The future of work is a never-ending subject, especially since by definition the future is a relative notion: we never reach it, or rather, once we have reached a date that we have defined as the future, a new future has already been set.
The fact remains that if the future of work is and must be a subject of constant reflection, it is all the more so today because we cannot pretend that the pandemic has not shaken things up and has not taken us, in two years, towards a future that might have taken ten years.
So I decided to bring this subject back to the forefront by looking at some of the changes in work over a fairly short time frame.
Why a short time horizon? Because, as we saw with the pandemic, thinking more than 5 years ahead is pure science fiction. Imagining the work in 10 years is a pleasure, but it lacks pragmatism: with the strong and rapid evolutions that the world is experiencing in 5 years, some subjects can accelerate radically and even lose all relevance.
But before talking about the future of work, and to avoid this reflection being a list of dreams (the future of work is not what we would like it to be, but what it will become…), we must first look at the trends, the forces in action that are making things happen.
Here are the ones I decided to take into account. In a purely arbitrary way but at some point one has to decide.
I could have broken down all the impacts of the pandemic in the following topics, but I think its impact was so significant that it deserves to be considered a phenomenon in itself.
Of course, the pandemic has made it possible to experiment with new ways of working, but to reduce its impact to the sole subject of remote work would be to overlook a large number of issues.
It has raised the question of maintaining social ties and engagement. It pushes employees not, as is too often heard, to leave their business but to be more and more intransigent about what they want and don’t want. Of course it has transformed people, but it has also brought out the compromises they no longer want to make.
The difficulty with this topic is that everyone experiences it differently. The impact of the pandemic on what employees expect from the business varies depending on the industry, whether people were able to continue working or not, how governments helped businesses or certain sectors, whether you are a “front line” employee or not…
You will find as many ways to experience the pandemic and draw conclusions as there are businesses and employees.
Consumerization is a force that has been at work for years, and we’re still experiencing its effects. It is the desire of employees to have a similar experience at work as they do today as customers, as users of web services.
It all started almost 20 years ago with the desire to have work tools that are as simple, easy to use and even efficient as those available to them in everyday life.
Today it goes further and it is not surprising that very soon after everyone started talking about customer experience the topic of employee experience emerged.
Consumerization is a bit of a quest for simplification (unless we start from the principle that complicating the life of customers is a winning strategy) but also a desire of the employee to finally be at the center of the organization and of the business to put him there.
Without falling into technological solutionism, it cannot be denied that technology is shaping the future of work. For better or for worse.
For the better, by facilitating new forms of work (how would we have lived the pandemic without the Internet?), by eliminating laborious tasks, by “augmenting” the employee.
For the worst, by launching fads, more or less ephemeral, that lead businesses to spend a lot of energy to “adopt” technologies that don’t solve any problem or even create new ones. If you think about it, the very fact of asking yourself the question of adopting a technology should make you question its meaning and usefulness (I have never seen an employee refuse a technology that solves his problems).
An application should not be expected to work in a context where its assumptions are not valid. Too often we expect technology to transform work when it is the transformation of work that makes technology relevant.
With topics such as robots and artificial intelligence already a reality, the metaverse which is for some the future of work and for others a costly fad, there is much to think about.
The evolution of society and the economy
Of course there was the COVID but not only. With the development of freelancing, of the “on demand” economy, some models need to be reinvented.
When 25% of French people are unable to cope with an unexpected expense of 500 euros, this also raises a number of questions.
The ecological phenomenon is also to be taken into account. We can’t ignore the elephant in the room for long: digital already emits more CO2 than air travel and will emit twice as much tomorrow. It is not by changing their travel policies that businesses will fight global warming but by having a sustainable and responsible use of digital. We are far from it.
As a person working at one of the giants of the sector said to me “we make sh…. but cool sh…. that people love. While they’re focusing on the airplanes, we’re in peace”.
The transformation of service activities and knowledge work
These sectors, which drive our economy, operate, in my opinion, in a very amateurish way.
As this New York Times article noted:
“Peter Drucker noted that during the twentieth century, the productivity of manual workers in the manufacturing sector increased by a factor of fifty as we got smarter about the best way to build products. He argued that the knowledge sector, by contrast, had hardly begun a similar process of self-examination and improvement, existing at the end of the twentieth century where manufacturing had been a hundred years earlier. “
I don’t think things have changed much since then.
Production and managerial models inspired by Taylorism have been applied to these activities, and we can see their limits. Moreover, we hid behind the fact that these were activities where flow and production are intangible, invisible, to say that “as it is not visible, the problems do not exist and there is no way to improve things”.
Today there is a way to quantify these activities, there is also an awareness that operations must adapt to people and not just the other way around.
All this leads me to say that the activities of service and knowledge work will experience their “industrial revolution”.
All this leads me to tackle the following topics in the coming time. Once again an arbitrary and not exhaustive choice and I am moreover taking your ideas if you think that a subject is missing
Image : 2022 trends by kathayut kongmanee via Shutterstock