People

Multiple futures: new European report charts complexities of how we’ll work

Don’t expect the future of work to pan out in a uniform or singular way. A new report from Bene in partnership with WORKTECH Academy explores how the mix of the digital and human will make work more unpredictable

The future of working life cannot be encapsulated in a singular vision or a single trajectory, but is ‘subject to a series of highly complex and multiple changes so there is more than one possible future’.

That is the perspective of a new report, The Future of Work, prepared by Austrian furniture company Bene and based on consultations with more than 40 experts in the field drawn from the scientific, start-up, consulting and creative communities.

WORKTECH Academy worked with Bene to organise three round table discussions in Berlin, Vienna and London as part of the research process. The result is a comprehensive horizon-scanning exercise with findings grouped under four themes: digital transformation, leadership, purpose of work and open collaboration. Here are some key predictions from the report:

Digital Transformation

  • Digital business models will mean it’s no longer the best products that can guarantee success, the future is all about having the best data to turn into services – but people feel vulnerable to data manipulation.

‘Intelligent systems are already self-learning today…Deeply fascinating but also a bit spooky’ – Lars Gaede, co-founder workawesome.com

  • There will be an alliance between digital natives and AI in the workforce – but people remain wary of navigating a difficult transitional phase in which many will lose their jobs.
  • The Internet of Things is set to live up to the hype and bring lasting change by connecting all the objects at work and at home – but the biggest buzzword of all provokes fear as well as amazement.
  • A host of other digital technologies such as 3D printing, 3D projectors and VR glasses will make an impact as part of digital transformation.

Leadership

  • Self-organisation is a growing trend as work tasks become more complex and difficult to standardise – and managers expect employees to deal with them independently and self-sufficiently. Trust and responsibility are growing factors here.
  • Self-adaptive systems will be on the rise as business leaders recognise that their companies are becoming fluid, constantly evolving entities with many aspects that can be neither anticipated nor planned.
  • Fluid leadership is replacing command and control in an increasingly complex and unpredictable global world – with business leaders behaving like orchestra conductor or coach in a more permeable environment that breaches traditional communication channels and hierarchies.
  • Employee engagement will no longer be ignored by leaders, as wellbeing and work-life balance rise up the agenda and the workplace needs of both introverts and extroverts are taken into account.

Purpose of Work

  • The meaning of work will become a key factor in job choice for the millennial workforce, which require a higher purpose, not just a decent salary; such employees can be critical of the companies they join.
  • Employer branding will be a big deal in future talent recruitment, and companies that offer a healthy work-life balance stand to gain the most.
  • New ways we work are set to transform conventional patterns of working, challenging leadership styles and communication strategies within and between businesses.
  • Socio-political effects will follow the AI and robot revolution, creating new job profiles that require new skills and qualifications, and catalysing reforms in education and labour laws.

Round table debate in London

Open Collaboration

  • Interaction between people will become more important to counter the side effect of depersonalisation as businesses delve deeper into digital transformation and global presence – with workspace playing a key role in supporting social behaviours.
  • Interaction between humans and machines will become more critical too in the age of artificial intelligence, but new thinking is required to address areas of challenge.
  • The idea that innovation needs interaction will be increasingly important, with customers regarded as a key part of the development process.

‘The office remains a human question…’ Professor James Woudhuysen, Bene study

Ultimately The Future of Work report suggests that the new workplace will be built around self-organising workforces, self-learning workplaces and self-adaptive systems, as traditional models of leadership are caught out by the speed of technological change. What is harder to predict is just how the digital-human mix will pan out.

Round table debate in Vienna, Austria

To access the full report see here.