• John Bell

Future Work: 5 Near-Term Realities


I recently delivered a view on key trends affecting the future of work to the Economic Forum of Albuquerque. The “red thread,” as we used to say at Ogilvy, that wove through each was digital transformation and leadership.


I could have tried to tackle some of the big existential questions about the future of work like how a guaranteed basic income may change us. Vox does a great job of digging into these big ideas. My thing is to look at what is on the horizon and could give business leaders (and employees) a strategic advantage today and tomorrow.


Rishad Tobaccowla, in his Time Passages post, mentioned that most successful individuals and firms,

“See early what others see late: Almost every successful person or company recognized a trend when it was a little stream rather than a gushing river and then committed to aligning with it.”

That’s the point of these ‘5 near-future realities.’ These trends seem like the type of stream that people can wade into now before they start to "gush." Ignoring or betting against them doesn’t seem wise.


What's Happening Now?


WORK IS CHANGING FASTER.


COVID-19 abruptly transformed the meaning and experience of “WFH.” It created “essential” and “nonessential” workers and anyone on the frontline of public-facing jobs fell under the bus of consumer anger and frustration.


Competitive low-wage rates shot up to $15 an hour, and I now know the address to text to apply for work at my McDonald’s as it’s on their billboard 24/7.


Even before COVID, builders struggled to find and keep enough skills-based tradespeople. As a society, we had diminished the value of the “trades.” Did you want your son or daughter to become an electrician or get a college degree and a “better” career? Meanwhile, the cost of traditional university became grotesquely huge pitching a generation into insurmountable debt.


THE QUESTION ISN’T HOW WE GET THE EMPLOYEES BACK IN THE BUILDING. Nor is it whether we officially raise the minimum wage (Albuquerque just did). The question is HOW DO WE RADICALLY TRANSFORM WORK.


How can we anticipate and respond to the circumstances of work – the ”Great Resignation” – to create a competitive advantage in our business and our state?


"Over 4.3 million employees resigned across the U.S. in January 2022" - U.S. Department of Labor, March 2022

Just think about one aspect of change – office jobs that became work-from-home jobs. Many businesses saw productivity gains in WFH. Suddenly the mythology of supervised work, tiers of managers ensuring people were productive at their desks was revealed. Women and some others who held two jobs – the one they are paid for and the raising of their children – found some improvement in their lot through flexible hours and WFH. How can we go back? The genie will not go back in the bottle.


THE ANSWER MAY BE HOW WE RESPOND TO FIVE TRENDS.


  1. Designing Collaboration (read the full post): We need to be much more intentional about designing our approach to fostering collaboration. That’s the first near-term reality -not ‘how do we get people back to the office’ but what do you want them to do there.

  2. Frictionless Onboarding (read the full post): With so many people switching jobs and being hired, and a new relationship to work emerging amongst Gen Z that suggests longevity at a company may be a thing of the past, we need fast, efficient ways to get people up to speed.

  3. Cultivating Talent (read the full post): The 3rd Near-Term Reality of the Future of Work is the radical expansion of how we cultivate talent – from planting seeds earlier in peoples' careers to hiring growth learners and then delivering training continuously.

  4. Augmented Labor (read the full post): Most of the business press on robotics highlights job displacement by robots. Some of that will happen. The mounting evidence is that we are seeing technology and data innovations that actually augment labor.

  5. The Diversity & Inclusion Mandate (read the full post): Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) commitments are becoming top priorities for businesses. New employees demand it. Business leaders see the financial business case and new digital tools make it possible to nudge change and measure impact.


Lynda Gratton, professor at The London Business School summed up the leadership challenge quite nicely,

“We have a real chance to be bold—to redesign work in a way that is more humane and future-proofed. So be prepared to be courageous, experimental and take risks.”



Future Work: 5 Near-Future Realities was originally delivered as a live presentation to the Economic Forum of Albuquerque in 2022.


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