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11 (positive) things that will happen in the future of work

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re curious about all this “future of work” hype. Maybe you’re not entirely sure what it is (no one can be one hundred percent sure!), or perhaps you’ve just watched The Terminator and you’re wondering when you have to surrender yourself to our new cyborg overlords.

Let’s just take a moment to assess the situation.

We’ve noticed that many mainstream media outlets paint a gloomy picture of humanity’s fate in the not-too-distant future, at least from an employment standpoint. Jobs we’ve always had will disappear thanks to developments in automation and a more efficient, cheaper robot workforce, and perhaps we’ll be done away with altogether (except for the fortunate minority who know how to program AI machinery or something). It’s all very bleak, indeed. 

Now, before you go all “John Connor” and wage war against the machines, it’s important to take stock and understand that the future of work is not a big, scary end-of-days for humanity. Quite the opposite, in fact. There are lots of cool things on the way that people just like you can use to your advantage.

Below, check out 11 positive predictions for the future of work.

1. Your soft skills will matter a lot more in the future of work.

Even now, the direct skills relating to a role are being seen as only part of the picture. For example, yes, a computer programmer will need to be able to string together and interpret meaningful lines of code, but their emotional intelligence will come into play as a core function of their overall suitability.

Work futurist Josh Catone describes this as the “emotional economy,” wherein the more emotional skills like creativity, problem-solving, negotiation, empathy and overall social skills are highly valued and something that can’t (or won’t) be outsourced to machines any time soon.

“As we automate elements of our jobs, we’ll need to be even more human to succeed,” he writes in a Medium post for x.ai. So, yes, while some jobs will inevitably succumb to the efficiency of machine automation, this will likely force a shift in employment values, and those soft, human skills that are so difficult to replicate will become your personal trump card.

2. You’ll have incredible tech by your side.

Part of existing in the future of work is going to be the exploration of amazing new technologies at our fingertips. The key will be using them in a way that complements and enhances our roles, rather than seeing them as the usurpers.

A real-world example we can look to from 2018 is Explainable AI. See, most machine learning algorithms exist in a bit of a vacuum: They just do their thing, with little to no insight as to how they arrived at their outcomes. 

Explainable AI turns that on its head, and in doing so, actually helps bridge the gap in trust between human and machine. Essentially, its models are far more transparent, assisting in learning while maintaining high accuracy. When you can see what the machine is up to and turn it into an exercise in education, it’s far less intimidating.

3. We’ve been here before. Don’t panic.

Fear of advancing technology is not a new phenomenon. Variations of this same conversation have been happening for centuries. Yep, it’s a conversation we’ve been wringing our hands over at least since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Huh?

It’s true. She stopped a patent by inventor William Lee on an automated knitting machine, out of fear it would eliminate the jobs of young women making a living from hand-knitting. (Want to see the timeline of such instances throughout history? Check it out here; it’s pretty amazing.)

While automation certainly changes the playing field, it doesn’t reduce the number of players. Just as we’ve done for hundreds of years, we flexible, hardy humans will simply adapt and create.

4. You’ll work in the best teams you’ve ever experienced.

Current and past working life, at least in terms of starting new employment, has gone something like this:

  • Search available jobs related to your experience, skillset and desired career aspirations.
  • Apply for jobs that fit the above and appeal to you in terms of your next career move.
  • Secure an interview, where a stranger assesses you on your (hopefully) one-page resume, as well as your answers to questions that have become part of their in-house recruitment process. Experience and skillset are the dominant topics of conversation.
  • Be judged by said stranger on little more than an hour of face-to-face time as to whether you’re a suitable “cultural fit,” based on a whole lot of abstract subjectivity, vague “gut feelings” and the time-sensitivity of filling the position.
  • Land the job, navigate all the early-stage jitters around fitting in, only to realize you’re really not that into it. Between “Activewear Fridays” and awkward team building, the cultist vibe really isn’t for you. And you’re sick of Norbert from accounting making you look at every single one of his bird-watching photos.
    Alternative ending: You’ve landed yourself a great job, and you gel with the culture just fine. Mostly by accident.

With the future of work comes a whole new use for data—your data, that is. People analytics is being used right this second to help businesses shape high-performance and super cohesive teams, based on their intrinsic motivations and talents. How do we know? Well, we do it. And it works.

Does that mean you will never again have any sort of conflict, spending your days in complete harmony? No way. But what you will have is an understanding of the why in your colleagues’ motivations, which makes conflict resolution much more streamlined, as well as fosters appreciation of those unique talents that everyone brings to the table. 

Through greater understanding comes a comfort many only hope to experience in their work life.

5. There will actually be more jobs.

While no one can predict exactly what will happen well into the future, we can make some deductions based on historical events. Fifty years ago, there were precisely zero jobs for web designers and bloggers, and a “YouTube personality” would probably have something to do with plumbing.

With fast-moving technology, we’re bound to see job creation—even for jobs we cannot even imagine right now. There will almost certainly be adjustments required, and it’s not always going to be straightforward, but don’t let the bots get you down just yet.

6. Remote work will be the rule, not the exception.

Any excuses as to why some companies could never go remote dissolved when the COVID-19 pandemic forced employees to work from home. And many will continue to do so even when it’s safe to return to the office.

When stay-at-home orders started being issued in March 2020 to slow the virus’ spread, Twitter, like many companies, went remote temporarily to protect their employees. In May, however, CEO Jack Dorsey announced that even after its offices reopen, Twitter employees whose jobs allow it can choose to work from home forever.

This high-profile move from Twitter speaks of what’s to come. Remote work, once seen as a perk or stopgap, will become the norm.

Even before the pandemic, remote work was hailed as the future of work. In February 2020, Upwork released a Future Workforce report predicting that 73% of all teams will have remote members by 2028.

7. A college education will no longer be expected.

Higher education institutions proliferated during the 20th century, and a college degree soon became the gold standard. But modern employers don’t give as much weight to a college education as they used to: They just want to know if you can do the job well. In a recent Strada-Gallup Employer Survey, employers cited skills and experience as more important in a hiring decision than academic degrees.

Instead of established universities, the future of work may see a continued rise in alternative education. Just take a look at the field of computer science. A CS degree is no longer required to get a programming job. Meanwhile, the number of graduates from coding bootcamps has grown 11X since 2013, according to Course Report.

As Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel writes for CNBC, “I’m not saying college is a waste of time and money for everyone. But if there’s one takeaway, it’s this: The future of work won’t be about degrees. More and more, it’ll be about skills.”

8. Entrepreneurship will increase.

Another way the Internet has changed the future of work is that it’s made it easier than ever to start a business. With a laptop, an Internet connection, and Shopify, you can launch an online store from home. And thanks to dropshipping, you don’t even need to have a product.

Freelancing will also have its big moment. When skilled workers can communicate and collaborate with anyone anywhere in the world, the pool of potential clients grows exponentially. And during an economic downturn with little job stability, more and more are turning to freelance work, which was already on the rise pre-pandemic.

Upwork’s 2019 Freelancing in America study found an increase in both full-time freelancers and those who say they see it as a long-term career. The 2017 Freelancing in America report projected that, based on growth at the time, the majority of the U.S. workforce would be freelancing by 2027.

Mix all of that with Gen Zs’ and Millennials’ entrepreneurial inclinations, and you’ve got a recipe for a business owner boom. A 2016 Gallup survey of 5th to 12th graders found that 40% planned to start a business, while a Bentley University survey found that 66% of Millennials want to be entrepreneurs. 

And thanks to the growth of the gig economy in recent years, everyone can get a taste of honing their skills and being their own boss right now.

9. We’ll finally take work-life balance seriously.

Most of us live in a society of workaholics—and it shows. The American Institute of Stress says job stress costs the U.S. an estimated $300 billion a year due to things like accidents, absenteeism, and employee turnover. And according to Gallup data, stress in the U.S. reached a record high in 2018. Given the rise in stress and its detrimental effects on the workforce, in the future of work, employers and employees alike will finally take work-life balance seriously.

Maybe the world will take cues from the Scandinavian countries that have claimed the top spots in the World Happiness Report for several years now. In 2017, TotallyMoney ranked Denmark and Sweden as the top two places in Europe for work-life balance. Both countries have also been in the top 10 of happiest countries in the world for four years in a row. Coincidence? We think not.

What are some things we can borrow from our Nordic neighbors?

  • Shorter workdays - In recent years, many Swedish companies have switched to a six-hour workday. A two-year experiment with nurses in Gothenburg found that working six hours a day instead of eight boosted their productivity and reduced sick leave.
  • Guaranteed parental leave - Scandinavian parents get copious amounts of paid parental leave—52 weeks in Denmark, 480 days in Sweden. Of the 120 countries analyzed in the OECD SIGI 2019 Global Report, the United States and Papua New Guinea are the only ones without guaranteed maternity leave.
  • Guaranteed vacation days - In Denmark, Sweden and Norway, employees’ right to 25 days of paid annual leave is protected by law. In contrast, the United States currently has no laws guaranteeing paid time off.

Also, Microsoft Japan recently tested out a four-day work week and productivity jumped by 40%. The results: more efficient meetings, higher productivity and workers took fewer days off (and were happier overall). 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, an overwhelming majority (92%) of employees said they like the shorter week. Considering the win-win outcome of this experiment and others like it, it shouldn’t be long before we’re all looking at shorter (and happier!) work weeks.

10. Employees and the public will demand corporate social responsibility.

Climate change coupled with growing consumer awareness will force corporations to act ethically. Eighty-eight percent of U.S. and UK consumers want brands to help them be more environmentally-friendly and ethical, according to a survey by Futerra.

Additionally, the surge in major data breaches in the 21st century (Equifax, Yahoo and Target, to name a few) along with an increasingly digital world means consumers will hold companies accountable for data privacy. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rolled out in 2018, followed by the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in 2020, both aiming to give consumers more control over how their data is collected and used. In the 2018 Brands in Motion global study, 97% of consumers said they expect brands to use technology ethically.

If brands continue to take heed of what consumers are demanding, we can expect the future of work to hold corporations to a higher moral standard than ever before.

11. A job will become more than “just a job.”

Echoing the sentiments of corporate social responsibility, we as workers will hold ourselves accountable, too. Most of all, we’ll want our jobs to be something we enjoy, not just a means to pay the bills.

According to a Girls With Impact report, 86% of Gen Z respondents said following their passion is very important to them. And a survey by Department26 found that 44% of Millennials named “being in a role you’re passionate about” as their top priority in a new job versus 42% who chose money as the top priority.

The truth is, everyone craves meaningful work. No one wants to slog through a job that feels futile. But not everyone had the technology we currently have or will have in the future. Again, technology and the resulting low barrier to entry to entrepreneurship will allow future workers to have more options and more agency. This will, in turn, empower them to do work that matters.

The future of work is nothing to fear

We get it—uncertainty can be scary. But there’s no reason to think the future of work is all doom and gloom. If recent trends are any indication, humanity is poised to leverage technology as a means for good. We’ll have more options than ever, whether we want to start a business or join a world-changing company. 

As job candidates, we’ll be evaluated not by our fancy degrees, but by our skills and experience. And we’ll finally prioritize doing work that’s meaningful. That’s certainly something to look forward to.

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