Technology has reshaped almost every aspect of our lives, including the workplace.
Think about it: Ten years ago, who would have imagined jobs like “social media manager”, “drone pilots”, “cloud architects” and “machine learning engineers” would have existed? The growing influence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (also known as Industry 4.0) in organizations and industries across the globe show that the rate of such change is accelerating—and has no means of slowing down.
Industry 4.0 Explained
Industry 4.0 is a new phase in the Industrial Revolution that focuses heavily on four components—interconnectivity, automation, machine learning and real-time data(1). It is a significant transformation taking place in the way goods are produced and delivered. And as we move toward the era of smarter productions and factories, organizations must leverage on technology and digitalization to become much more agile and efficient to stay competitive.
As Stanford University academic Jerry Kaplan writes in Humans Need Not Apply: “today, automation is “blind to the colour of your collar.”It doesn’t matter whether you’re a factory worker, a financial advisor or a professional flute-player— automation is coming for you.(2)
The nature of work has changed and new work patterns are emerging. Here’s a quick guide on five ways the workforce will be reimagined in this digital era.
Routine work will be automated
Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are not new, but recent technological progress is pushing the frontiers of jobs machines can displace.
So, which professions are at greatest risk?
Martin Ford, futurist and author, explains jobs that have been displaced or are most at risk are those which“ are on some level routine, repetitive and predictable”(3). Certain roles in manufacturing, customer service and transportation, which are highly routine, has a 99% probability of automation by current demonstrated technologies according to The Future of Employment report of 2018 (4).
For instance, at retailer Amazon, employees who previously lifted and stacked objects (5)are becoming robot operators; monitoring the automated arms and resolving issues such as an interruption in the flow of objects.
Of course, while technology has removed the need for some types of jobs, it also created new ones. With the evolution of Industrial Revolution, it simply means that these process-driven jobs are exposed to automation.
Creativity as a highly valued skill
But the good news is an increased use of AI will not lead to the replacement of creativity as a skill.
By absorbing the routine aspects of our current jobs, technologies such as AI and edge computing can make people’s work less error-prone and create more room for creative tasks. All of this will leave our remaining jobs to be highly creative, strategic and impactful.
In fact, we are already taking steps toward unprecedented creativity. For example, difficult traditional art skills that take decades to hone, like art and design, can now be done on apps. The creative process itself is being commodified with DIY options like Wix (6)for websites and Canva (7)for designs.
Robots may get us to where we want faster, but they can’t be as creative as humans (yet).
Remote working will continue
The future of work is not only automated but remote.
Technology has empowered the rise of the remote workforce. More and more, businesses are also offering their employees the option to work from home.
And this trend is showing no signs of slowing down. A recent survey by Owl Labs (8)found that 16 percent of global companies are now fully-remote, and 52 percent of employees around the world work from home at least one day a week— and claimed to be more productive.
But why is this so?
They do not have to commute to work.
They can finish work in their own time.
Less distraction from co-workers.
They are self-motivated.
They have a more flexible schedule.
Take a look at the freelancing platform,Upwork (9). It has 10 million freelancers from 180 countries in its database. They compete for 3 million tasks per year. And this is just one platform—there’s also Fiverr, Freelancer, People Per Hour...the list goes on. McKinsey estimates that by 2025, 540 million workers will have used one of these platforms to find work.
We’ll collaborate more
But if everyone were to work remotely, what about innovation and team building?
Traditional employers balk at the idea of allowing their employees work whenever and wherever they want. The assumption is that being face-to-face is way more conducive to effective teamwork.
Studies are however, are showing otherwise.
It is found that virtual brainstorming eliminatesproduction blocking (10)(when dominant team members talk too much), which hinders creative idea generation, especially in introverted participants. Virtual brainstorming is not only linked to performance, it’s also more scalable.
Furthermore, with ever-improving chat and conferencing solutions likeSlack (11)andZoom (12)just a click away, it’s easier than ever to ping a co-worker and get together within seconds for a meaningful discussion. The range of tasks that can be conducted through cloud collaboration is also increasing. And soon, there will be little that workers can’t do remotely that they can do in person.
The rise of the millennial workforce
Aside from evolving workplace structure, businesses are also being redefined by a new generation of employees—the millennials.
It has been reported that millennials (those born between 1980 and 1996) are projected to take up 75 percent of the global workforce by year 2025. At companies like Ernst & Young and Accenture, they already make up over two third of their entire employee base (13).
This generation, however, might define success at work differently as compared to the previous generations. For baby boomers, success may include a title or promotion. For millennials, success must include involvement and impact.
Yet many employers still believe that the corporate ladder strategy is the way to go.
Cathy Benko, vice-chairman of Deloitte in San Francisco and co-author of The Corporate Lattice, says that the ladder model dates back to the first industrial revolution (14), when successful businesses were built on economies of scale, standardisation and a strict hierarchy. “But we don’t live in an industrial age, we live in a digital age. And if you look at all the shifts taking place, one [of the biggest] is the composition of the workforce, which is far more diverse in every way,” she says.
Why is this so?
Such is because the complexity and shrinking budgets of many companies require a dynamic workforce with multiple competencies to remain on top of things. With the massive generational shift, the traditional ladder would create limitations in career development to employees to grow outside of their work or provide additional value to the company.
So, to all companies bracing themselves for the millennial invasion, it’s time to revaluate your workplace.
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