The Future of Work is… here!

Predicting the future is something humans have been doing for centuries.   When it comes to work, the future of work is a hot topic that many people are debating. But are we being brave enough in our thinking?

A few weeks ago my Co-CEO Simon and I were super excited to join the collective thinking around the Future of Work at the Vivid Ideas festival in Sydney with the lovely folks from the Centre for Workplace Leadership. Ever since then I have been reflecting on the core question of what might be the future of work; and I landed on two big #ahamoments which I wanted to share and test out with you our big thinking readers and followers.

Ahamoment#1 – We’re not really talking about the future

My biggest #ahamoment is that mainstream dialogue about the ‘future of work’ is not really talking about the future.

Discussions about managing flexible workers and managing diversity provide clear evidence of this. Both topics are current challenges but let’s face it neither topic is ‘futuristic’ anymore.  If you’re still thinking about managing either diversity or flexibility (as though you can control their arrival and impact), chances are that the real problem you have is a current change management problem and not a future problem.

Organisations are so deeply conditioned to thinking in 12 monthly cycles of financial management, budgeting and reporting that I believe it has limited collective ability and courage to think long term.  Even that trusty source of truth, wikipedia defines ‘long term‘ as:

In finance or financial operations of borrowing and investing, what is considered long-term is usually above 3 years, with medium-term usually between 1 and 3 years and short-term usually under 1 year.”
Long-term is above 3 years! Are you kidding me.  With this thinking the future of work cannot be visualised in more than small bite sized chunks.

Ahamoment#2 – Imagine if we tried to think 30 years ahead!

So what is the future? Usually thinking about the future implies at least the next generation, or two generations if you’re really brave.  What would happen if we thought about what work and the workplace will look like in 30 years time?

We know that by 2045 China will also have an ageing population and every economy will be dealing with a massive skills shortage. The African continent will have the largest, youngest working population which will have to become one of the main sources of global talent.

So the real question is what does the future of work need to look like to respond to these enormous demographic shifts?

We know that culture and leadership are at the heart of every organisation. So what will they need to look like in 30 years time?

Leaders will need to be highly adaptive. Agile in their ability to interpret and influence.  Our current fixation with gender diversity will have been superceded by an understanding of individual identity and the importance of all forms of diversity.  Intercultural awareness and communication will be a core requirement of any highly skilled and mobile job.

In 30 years time concepts like ‘diversity management’ and ‘managing flexible workers’ will be as outdated as the ‘bundy clock’, ‘tea lady’ and ‘telegram’.

What needs to change?

There are plenty of people claiming to be ‘disruptive’. But most of the ‘disruption’ is focused on the age-old scare tactic of calling out a looming crisis (remember we aren’t very good at thinking past 3 years so anything further than 3 years probably does seem quite scary).  Disruption is ineffective when its articulated with no potential solutions and doesn’t lead to real change.

We now need to be fearless in our collective thinking about the real future of work and how we might all need to change our attitudes and behaviour to allow that future to flourish. And yet I don’t think we are being fearless.  Now is the time for visionary leaders to come forward and inspire and lead the change we need for workplaces of the future to be consciously created.

When you imagine the future of work – what do you see? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Let’s be brave and imagine the best future together and then set about creating it.

If you’d like A-HA! to help you and your team think creatively about the future and make read change happen talk to us, we love connecting with other inspired people. We can help cultivate new thinking in our Learning Lab or through change projects.

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