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Are you ready for the future of work? Because it's here, and it's not messing around. With technological evolutions taking center stage, we're about to experience a shift as significant as the mechanization of agriculture and manufacturing in prior generations.

It's an exciting time, full of possibilities and opportunities, but also challenges and uncertainty. This evolution in work is driven by three main factors.

Firstly, organizations face increasing pressure to remain competitive, agile, and customer-focused, leading to the emergence of business models like the lean model.

Secondly, technology breakthroughs, such as mobile technologies and AI, have allowed for greater flexibility in where and when work is done, leading to new job roles and some positions becoming automated.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst for change, accelerating the adoption of remote work and digital technologies, emphasizing the importance of adaptability and resilience in the face of unexpected challenges. Companies must adapt their workforce strategies and invest in reskilling and upskilling programs to ensure their employees remain relevant.

So buckle up, and let's explore what's in store for us. Because one thing is for sure: almost all jobs will change, and organizations must be ready to meet challenges head-on.

Automation, AI, and ML as drivers of the workspace revolution

automation at the workplace
Photo by Lenny Kuhne / Unsplash

The workplace has been subjected to continuous technological advancements since the Industrial Revolution. However, the pace at which automation and artificial intelligence technologies are developing today and the potential scale of their impact on the world of work is unprecedented.

One of the most significant impacts of automation and AI is the automation of routine and repetitive tasks. This can include anything from data entry to manufacturing processes. By automating these tasks, businesses can free up their human workforce to focus on higher-level tasks, such as problem-solving and creative work. This, in turn, can lead to increased productivity, better decision-making, and more efficient use of resources.  

According to Formstack,  76% of businesses already use some form of automation to standardize or automate their daily workflows, indicating a significant trend towards optimizing operational efficiency.

58% of businesses have adopted automation for data reporting and planning purposes while  36% of businesses have done the same to ensure regulation or compliance. AI-enabled data capture tools such as Nanonets are increasingly becoming fundamental requirements in the future workspace.

In today's era of connected devices and an IoT-driven future, an enormous amount of data is being and will continue to be captured. To handle this data-rich environment, businesses have already adapted their workflows, including various forms of technologies.

IT departments are already using AI-tools like Nanonets to convert data into information and knowledge for effective decision-making. This workflow is now commonly referred to as "data-driven", and is enabled by AI and ML tools. Though human judgement remains the central processor, summarized data has emerged as a new input to inform decisions.

According to Statistica, 35% of marketing professionals believe that automation improves the decision-making process.

The impact of automation and artificial intelligence will not be limited to factory workers and clerks but will extend to various occupations, including landscape gardeners, dental lab technicians, fashion designers, insurance sales representatives, and even CEOs. Currently, less than 5 percent of occupations can be fully automated using currently demonstrated technology, but about 60 percent of all occupations have at least 30 percent of activities that are technically automatable. As machines evolve, more advanced automation capabilities will be developed, and their adoption will pick up. While highly skilled workers working with technology will benefit, low-skilled workers may experience wage pressure unless demand for their occupation grows more than the expansion in labor supply.

Human skills that will become valuable

There is a concern that the implementation of automation and AI will widen the skills gap between workers. As businesses move towards more automation and AI, workers will need to have a different set of skills to remain relevant in the workplace. This means that businesses will need to invest in reskilling and upskilling programs to ensure that their employees can adapt to these changes.

As work changes, technical skills beyond IT and engineering are becoming critical. Data literacy is essential, as all technology relies on data. In a business context, it means understanding how to use data to create value, communicate insights, and question it when necessary.

But technical skills alone are not enough. Communication, interpersonal, critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity skills are also crucial. Communication skills allow us to express ideas and negotiate, while interpersonal skills foster collaboration through empathy and emotional intelligence. Critical thinking enables logical evaluation of problems, while problem-solving demands creativity and innovation. Creativity is uniquely human, as it requires thinking outside the box and generating new ideas, something AI cannot do on its own.

Good social skills have always been and will continue to be essential for teamwork and collaboration, relationship development and networking, and learning and growth. Technological advancements have facilitated communication and collaboration among workers. Team members can collaborate on projects in real-time through video conferencing, instant messaging, and virtual whiteboards, regardless of their physical location. Social media platforms have also made it easier for workers to build professional networks and connect with others in their industry. However, trust goes beyond technology. Rather than isolating humans from each other, there is a growing belief that technology should be used to facilitate collaboration and improve productivity by promoting better communication and understanding between individuals and teams.

The future psychological contract between employees and employers will be based on the idea that job security is no longer a given. The knowledge and technical skills that employees bring with them to the workplace will have to be transportable and not lost when a new job is taken.

Companies must invest in reskilling and upskilling programs for their employees. This means providing training in the skills that will be required in a world with more automation and AI. Businesses that invest in their employees in this way are more likely to retain their workforce and remain competitive in the years ahead.

Reinventing existing roles and new jobs created through technology

Contrary to the fear that automation destroys jobs, automation and AI are actually creating new job roles that were previously not possible. As businesses continue to automate routine tasks, new job roles will emerge that require skills in managing and maintaining automation systems. These jobs will require skills in programming, data analysis, and machine learning, among others.

Accenture's global study of over 1,000 large companies using or testing AI and machine-learning systems has identified the emergence of three new categories of uniquely human jobs - trainers, explainers, and sustainers. These roles will complement the tasks performed by cognitive technology and ensure the work of machines is effective, responsible, fair, transparent, and auditable.

The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report predicts that by 2025, 85 million jobs will be replaced by machines with AI, which may cause concern for some. However, the report also highlights the creation of 97 million new jobs due to AI by the same year, ultimately resulting in an overall positive balance sheet.

Many traditional jobs have already been transformed by technology, creating new opportunities for workers with the right skill sets. For instance, the role of a salesperson has been transformed with the introduction of e-commerce. Salespeople are now required to possess digital marketing skills to help them promote products online and engage with customers through social media platforms. Similarly, the role of a customer service representative has been transformed with the introduction of chatbots and other AI-based technologies. Customer service representatives now need to have technical skills to use these tools effectively to provide timely and efficient support to customers.

Another area where technology has transformed existing roles is in the field of finance. With the introduction of blockchain technology, roles such as those of a financial analyst or an auditor have been transformed. Blockchain technology enables the storage and sharing of financial data in a decentralized and secure manner, making it easier for financial professionals to access and analyze data. Financial professionals must have an understanding of blockchain technology and other emerging technologies to stay relevant in the field.

Cognitive workers are expected to be more functionally and cognitively fluid, and to work across many kinds of tasks and situations.  The rise of technological tools, automation, and artificial intelligence has led to an increased demand for workers to continuously develop their skills to keep up with technological advancements and be conversant with business strategy. They need to be able to think in different ways, such as through kaleidoscope thinking, which involves seeing alternative angles and perspectives and creating new patterns of thinking that drive innovation.

In addition to transforming existing roles, technology has also created new job opportunities. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) have given rise to new jobs that did not exist just a few years ago. For instance, the role of a data scientist is a relatively new job that has emerged with the growing importance of data analysis in business decision-making. Data scientists must possess advanced analytical skills and have an understanding of machine learning algorithms to analyze and interpret large amounts of data.

Another area where new job opportunities have emerged is cybersecurity. With the growing threat of cyber attacks, organizations are now looking for individuals who can help them secure their systems and networks. Roles such as those of a cybersecurity analyst or a penetration tester have emerged as critical roles in the digital age. These professionals must have a deep understanding of the various cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities and be able to develop and implement effective security measures to protect against them.

Flexible work arrangements

As younger generations join the workforce, they bring new values and expectations that reshape workplace cultures. These values place a premium on flexibility in work arrangements. Concurrently, technological advancements are bringing about new employee experiences, be it remote work, flexible work, or digital connectivity. These changes have given rise to new trends in business operations, which have started to gain traction. However, it remains unclear which of these trends will continue to grow and which will fall by the wayside in the process of businesses navigating the uncertainty and maintaining their competitive edge.

Research and data indicate that remote, home and hybrid working models will continue to be prevalent. According to Ipsos and McKinsey, in 2022, 58% of Americans had the option to work from home at least once a week, and 38% were not required to work in the office regularly. As hybrid work becomes a permanent feature for desk-based employees, companies are seeking to provide equitable flexibility for frontline workers in fields such as manufacturing and healthcare. According to the Gartner Frontline Worker Experience Reinvented Survey conducted in 2022, 58% of organizations employing frontline workers have invested in improving their employee experience in the past year. While the full impact of this shift is still unclear, early indications suggest that this change leads to higher job satisfaction and increased productivity among workers.

Technology has also introduced the concept of independent work. MGI research has shown that 20-30% of the working-age population in the US and EU engage in independent work, with just over half supplementing traditional jobs, while 70% choose this type of work. However, 30% use independent work out of necessity, as they cannot find traditional jobs that meet their needs, and this trend is likely to accelerate in future. While only 15% of independent work is conducted on digital platforms, such as Uber and Etsy, this number is growing rapidly due to its efficiency and ease of use of technology.

It is believed that workplaces may also embrace four-day working weeks. A survey showed that 86% of UK companies taking part in the trial are likely to consider a permanent four-day week policy. Following successful trials in countries such as England, Belgium, Sweden, and Iceland, countries such as the US, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, and New Zealand are expected to begin their own flex-hour projects.

Effects of virtual reality, augmented reality & mixed reality on the workplace

XR Expo 2019: exhibition for virtual reality (vr), augmented reality (ar), mixed reality (mr) and extended reality (xr)
Photo by XR Expo / Unsplash

Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) – collectively called XR – are gaining popularity in the modern workplace. Gartner reports that 40% of small-to-midsize businesses are already evaluating AR/VR for their operations. This trend was expected to continue, with up to 70% of businesses adopting AR/VR by 2022.

One of the biggest driving forces in the adoption of XR in the workplace has been the COVID-19 pandemic and associated remote work. Companies had to quickly find new ways of doing things and adapting to new circumstances. The benefits of these changes soon became apparent, with increased efficiency, accuracy, and productivity for their workforces. Even after the pandemic ends, many companies will likely continue to use XR, as the advantages have shifted from aspirational to essential.

One of the key advantages of XR is its ability to enable digital information to be incorporated into the physical world, allowing people to see, hear, touch, and interact with it. When combined with AI, XR can extend the human senses and how we perceive physical environments. This not only improves employee experiences but also empowers them to offer better experiences for customers.

The benefits of XR are particularly evident in three key areas: training, workflows, and employee engagement. Companies have reported a 46% reduction in time to complete tasks and an average productivity improvement of 32% on using AR. As organizations continue to reimagine strategies for providing safe and effective work environments for their employees, XR is quickly becoming a mission-critical tool.

In terms of training, XR can provide employees with immersive, hands-on experiences that simulate real-world scenarios. This can be particularly useful in industries such as healthcare, where it's important for employees to be able to practice their skills without risk. Similarly, in manufacturing, employees can use XR to practice complex assembly procedures before implementing them in the real world.

XR can also help streamline workflows by providing workers with access to real-time data and insights. For example, warehouse workers can use AR to quickly and easily locate products and shipments, while technicians can use MR to access manuals and schematics while performing repairs.

Finally, XR can improve employee engagement by providing them with more meaningful, rewarding experiences. The Great Resignation of 2021, which saw 4 million employees quitting their jobs, was largely driven by a lack of connection and poor employee experience in jobs. To address this, companies are finding creative ways to boost employee experience. Digital tools that facilitate team connection in remote settings are becoming increasingly popular, improving employees’ mental health and fostering a more unified team.  The use of XR to improve employee engagement can lead to increased job satisfaction and retention rates, which are particularly important in industries with high turnover rates.

Conclusion: The need for an adaptive workforce

The future of work is rapidly evolving with major workforce transitions, an acceleration of technology, and a widening skills gap. The pandemic has accelerated workplace changes, opening doors to a new possible model of work. In the post-pandemic future, the traditional management system based on rigid hierarchy and control is no longer considered to be sufficient. Instead, a more adaptable and responsive model is emerging, centered around four key trends: greater connectivity, increased automation, reduced transaction costs, and changing demographics.

The future workplace will be flexible and responsive, built on higher levels of connection, and values employee experience. In this new model, organizations will work together with their people to create personalized, authentic, and motivating experiences that strengthen individual, team, and company performance. As we move forward, it is important for employers to consider these changes and adapt to the evolving nature of work, prioritizing employee experience and creating opportunities for skills development and growth. With the right approach, we can create a future of work that is not only productive and efficient but also fulfilling and rewarding for everyone involved.