The Changing World of Work

 

The exponential rate of progress in the world is fast becoming a day-to-day reality. And when the world changes, so does the world of work.

And as always, change organically affects customers, employees, communities, sectors, and industries in varying ways. But now, it is time for all organisations to actively prepare.

Why this time more than any other? Well, the entirety of these critical occupational changes can be summed up in three ways: Automation, Augmentation and Artificial Intelligence.

For the first, Time magazine elegantly outlined exactly why this particular word signals that monumental change is on the horizon: “automation is reaching into so many fields so fast that it has become the nation’s second most important problem. The number of jobs lost to more efficient machines is only part of the problem… what worries many job experts is that automation may prevent the economy from creating enough new jobs.”

The best part of the above quote? It’s actually an excerpt of an article from 24 February, 1961.

Yep, not kidding. That’s the year that saw the first man launched into space and saw a promising politician coined ‘JFK’ inaugurated.

Change to the workforce and the way we ‘work’, brought about by technological advances, is something people have been fearing for a long, long time. Fear of technology is not new.

These images from the 1930’s are testament to that; when sci-fi-esque hysteria around robotics first began.

Panic of mass automation seems to happen every couple of decades, and it happens out of reasons that are fair enough. And across these occurrences of fear and uncertainty, there are a few distinct patterns that have been uncovered:

1. When you automate the process of a job, it may displace people, but it does not necessarily eradicate them. For example, Xero and MYOB have not eradicated bookkeepers at all, rather they have released them to undertake more critical touch points.

2. Consumer expectations are continually increasing alongside technological advances, which are driving a pace of change that most traditional organisations are struggling to respond to. Uber radicalised the way we travel, and now the rest of the industry is struggling to keep up.

3. What we also know is that the economy and markets are almost guaranteed to correct and respond efficiently during such turbulent times. However, at the same time, this isn’t a situation where sitting back and waiting for events to unfold is the best course of action. To be prepared for the future you have to understand it. The future of work asks us to consider some big questions.

There have been a handful of ‘revolutions’ across history that have driven incredible change like that described by the patterns above, and it’s these same patterns in which we find ourselves in today.

To boil it down, we can think of a ‘revolutionary inflection point’ for our species occurring when the following equation comes to fruition:

[New Technologies] + [Novel Ways of Thinking] = Profound changes in economic and social structures.

The Profound Shifts Throughout Our History

The 1st profound shift of this magnitude occurred roughly 10,000 years ago, when sapiens domesticated animals and combined food production with population growth. This led to the very first urbanisation of cities.

From about 1760, we experienced the very 1st industrial revolution; railroads, steam engines, mechanical production. Steel was discovered and the world was forever changed.

The 2nd industrial revolution in the late 19th century uncovered mass production, as electricity and the assembly line revamped everything we knew and saw productivity explode.

The 3rd industrial revolution started in the 60’s, which many consider as the computer and digital revolution. Mainframe computers in the 60s, personal computers in the 70s and the internet in the 90s again completely changed the very fabric of our world, transitioning from physical to computer screens and the world wide web.

The 4th industrial revolution builds on the next iteration of this digital revolution. We discovered mobile internet, smaller computing devices at a cheaper price point, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

With every one of these revolutions we’ve seen the pace and rate of progress becoming seemingly exponential. With this 4th industrial revolution, things are exploding.

They are exploding because occurring simultaneously alongside these quickening advances are waves of further breakthroughs in areas of biology and nanotechnology. It’s this fusion of and interaction across the physical, digital and biological domains that make the 4th industrial revolution different.

However, it must be noted that there is some dispute over this view. There are some who harbour the opinion that we are simply experiencing an extension of the 3rd industrial revolution.

Irrespective of either definition, what is going on around us is defined by speed (everything is happening at a much faster pace than ever before), breadth (so many radical changes occurring simultaneously) and the complete transformation of entire systems often through the harmonisation and integration of disciplines and discoveries.

So, it’s now that we start to think: who will survive in this new environment?

The Top 5 Professions In A World That Can’t Sit Still

In all this there is one certainty: these new technologies will dramatically change the nature of work across all industries and occupations.

This chart, produced from research conducted at Oxford in 2013 by an economist and machine learning expert, has ranked 702 professions according to their probability to be automated. We only report the top 5 here:

Least Prone to Automation: Mental Health Social Workers /Choreographers / Physicians, Surgeons / Psychologists / Human Resource Managers;

Most Prone to Automation: Telemarketers / Tax preparers / Insurance Appraisers / Umpires, Referees / Legal Secretaries.

It appears that the professions most prone to automation are mid-level manual roles. It’s also evident that we will have old jobs being destroyed and new jobs being constructed.

The big question remains:

“How quickly will this transition from old to new take?”

And making it hit closer to home, have you thought of what roles won’t exist in 5 years within your own organisation? In 3 years? In 2?

It’s a little mind-bending coming from our viewpoint of today. But, if there’s one thing that we can be sure of, it’s that the backbones of entire organisations will soon be up for debate.

The resultant cocktail of increased consumer demands mixed with incredible pace of change is putting organisations under pressure to change the way they are working comprehensively.

But let us tell you, this is a good thing.

 

Resisting change is futile, especially during the volatile fluctuations of an industrial revolution like the one we have found ourselves in today.

So, with revolution comes new ways of thinking. Three to be exact.

And it’s these following new ways of thinking that organisations will need to understand, consider and implement for survival moving forward.

The 3 New Work Paradigms To Understand For Future Success

1. The Agile Organisation Paradigm
The emergence of lean and agile businesses has created major disruption in entire systems and no industry is unaffected. The banking sector is on the cusp of major disruption. We can already see a number of banks trying to morph themselves into agile organisations. So let’s watch closely as large organisations start to face real barriers related to governance and control while attempting such transitions of immense magnitude.

As an example of what to expect, when Apple was designing the Apple Watch, it spun that team off into a ring-fenced startup that wouldn’t be slowed down by Apple’s corporate culture. What’s important here is that Apple was agile enough to recognise that to move fast it needed a creative and flexibly fluid organisational design. (Source here)

2. The Self-Organised Organisation Paradigm
In a similar vein, there is a push for traditional engineering structures to shift towards being ‘self-organised structures’. To understand exactly what this is, see the representation of a holocratic structure below:

(image sourced evolvingorganisation.com)

In this structure there is strong governance but no hierarchy, which can be considered as an ideal way to structure organisations in innovative industries. Currently there are about 3000 organisations in the word currently operating in this environment (See Beyond the Holocracy Hype, HBR 2016).

Essentially this way of working is based on the principle that self organisation can be seen in all aspects of life, and that hierarchical control belongs in the previous industrial revolution, not moving forward It is fascinating to see it in action with bees in their hives, you can also see it during murmuration with birds, and even the traffic in Bali… organisms can always find a way to effectively and efficiently self organise instinctively. A deeper understanding and respect for the human psyche and the way we are wired is proving to pioneer this paradigm markedly.

3. The Gig Economy Paradigm
Lets look at another example of these shifts: the widely discussed ‘gig economy’. The gig economy is the growing number of workers abandoning traditional 9 to 5 employment and cycling through short term gigs for various employers. By 2020, it is forecast that this workforce will exceed a huge 40 per cent of the US workforce. Websites like Expert 360 and co-working spaces have skyrocketed as a direct response, as these act as necessary tools to manage this new workforce.

The gig economy in fact has already become a reality. So much so, it is a cornerstone of our business here at JOST & Co. What’s more, according to Ric Edelman, the #1 ranked financial advisor in the USA, the notions of ‘retirement’ and ‘linear life’ are gone!

He envisions a world where life expectancy will extend and we’ll work until we’re 80, 90, 100 because we’ll be healthy enough to do so. We won’t need $100-200K a year with 40-50 hours a week to maintain lifestyles, and supplement our income through the shared economy will allow many to live on $30-40K a year. The ‘old way’ of waiting until we’re old enough to retire, will be replaced by individuals retiring early to pursue more schooling, personal work and leisure and then cycle back into a new vocation. We don’t know about you but we can’t decide if we’re excited or exhausted!

Conclusion

These tectonic shifts in the thinking around how work gets done are hugely important for the fact that they have direct implications on the metrics that are truly meaningful for individual and organisational performance.  This issue of performance measurement is an important one, to be discussed at another time.

The reality is this: the world is changing, and every single organisation needs to change with it or else risk being left behind.

Your people are often experiencing anxiety about the future, predominately because they don’t understand it. As experts in supporting organisations through change, we are able to help you and your people navigate through the current and the future demands of your industry. Indeed, there is a call to action for organisations and leaders to support people, and JOST & Co. can advise on the approach that provides the most empowering and constructive path for all.

We’re always up for a chat, so if you have any queries, ideas or opportunities to spark your own internal growth with some of the above notions, drop us an email here.

Happy adapting!

 

Authors: Jo Billling & Stella Voules