By Jen Sweeney
Technology, changing demographics, new ways of communicating and collaborating, mobility, and globalization—these are some of the factors that are transforming work. It’s impossible to have a clear picture of what work will look like in the future, but, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Future of Jobs report, 65 percent of children entering primary school today will work in roles that don’t currently exist.
This was the topic of a recent Microsoft Modern Workplace webcast, “The Future of Work: Build, Attract, Connect.” The webcast’s two featured experts—futurists Angela Oguntala and Jacob Morgan—discussed how organizations can adopt new methods to better communicate, collaborate, and stay ahead in the future of work.
To open the session, host Alex Bradley asked Oguntala and Morgan what still surprises them when they meet with new clients.
Morgan, a noted speaker and author, said he is still surprised by the way organizations cling to their old, familiar ideas. “A part of me wonders whether that should be surprising,” he explained. “We’re so obsessed with quarterly profits, we have developed a business short-term thinking… We have a very hard time seeing beyond the horizon, and, quite honestly, we’re stuck doing things the way they’ve always been done.”
Oguntala—who works with organizations around the world to drive and manage change, and is also a noted speaker—said she is still surprised when business leaders ask her for worst-case and best-case scenarios.
“And then I have to explain that there is no such thing—everything is a trade-off. If you choose this, here’s what you gain and here’s what you lose. Each problem or goal has so many layers,” she said.
When people see a problem or goal, she continued, their instinct is to try to solve it in the most direct or visible way. She used a traffic jam analogy: “There’s a traffic jam, and these roads are connected, so let’s build more roads.”
The future of work? It is estimated that 65 percent of children entering primary school today will work in roles that don’t currently exist
Oguntala believes that, instead of defaulting to old approaches, organizations need to start thinking differently. In the case of the traffic jam, she suggested thinking in deeper, less obvious terms. “There’s a traffic jam here consistently—what does that say about what’s happening in the system politically, environmentally? Why did we build roads through these neighborhoods?”
To achieve goals and solve problems in the present and the future, organizations also need to think culturally, Oguntala said. “A Japanese person will approach mobility and ideas about traffic and transportation differently from a Nigerian and a Scandinavian,” she explained.
The discussion wasn’t confined to organizations. Bradley also asked Oguntala and Morgan what employees can do to start preparing for the future of work.
“The first step is to accept that we are going to live these transitional lives,” Oguntala said. To begin feeling comfortable with rapid change, people need to build the skills that will enable them to easily shift focus.
Morgan suggested employees take a proactive approach, and highlighted how social media has created thought leaders as a guide. “Apply the same concept,” he said. “Speak up inside your organization. Volunteer for beta programs. Don’t be passive—be active.”
Although this webcast was about the future of work, there’s little doubt that change is already happening. The statistic about where schoolchildren will be in 20 years powerfully illustrates the extent of change, but business leaders should not assume they have ample time to plan.
According to the World Economic Forum report, “In such a rapidly evolving employment landscape, the ability to anticipate and prepare for future skills requirements, job content and the aggregate effect on employment is increasingly critical for businesses, governments and individuals in order to fully seize the opportunities presented by these trends—and to mitigate undesirable outcomes.”
Radical change is happening now. Organizations that aren’t already planning for the future will be left behind.