The Future of Work Will Be Different

02/06/2016 10:50

If there is a Time & Place for everything then change is inevitable! As far back as the 1800's Political Economist Adam Smith was talking about the enormous boost the division of labour and specialisation would bring. The thinking lead to gains in efficiency and productivity and brought in a new model for structure, management and operational behaviour. Given that change is, after all, the only constant in all areas of our lives; these early management models have been overtaken as has Porter's 5 forces, Ansoff Matrix and many other models and theories as economics and strategy continues to evolve. Management theory is relevant and applicable at the time it emerges with the structures that prevailed at that time but one constant in all this thinking is that the future of work will be different!

Many commentators would agree that the most important factors in change are; the ability to adapt to new socio-economic landscapes, enthusiasm to embrace those changes and how to adopt/integrate them into our lives to create a new 'normal'. One example of change is that we have gone from a society where divorce was a shameful event to one where 42% of all marriages will end in divorce (2012). Whilst attitudes can sometimes be the hardest thing to shift, once they reach a tipping point, the balance is changed forever and we change from making a judgement of right and wrong to a position of acceptance and understanding.

Whilst we would like to think that our jobs, industries and income will not obey the basic rules of change, we would be naive to assume that the existing paradigm will remain. Most of us can remember the restrictions of our first, second and even current jobs but data suggests that how we currently work, versus how we will work in the future, is moving towards a new tipping point. Whilst we will create a new normal, we are very unclear what it looks like.

The norm used to be a machine for clocking in/out which can now done with your ID pass or via your mobile's unique MAC address as you enter a work premises. Checking and tracing your movements may have your consent in a contract but can be done without you realising it. It's not that employers tracking employees is new, it's just that we'll do it differently as new technology arrives; #change. We can already enter our hotel rooms/pay for purchases just by tapping a piece of plastic against a tiny intelligent device so how else are our lives going to change? What happened to the people who make metal keys? Or the person who monitors employee attendance when we have long stopped using those quaint old things called clocks? A few people still use cash or cheques to pay their bills but what happened to the jobs behind them when it stops completely? There will come a point when one generation will have to explain, in a nostalgic voice, to the next generation how those processes worked; a petrol car, a single use phone, a call centre, a chequebook or ID to confirm our signature.

Whilst we know that skills, jobs and work are changing, the prevalent attitude and ideas are that there is not much more that can change, rather like the boiling frog analogy; slowly does it more effectively. But there is a need for a richer and deeper conversation about the future of work. Whilst there is a market love of "UBER" thinking (using someone else's asset aka Uber, AirBnB) what happens when all the taxis are gone as the price falls to zero to sell the data about the journey and personal assets in the form of cars, become leased autonomous vehicles. Will UBER still be your booking platform of choice because it will arrange an autonomous vehicle for you? If so, it means that the very people UBER gave the opportunity to (the ones with cars; assets) are the very ones Uber will destroy as they are no longer needed in the long term vision. Just having an asset that is sweated is not the future of work.

In a future where tils no longer need manning, no drivers are driving, no cleaners are cleaning, no FX traders are risking too much and no cash can be found to be counted poses the question; where is the need for people or are we just consumers while our robots, which could be your own autonomous car, will do all the work earning us income so we can be entertained? Will employers still think they have an exclusive relationship with an employee? In a world without borders this isn't just a geographical statement, it's a human condition that allows people to sell their time as a commodity. People Per Hour provides people offering services as a commodity for just about anything; be your PA, your PR Guru, your salesman, Accountant, artist.....all by the hour but with defined goals and measurable results. There are no office politics because there is no office. No employment laws to be fearful of and limited by because there are no employees, just service providers. Employment becomes a transaction. But is it sustainable in areas of our lives where we are focussed on people and relationships?

These new debates are starting to take place all over the world as a tipping point of change becomes inevitable but how will you become informed about the scenarios and technologies? One live example is that the biggest and best blue chip employers are finding that they cannot recruit the best anymore with just a remuneration package; purpose and mission are more valuable than pay to the young who have different views about housing, cars, entertainment and values. The young put a premium on their freedom to think, do and speak over stable employment.

Will changes come from the millennials, Government, employers, entrepreneurs or philanthropists? When will a tipping point be reached, which countries or industries are leading in creating change to survive? A quick search on Google for "London debates The future of work" might enable you to join the debate but do you think pensions are important and will millennials give in and get a mortgage? Is personal value a realistic objection to employment? Are trust and brand value important? Do we need state employment or is the future just a different colour of the present? What is your view?