Success in the Future of Work: What it Means to Be Human

As HR pros, we’re staring down one of the biggest disruptions of work in human history. In the next decade, technology will have an indelible effect on the face of the workforce.

McKinsey recently projected that in about 60% of all occupations, one-third of those jobs could be automated by 2030. And a whopping 65% of children now entering primary school will hold jobs that currently don’t exist, according to the World Economic Forum.

So what exactly will this new future of work look like and how can we prepare for it?

The New Future of Work

The future of work is a point of transition—and it happens every couple of decades or so. Economic trends, shifts in demographics, and advances in technology all factor into the ever-shifting future of work.

One recent example is the first Industrial Revolution, which saw workers go from creating wares by hand to using new manufacturing processes and assembly lines. However, unlike the first Industrial Revolution, many workers and HR pros alike are panicked by the prospect of the latest future of work. But why, if this is part of a typical cycle?

Well, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are making the new future of work a fast-approaching reality. While the robot takeover won’t happen Terminator-style, we could see AI and automation take over the bulk of tasks that many workers are currently doing.

In the next 10 years, robots could take over jobs from accounting to medicine to transportation—and that’s a frightening prospect for many.

How to be a Successful Human Worker in the Age of Robots

While advances in AI and machine learning are accelerating us into a new future of work, all is not lost for the human workforce. Although automation and AI is excellent for many tasks, the robots can’t and won’t be good at everything.

Robots can’t emulate a number of human functions, particularly when it comes to creativity, collaboration, and curiosity. Research from McKinsey showed that between 2016 and 2030, demand for social and emotional skills will grow across all industries by 26% in the U.S. and 22% in Europe.

For workers to succeed as we move toward this new future of work, their tasks will need to focus on some or all of the following areas:

  • Compassion: The ability for a worker to see the needs of other team members and listen to ideas in a thoughtful way.
  • Connecting: Future workers will need to be incredibly connected as the amount of knowledge increases and dependencies on others becomes more critical.
  • Collaboration: The ability to team up will be crucial. Collaboration in the new future of work is grounded in the idea that inclusive thinking from diverse backgrounds creates better solutions.
  • Curiosity: Future workers need to explore and future businesses will survive based on finding new ways to solve old problems. Companies that thrive will be the ones that foster curiosity.
  • Critical Thinking: While curiosity is a great foundation, it isn’t enough. Being able to think through the entirety of a problem is the difference between a good solution and an incomplete one.
  • Creativity: Ultimately, the ability to create in a new way will be the hallmark of every company and will build on all of the previous values.

One of the ways organizations can foster these qualities is to encourage lifelong learning. Reskilling workers is a tough prospect, but those who are curious and eager to learn will make it. The complacent workers who simply go home after their shift to play video games may not be so lucky.

While robotics and intelligent automation might accelerate us into an ever-evolving future of work, that future belongs to human creativity through collaboration.

How Managers Can Help With the Future of Work Transition

Now that we know what this new future of work will look like, how can HR pros and organizations prepare for this inevitable change?  HR does a wonderful job at providing process and tools for talent management, but ultimately, it’s the front line manager that has to execute in the transformation of the worker.  

Front-line managers are the key ingredient in the formula for future success. No single role has more ability to influence and propel us forward than a capable manager armed with people insights. HR tools and processes will no longer be sufficient as significant worker transformations will accelerate. HR must begin providing the right people insights to those front line managers–the right moment and the precise insight for the specific manager.

While the C-suite and top-level leaders will provide the vision needed to shape what the future of work looks like and how humans need to act as a result, it’s front-line managers who will lead, inspire, and mentor workers that will actually help us achieve that vision.

How can HR pros give managers what they need to succeed? By providing truly actionable insights that help them tackle broader problems is crucial. Without front-line managers who have the critical data they need to help their workers, it’s tough to move the needle on preparing the future of work.

Moving Forward With the New Future of Work

Yes, the robots are coming for many of our jobs, and while smart automation will have the ability to complete many current-day tasks, robots can’t replace creative, collaborative workers who are prepared for this forthcoming future.

While many workers are concerned about their jobs and roles in the future, workforce change due to automation has actually been a constant for a century. Going back 100 years, 90% of the roles that existed in the early 20th century no longer exist today. Human workers have always adjusted; we will just have to do it faster now, with the active sponsorship of HR and direct managers.

As I’ve demonstrated here, an ounce of preparation will go far when laying the groundwork for future workers and organizations.

Author Photo
Wes is currently the Vice President, Advisory Services for Visier. A much sought-after industry expert, he helps organizations use insights to better execute on their workforce and people strategies. He is a Human Capital leader and strategist, who transforms organizations for the rapidly changing workforce of the future. He is an early adaptor of HR robotics and is skilled in delivering evidence-based business, human resources and operational outcomes grounded in data analysis and insights. Until 2018, Wes was a Partner in the Ernst & Young (EY) Americas Advisory Services practice in the West Region. In this role, he helped develop and launch EY’s Future of Work offering and served as market leader to educate and deploy Future of Work strategies for clients. In addition, he created the region’s HR robotics service offering and helped leading employers deploy HR Robotics Process Automation.