Beware the Future of Work
The Future of Work
One of the discussions I get most excited about these days is the ‘Future of Work’. We are in such exciting times in our development as humans. We have entered an age of unprecedented change and the world of work, business and government are hanging on for dear life just trying to keep pace.
The sharing economy, automation, artificial intelligence, the millennial mindset, flexible working, the aging population, crypto currencies (eg. Bitcoin), the rise of freelancing – all of these things and many more are shaping our working lives.
The Future of Work is Now
But this is just the thing. All these major, disruptive changes are no longer the future. They are they here and now. They are happening all around us and are far more entrenched in our working cultures, businesses, projects and services than we often give credit to. Sure we talk about them, but is the action we are taking sufficiently in line with our current state?
The future is now. And this is exactly why I feel we need to be very wary of how we talk about ‘the future of work’. When we pontificate (me included) about the future of work, all the things we put into that bucket appear distant and obscure. Yes, we all agree it’s something we need to start preparing for now, but are we taking it seriously enough? Is our action sufficiently in line with what we need to ensure meaningful and timely progress? Are we consciously thinking through and designing solutions that take the impact of these rapid changes into consideration? And are we being mindful of how we are bringing the people who are affecting and are affected by the change along together with us on the journey?
From my observations? Sometimes yes, often no.
Acknowledging the Future
Recently I did some work with a large government agency who brought me in to advise on a new customer experience strategy. Part of the brief to their credit, was the strategy needed to be future focused. Together with a cross-section of their people from different levels and areas of the organisation, we delved in and explored ‘future focused’ themes like those mentioned above – in line with customer context and needs, as well as organisational capability and engagement. Many of these themes were extremely relevant to what will be imminently or is even currently impacting their core business. As we explored, the penny began to drop. These future themes were upon them or approaching at rapid speed. This was not something many had considered the reality of and certainly not considered in relation to their individual roles within the organisation and how these linked to the customer experience of the future.
Will that organisation shift their mindset and action to keep up with the rapid speed of change we are seeing? Initial signs were positive, but only time will tell. Like so many, they will no doubt feel the weight of size and history dragging at them as they seek to push forward. But they have taken a very important early step in beginning to acknowledge that a) this new future will have major impacts and b) the future is not necessarily 20, five or even one year away, but perhaps they and their customers are currently living it.
So what does this mean for all of us? I don’t mean for us to stop talking about the future of work. There will always be a future we need to consider. But we need to truly acknowledge the state and momentum of the now, continuously be looking ahead and be taking constant action to ensure we are moving fast enough in the direction of the future.
The good old fable of The Tortoise and the Hare comes to mind. While the original moral of this story was ‘slow and steady wins the race’ I’d like to appropriate it for my own purposes. Let’s imagine the Tortoise as the ‘current state’ and the Hare as our ‘acknowledged future’. As the Tortoise (or current state) plods along, making progress towards the finish line (the future), the Hare rests and takes breaks. The Hare doesn’t take seriously the momentum and determination of the Tortoise and her constant progress. When the Tortoise reaches the finish line (or the current state catches up with the future), the Hare is left in the dust and loses the race. In other words the current state overtakes our acknowledged future and finds itself in the future before we have caught up. Like the Hare, we cannot be complacent.
What can we do then? Well firstly, we need to get real and face up to the fact that darn Tortoise is a persistent little Testudinidae (family of land dwelling reptiles - thanks Wikipedia). But more seriously, we must understand what our current state looks like and be clear about how advanced it actually is (or is not, depending on the angle we’re coming from). We then need to work out what action is required to keep pace. Then here’s the really hard part. When we realise what needs to be done to actually ensure we’re keeping up, we have to rally all our energy and do it to stay in check.
We can’t rest on our laurels, decide it’s too hard, shy away from the tough decisions, ignore the problem or go and just solve the easy challenges. We have to tackle the big scary stuff, the stuff where we don’t quite know what we’re doing, the stuff that requires us to change and feel uncomfortable for a while as we get used to a new reality.
Create your Future of Work
The future is created by those who look ahead and imagine something new or different they want to see manifested in the world. They begin taking steps towards it and eventually there they are, standing square in the middle of it. And it’s real. The people creating the future will always do so. We have a choice. We can either become those people, those leaders, those organisations, those governments - or we can be left behind. So beware the future of work. People are creating it every day. They are creating it right now. Don’t end up the Hare.
Kate McCready is the founder of CoFolk.
She is also a conscious business, career and leadership coach, speaker and work-life designer. She helps people and organisations intentionally craft more meaningful and impactful work-life integration for fulfilment, flourishing and flow.