When it comes to the Future of Work many a definition exists. Depending on the agenda of those behind them, they can range from office space theories to methodologies or how it all plays into larger societal themes.
Last month I proposed that the Future of Work should start with questioning everything from the evident How’s to the less evident Why’s and everything in between. The thesis there is that, as this is simultaneously a present imperative evolution and a theoretical reimagining exercise, there ought to be no topic that is off the table and this provides us all with a golden opportunity to reexamine all our premises, habits and conventions regarding how we work.
The response has brought me to further get to know a community that, while focused on various specific questions and topics is overall arguably fighting to maintain the human in firm focus of the debate. This is not in the literal machines vs. humans and “will automation see us all unemployed” sense only, but in an overall common and blissfully coincidental spirit of remembering technology is just an enabler and not a purpose or cure-all.
However despite the common thread, there is a visible and tangible divide in the way people who think of and practically work towards the future of work see it, and there is more divergence than commonality in the conceptual lens we use for the vision.
Some focus on the role AI/machines/automation, etc will play into our lives in the following few years in particular when it comes to whether or not we ought to all fear being replaced. With reports ranging from alarming to soothing, this is evidently a major topic that needs debate. The question becomes if indeed getting stuck in the details of it doesn’t lead us all to place too high an importance on the technology itself whereas we should perhaps see it as subservient and enabling to the human in work.
Some focus on bettering the work in itself – the location and process involved are debated and a strand of discussion on the connection between productivity and the mental and physical well being of the employees is emerging but the discourse tends to quickly become reduced to practicalities and a lot is taken from how, the ways of work are in fact, in the way they require a mentality change, the de facto future that encompasses deeply individual and group change and the magic of learning as well.
Others postulate the need to bring societal topics into the conversation so as to ensure equality and empathy when we speak about the future of work although that does beg the question on whether that basal of foundation should even fit in this discussion or considered hygiene – i.e. equal pay and treating all races, genders and nationalities with respect and kindness really should be part of how we heal our society at large and not open for discussion but firmly demanded irrespective of work .
Some, perhaps the most courageous ones, dare to take a look at the “why” should it exist – the role of purpose and soft skills, both at an individual level and that of the team or the company and in doing so bring it to the values without which it wouldn’t be possible – learning and caring.
The “future of work” is ultimately the umbrella term that always points back from office spaces and towards humans. To advance the discourse we ought to perhaps set aside our individual golden bullets for what will make the future better (mine, for instance, is team chemistry, technology, agile and psychological safety) and instead open our eyes, minds and hearts to what will work as a whole to make it productive, satisfying and meaningful for the next generation.
Furthermore, this future we are discussing here is not theoretical or an imagination exercise but the beginning of reality, we shouldn’t discuss it in a vacuum as an intellectual work-out but in a results-driven, every day sleeves-rolled mindset and we shouldn’t regard it as consigned to a set of practices or happenings but rather see it for the holistic chance for First Principles design that it can be.
There’s ample reason to be excited about the conversation. We have a shot at affecting the next chapters for the generations to come – we don’t need to have answers, we simply need to ask the right open-ended questions and fiercely guard the wide open nature of the dialogue, not its contents. Perhaps we should simply stop calling it “the future of work” and just call it “the future”.