of the future I viewed in Faith Popcorn’s presentation. The change we experience in the world of work will be gradual largely because many companies haven’t even adopted the technology and progressive practices available to us now. The playing field is not level for all people socially and economically which also hasn’t been resolved on a global scale; nor will it be in the foreseeable future. I have reason to believe there is a greater need in the future to preserve humanity and it’s place in the world of work. I also believe that when you predict things in the future you have to also account for the inevitable outlier events and resistance to change that often color and shape the final outcome. Too much of anything is never good and that also holds true for any imagined advances for the future of work.  With some technological leaps, hardcore streamlining with a focus on creating new efficiencies and a genuine dedication to meeting the needs of future talent and business; I think the future of work has plenty of promise.

What do you think the future of work will look like in 2025? I want to hear from you!

Over the next couple of months, I will be working with IBM on some cool initiatives. Follow my journey along with my 29 fellow futurists with the hashtag #NewWayToWork.

Here’s a glimpse of  the IBM Verse launch I was privileged to attend on November 18th, 2014.



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