What Everyone Needs To Know About The Future Of Work


These days, we are often inundated with scary prognoses about how humans will be displaced by robots at our workplace. Given that we spend the bulk of our lifetime at work, it is important to consider what the Future of Work holds, as well as its implications to us.

To begin, let’s consider what the Future of Work is.

To cut a long story short, ‘jobs’, as we know them today, will no longer exist in the future. Or at least not in their current form.

As technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) matures and proliferates, we will find that robots (or bots) become more apt at performing certain tasks than humans do.

Consequently, what we will see is work being deconstructed into its discrete elements. Take the example of a call centre agent. A typical agent performs a myriad of tasks including customer interaction, attending to customer enquiries, data entry and retrieval, upselling and cross-selling, and more.

In the future, not all of these tasks will be performed by a human. Tasks that are structured and repetitive might be performed in a cheaper, faster and better manner by RPA bots. Or AI bots might better handle tasks that require data analysis or pattern recognition.

So what should we do?

Accept and Embrace

Having the right mind-set in this new landscape is of utmost importance.

Think of AI not as Artificial Intelligence that displaces and replaces humans with bots. Instead, think of AI as Augmented Intelligence that serves humans and enables society as a whole (humans and bots) to collaboratively achieve more.

Which means accepting and embracing the fact that bots are better at certain tasks. Instead of denial or anger, we should look to leverage technology to create more value in our work.

Abandon Outdated Beliefs

In addition, we need to reframe our core beliefs around work. In the future, instead of job openings, companies will post specific tasks that will be filled by a combination of bots, permanent employees, contract staff and contingent workers.

Accordingly, we need to reconsider some of the long-cherished notions as such:

  • A single career in our lifetime, never mind a single job. In the future, we will change careers as frequently as a millennial changes his or her job now.

  • Measuring our self-worth by the job title we hold. A corollary of this is that contract and freelancing work will increasingly become the norm and the associated stigma (if any) will gradually fade.

  • The role played by your organization in your career. What matters is your network, not who your employer is.

Reskill and Upskill, Constantly

Traditionally, our life consists of three distinct phases – study, work and retirement – usually in this sequence. This view is antiquated as we increasingly learn, work and play all at once, and continue do so throughout our lives.

As a result, lifelong learning becomes the new reality. Failure to constantly retrain and reskill ourselves will make us obsolete, causing us to be left behind in this rapidly changing world.

Furthermore, we do need to pay attention to what we choose to learn. Subjects like design thinking which requires inherently human attributes like creativity and judgement are great. If only because these are areas where bots are not good at (yet).

Lastly, because work in future will be task oriented, it is important to pick up and utilize deep skills. Not just one, but at least a few deep skills. And if you can mash the different skillsets into one new unique skill, hallelujah! On the contrary, the Jacks of all trades might struggle to stay relevant in this new era.

The Economy of You

The proliferation of Multinational Corporations (MNCs) since the Second Industrial Revolution have arguably supplanted nation states as the dominant actors in our lives. With the rise of the gig economy, perhaps another seismic shift is underway.

This time around, the balance of power is shifting away from the MNCs towards, well, you. Platforms like Uber, Airbnb and Freelancer exemplify this new economy of you, and they are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.

The corollary of this is that your personal branding and network is ever more important. In fact, how you market yourself is going to be the difference between success and failure. Everyone is going to be an entrepreneur and a CEO/CFO/CIO/CMO/CXO (replace ‘x’ by whichever alphabet you like) all rolled into one.

Disrupt Yourself Before You Get Disrupted

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

- Marie Curie

Understand what the Future of Work is about, and you are on your first steps to success in this new exciting landscape.

*This blog post first appeared on Office Expo Asia Blog.

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