by JP Gownder, Vice President and Principal Analyst, Forrester
Contrary to popular belief, the future of work isn’t something that happens to you or your firm. It’s not merely some new technology your organisation will eventually get around to adopting. In fact, there’s no single future of work – there will be many, built in the context of specific problems. But here’s the key: the future of work is a strategic imperative that you must actively create for your company, your employees, and your own career. It’s a strategy you build and a set of actions you take – continuously. And like all strategic imperatives, it requires elevating the discipline to a strategic competency, an initiative with a vision, a strategy, and a plan.
Think of the future of work as a constellation of innovations that address new or accelerating challenges for organisations aiming for customer-obsessed outcomes. You can dip into these innovations as you see fit. Some are technological, such as robotic process automation (RPA), where bots or software entities take on some of the more repetitive and predictable tasks that human workers conduct digitally. Other future of work innovations are organisational, such as Chinese manufacturer Haier’s use of micro-enterprise teams that elect their own leaders.
Often, technological and organisational innovations will go hand-in-hand. Deploying RPA bots will be a powerful tool to automate some tasks, but they depend upon an organisation’s automation strike teams – business-responsive but technologically savvy organisational units that help provide guidance and expertise – or similar centres of excellence. Creating a distributed workforce as an organisational tool can diversify your talent base, but will depend upon successfully deploying remote collaboration software to help far-off colleagues work together. Technology and organisational structures are intertwined.
Considering the future of work an ongoing innovation initiative places agency in your hands. Turning it into a strategic competency will drive investment at three levels. First, you must prepare yourself, personally, to have the underlying attitude and inclination to succeed. A world in which bots and AI are becoming ever more common requires every employee – from leaders to technologists to non-technical employees – to bring curiosity, collaboration and adaptability to the table.
Second, you must help every employee increase their understanding of how to interact with automation, AI and other technologies. Today, most employees aren’t ready. Forrester’s Business Technographics data reveals that only 21 per cent of information workers agree with the statement “I know when to question the results of an automated technology”, while only 18 per cent agree that “my career path in a world of automation is clear to me.” Why? Because learning and development programmes haven’t begun to train employees about advanced technologies. Only 17 per cent agree that “we have established a structured training programme for working with automation technologies.”
Third, you must create a strategic plan. The influx of AI and automation into the workplace will change its composition: the automation economy will eliminate some jobs while creating others. Your five-year plan should forecast which roles you’ll need fewer of, like employees performing administrative tasks. These workers must be trained for new positions or not be backfilled as they depart. You must also gain a whole host of technical and business skills in AI and automation. These are workers you must cultivate through training or hiring – training can take years, and hiring is competitive, so you must plan ahead.
Succeeding in the future of work requires a commitment to longer-term (up to 10 years) thinking, which can be challenging. Yet companies and leaders that successfully invest in elevating the future of work to the status of a strategic competency are the ones most likely to thrive over the next decade.
Find out more about Forrester’s research on the Future of Work here.