This post is part of our new VR Influencer series where we interview the world's leading VR experts to get their take on the state of the industry, the top trends to watch for, and what the future holds.
1. How has your perception of what the future of the workplace will look like evolved in the past 5 years?
AH: I’ve come to view the workplace as a lot more complex, fluid and ambiguous as the nature of the workforce, the nature of work itself and the way people work have changed.
These three changes have been driven by a number of factors like the entry of Millennials into the workplace, by the Boomers remaining in the workplace longer than their predecessors did, and by the rapid evolution of technology in the Digital Age.
Millennials want to be managed, and want to work, very differently from previous generations and have presented challenges to their Boomer and Gen X bosses. This has forced leadership in the workplace to undergo a shift from hierarchical leadership based on power to a more collaborative leadership based on influence. The increasing complexity, fluidity and ambiguity have also forced leaders to have to learn to lead differently. In 2001, Jim Collins’s book Good to Great spoke of the CEO being the driver of the bus. While that metaphor may have been appropriate at the time, it is no longer relevant – the “bus driver” metaphor assumed that there was a well signposted road for the bus to drive on. Today, there is no road, and business leaders have to find their way across rough terrain with no signposts, no GPS, no compass and no map. That requires a lot more agility, emotional intelligence and strategic foresight than a “CEO bus driver” would need!
Staffing has become more ambiguous in the workplace as people work anywhere, any way, anytime. Five years ago, there were a lot more people still working at desks in offices. Today, more people work wherever and whenever they choose, like on their beds in their pajamas. Companies are having difficult conversations with Millennials who can’t understand why they have to be at work at 8am when they worked on a project at home until 2am. Increased mobility has also changed previously office-bound jobs. I recently asked a French architect who designs ergonomic office buildings around the world where his office was. He looked at me for a few seconds then said, “The nearest airport.”
The gig economy has made its presence felt as more people have started working on a contract or freelance basis, resulting in companies employing fewer full-time employees. This will make organizational charts where everyone can be put in the proverbial box redundant. In addition, cross-disciplinary teams have started to emerge, causing the death of departments in the same way that the Internet caused the death of distance.
2. What are top technological trends that pertain to the future of work?
✅ Millennials want to be managed, and want to work, very differently from previous generations and have presented challenges to their Boomer and Gen X bosses.
AH: Predictions should always be made with a healthy dose of humility and big disclaimers! My sense is that technology will play a major personalizing role in the workplace, where services, products and worker and customer experience will be shaped to cater for individual needs and desires.
I anticipate, for example, that technology will help training to become even more personalized. While there are certain skills and qualities that are best imparted through human interaction, there are an increasing number of skills that could be very effectively acquired through augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR). I’m therefore expecting AR/VR to become major factors in the training and development of people, reducing the need for large training facilities and days out of the office and in the classroom as workers learn anywhere and anytime using their smart phones, ear phones and VR headsets.
Intelligent machines and robotization will change the workplace as they take over even more functions previously performed by both blue and white collar workers. With machines and robots becoming more intelligent, workers, who have up to now simply learned how to work machines, will need to learn a very new skill – how to collaborate with intelligent machines.
While social media will probably create even more opportunities for personal and professional communication, I wonder whether face-to-face meetings and interaction with people on different continents won’t become routine via holograms, doing away with the need for international travel to attend meetings in other countries as our holograms “attend” the meetings for us. If that becomes a reality, imagine what it will do to the airline industry …
3. How will AI impact the future of work?
AH: Some people point out that AI will result in the loss of many jobs. One can’t dispute this, but it is important to acknowledge that it will also result in many new opportunities and create many new jobs which have previously not existed. For one, who is going to make sure that all of that AI keeps working as it should?
AI has been around for a lot longer than we realize – since as early as 1912, when the first auto-pilot system for aircraft was developed. Obviously, it was not a computerized system then, but computerized auto pilots did indeed make their appearance in due course, and have been a huge success. Interestingly, auto pilots have not yet caused the demise of human pilots, but work alongside of them. The same will apply in the workplace where AI will work alongside humans to enhance their expertise.
Speaking of which, until now, the world has been obsessed with big data, with first generation AI focusing on mining data. Humans simply can’t compete with AI technology that can mine data to provide answers in a matter of seconds.
However, second generation AI, which we’re taking to market, does not mine data. It instead mines the insights, gut instincts and judgements of a human expert. This tacit knowledge of human experts who are required to make a large number of high-consequence decisions, such as in claims triaging, claims management and underwriting decisions in the short term insurance industry, for example, can now be digitized so that the company has virtual versions of their best assessor(s) handling these functions. It is particularly useful when the expert has to use their gut instinct or judgement on certain occasions to override standing instructions or policies for sound reasons. This technology doesn’t replace human experts but exponentially enhances their capacity, setting them free to do what they’re really good at. This particular AI is also well suited for financial institutions which are required to monitor fraud, financial crime, money laundering and payments to sanctioned people and countries.
4. How will blockchain impact the future of work?
AH: Blockchain looks set to change the way organizations are run and structured, as well as the way they keep records. It’s being spoken of as the “only incorruptible ledger” which has no ownership. While physical and computerized records can be altered by unethical people, this is not possible with blockchain. This means that blockchain will herald much greater transparency and security in the future, which will in turn have a major impact on professions like the legal and accounting professions that have built their business on the need for trustworthiness and independence, because blockchain has the potential to make some of the work they do irrelevant.
5. What is, in your estimation, the future of work/ the workplace?
AH: As I mentioned earlier, I see a highly personalized future of work. We’ve come a long way from the days when Henry Ford dictated to customers that, “You can have any color car you want so long as it’s black,” to a world where you can really have any color “car” you want – and a whole lot of other personalized features!
Until fairly recently, the workplace had been run on a military model. Consider the military terminology that is used in the workplace. For instance, the word “company” comes from an Old French word meaning “a body of soldiers”. Other military terms in the workplace include recruit, strategy, mission, operations, officer (as in Chief Executive Officer), rank (management ranks) and even the relatively recently adopted term VUCA.
In the 20th century, there was a high level of uniformity in the workplace – workspaces generally looked the same and people at work generally dressed the same. The 21st century has however seen an increase in people wishing to be recognized for who they are and being allowed to express their individual personalities in the way they decorate their workspaces, the way they dress and the way they work.
As hierarchical structures crumble, so too will greater equality start to appear. There will be fewer discernible differences between those at the “top” of an organization and those at the “bottom”. Because authority will no longer reside in a position but in a person, the power gap between leaders and those they lead will disappear.
In order to attract and retain good talent, companies are going to have to factor personalization into their company culture. This will have to go as far as personalizing even the purpose of a job. As people earn money from alternate sources, they will not have to find and keep a job because they need the money. Companies will therefore have to attract and retain them by offering them not so much an attractive job but an attractive purpose for doing a job, to get them to really want to play a role regardless of what they’re being paid.
My sense is that the workplace of the future will become a more relaxed, friendly and pleasant place – and a lot more efficient!
About Alan Hosking
Alan Hosking is a multiple award-winning Publisher in the human capital space in South Africa, and is a recognized thought leader on the Future of Work, of leadership skills for the future and of multigenerational management.
Alan heads up Osgard, a boutique company that helps companies prepare for the Future of Work by providing global and local human capital content to business leaders, by assisting organizations to equip their leaders for the next decade through customized programs, and by taking two technologies to market – one a world-first, second generation Artificial Intelligence technology and the other a Leadership App that enables companies to develop their leaders rapidly and effectively.
Alan interacts regularly with thought leaders in the international community and has interviewed over 100 of the world’s top leadership and management gurus in his capacity as Publisher of HR Future magazine.