Open a book, read a magazine, or watch a film and there’s every chance you’ll see another horror scenario of robots taking over our lives. It makes for great storytelling, but won’t help you navigate the future of work.
Why? Well for starters, that future is here now. It isn’t something off in the distance that we need to prepare for. The changes we’re discussing are already happening around us. So look for the opportunities and stop worrying about the threat.
Technology is changing our personal and professional lives. People are using voice-activated speakers at home to play music or find inspiration for dinner. Banks, hospitals, retailers, and other industries are using machine learning to drive operational efficiency and improve customer experience.
We don’t think of these developments as the workplace of the future. Until they have a face and follows us around like Rosie from “The Jetsons”, we won’t see the tools we have at our fingertips today as intelligent machines.
Yet we’re in a position to shape our future by understanding change and adapting to it. But this means turning off the TV, closing those magazines, and losing the fear factor.
What do we mean by the future of work?
When we think about the future of work, we focus too much on machines taking over jobs. There will come a time when machines can complete tasks more efficiently. So there’s no point dwelling on it. We need to shift the focus onto what people can do better than machines, and the advantages delivered by technology – like the freedom to work how we want, where we want, and in whatever field we choose.
People no longer stay at the same company for 25 years. Today there’s a greater focus on gaining new experiences – whether that’s learning to surf or going on safari – and that’s flowing into how we think about our careers as well.
Take the contingent workforce, for example. There are now 4.1 million Australians in freelance roles. While some of them may have been forced to take this type of work due to market forces, 57 percent chose to work this way for greater freedom and flexibility.
Workplaces have changed, too. Instead of being a cost of doing business, companies are realizing their people are a unique asset. Leadership teams are just as focused on developing these people as they are on output at the end of the week.
Technology is helping this shift. Automation is freeing up employees to focus on the intrinsic value they provide – creativity, new ideas, and shifts in perspective.
Finding what makes you tick
As an employee, this means there’s more power in your hands. At the same time, companies realize that hiring “like for like” isn’t the best way to find new ideas. They’re less focused on finding somebody who did something similar in the past. They want intrinsic skills and unique experiences. They want somebody who thinks differently.
This means you, as an individual, have a chance to re-evaluate your career options. Instead of doing what you trained for, you can do something that gives you purpose and aligns to the stuff that makes you tick. This is the biggest opportunity brought by the future of work.
It sounds great in theory, but how can you make this a reality?
- Find your purpose – There’s a great opportunity to really follow your passion and create a non-linear career path. If you’re an accounting whizz, your transferable skills might also open up lucrative opportunities in data science. Work out what you want and go for it.
- Make new connections – We’re all tribal, so use your network to meet people in roles or industries you’re interested in. Look at where you want to be and turn that into action.
- Appetite for learning – Digital means you can learn how to do anything if you put your mind to it. Hop on YouTube, find an online course, read lots of articles. Do what you can to upskill for the job you want.
- Don’t wait for change – Many existing practices don’t align with this new way of working. Freelancers, for example, must still liaise with clients who work a normal day despite the freedom that comes with breaking the nine-to-five routine. If you want to get out of the rat race, you need to drive that change rather than waiting for it to happen.
All of these practical steps boil down to one piece of advice: Get your head out of the sand. Look at the world we live in today – a world manned by machines – and see the opportunities for yourself. The future of work might be uncertain but that’s exciting. It’s time to make the most of it.
For more insight into the future of work, see Meet Machine Learning, Your New Favorite Colleague.