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the future of work is closer than you think

Explore a blended approach to the future workforce that will see people and machines working together in partnership

Published by orgvue

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As the world comes to terms with Coronavirus, the future of work has become a burning topic for all organizations. How will people perform, engage and interact at work from now on? What part will remote working continue to play in the workforce? How should businesses redesign the workplace to reflect new work patterns and rejuvenate the employee experience?

The future of work is not what we thought it was

These questions and many others are an urgent challenge and difficult to answer. They call for a nuanced understanding of how the nature of work has changed and how it might change in the future. We live in an undoubtedly complex world in which present-day business thinking is becoming less relevant. This is evident in the rate at which companies fall out of business indices such as the Fortune 100, which has increased by 60% over the last 50 years.

Yet discussion and speculation around the future of work hasn’t really moved past the notion of machines replacing people entirely in a variety of jobs. With the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, organizations anticipate they will automate vast numbers of routine, repeatable tasks at the expense of workers. But this black and white thinking is too simplistic.

People and machines working in partnership

Take customer service. Who hasn’t been frustrated by a website bot that fails to understand what help you actually need? Bots may be good at answering empirical questions but are hopeless at getting to the heart of customer concerns, because they lack empathy and intuition.

It will be many decades before artificial intelligence (AI) even comes close to matching human creativity and emotional capacity. AI can only perform in controlled, predictable, unchanging situations but it can’t compete with humans in complex environments, where there are many unknowns and variables.

Customer service is a good example of a role that, in our view, requires a blended approach to its responsibilities. Leaders will need to think about the workforce as having people and smart technologies working in partnership to meet customer needs.

An augmented, more productive workforce

Research by the OECD suggests that 32% of jobs could see a large share of tasks being automated but that entirely new tasks could emerge that only humans can do. As work becomes more blended, roles will need to be redefined in a way that sees people contribute the higher-order skills machines are incapable of.

However, in replacing those skills that become redundant as a result of automation, displaced workers will need to be flexible and willing to adapt. Leaders should begin to think of their employees not as the job they do but the skills and competencies they have.

Being able to determine the right mix of human and synthetic skills is what will deliver on the promise of automation and higher productivity. Human-machine partnerships coupled with newly defined roles could lead to an augmented workforce that creates more value than today’s workforce, which is typically based on efficiency and cost saving.

Better work, more value

The future of work in an industrial context is not where the opportunities lie for human jobs. As artificial intelligence takes over routine work, people will be free to apply the uniquely human skills that will differentiate businesses and create more value.

In that sense, automation is the lowest common denominator and people will have the opportunity to rise above the lower-order jobs that machines do to carry out more fulfilling work.

But where do you start? The first thing you can do is identify those roles within your organization that are most susceptible to automation. You can then begin to break them down into activities and anticipate the skills needed to supplement automation, empower employees to reinvent themselves and improve how work is done.

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