The Future of Work Life

Professor Lynda Gratton is a member of the Thinkers50 list of the world’s most influential management thinkers, she is considered one of the world’s authorities on people in organizations.

The Shift Lynda Gratton
The Shift Lynda Gratton

As part of their research, Lynda and her team are following 32 important trends to observe how work is evolving. For this, they have access to 60 multinational companies and talk on  on a regular basis, to see what their leaders are thinking about.

The 32 trends are broadly classified under 5 categories:

1. Technology – As expected connectivity and access to cheaper mobile devices by the underdeveloped countries is set to make a great impact

2. Globalization – Products and services from Brazil, India, China are growing up the value chain and so the global aspirations of companies in these countries

3. Demography and longevity – “What kind of leadership will emerge from Generation Y?  How impacted will they be by their use of technology at such an early age?  Then of course, there is the whole question of aging. It seems that 70 has become the new 50, and people really want to continue to develop and to do meaningful work well into their 60s and 70s.

4.Society – Diverse workgroups will make individual to think more deeply about them and the life they want to construct

5. Energy resources – This is the one people are more concerned and intimately connected to work in the future

Which of these 5 forces will have the greatest impact on work? – The intersection of Technology and Globalization, which has already rewritten the rules of business.

Bowling Alone – The death of easy companionship

Perhaps one of the scariest prediction is more work will be done virtually,which leads to isolation.  “What might well be missing from your working life in the future is the simple ability to stick your head through someone’s open door and say, ‘Hi’, or to wander down the corridor and run into co-workers.  Perhaps humanity will adjust to ‘cyber relationships’ to such an extent that they will bring the same positive effect that face-to-face relationships do now; if it doesn’t, we face the prospect of widespread loneliness and isolation.”

What are the areas these big companies think they need to build their capabilities on?

“Virtual work – More and more work is being done by people who are not in the same office — or even the same geographic area.  Add to that the growing understanding that the nine-to-five way of working is rapidly breaking down, in part because people want more flexible lifestyles. “

The shifting axis of exclusion

“The globalization of talent pools means that if you are not educated sufficiently to do work that is increasingly technically sophisticated, it is going to be very difficult to join the labour market.” So, education will be play a more important role than ever.

Based on the research, which skills will be most valued 20 years from now?

Ability to collaborate. “Clearly, the capacity to work virtually will become a core skill, both for individuals and institutions. Skill areas that will be important as a result of the five forces include life sciences and health; energy conservation; coaching and caring; and social entrepreneurship.”

In terms of personal characteristics, there’s a great deal of talk at the moment about authenticity.  In a world where more and more people are acknowledging their diversity rather than trying to fit into a corporate stereotype, there is an opportunity to be more authentic about who you are.

For those who want to encourage the more positive aspects of the future of work, what can be done?

The first is the shift from a workforce of ‘shallow generalists’ to one of ‘serial masters’, who have in-depth knowledge and competencies in a number of domains.  People will need to understand the competencies that will be most valuable (and therefore worth investing in), and to think carefully about the types of careers that will be in the ascendant, together with the knowledge areas that accompany them.  One thing is certain: people will need to keep  learning right through their lives.

The second shift is from ‘isolated competitors’ to ‘innovative connectors’.  People need to work very hard to build their networks.  For instance, everybody will need a ‘posse’ – people who have the same sort of skill sets as you have — and everyone will need to be connected to a ‘big ideas’ crowd of  diverse and interesting people.  Last but not least, everybody needs close connections to a ‘regenerative community’ – people who love you and who you can build friendships with.

The third shift is from ‘voracious consumer’ to ‘impassioned producer’. This includes a shift towards work that is more meaningful, where you can ‘make things’ rather than just seeing work as a place to earn money.  This third shift underpins much of what I believe the future of work could – and should – be about.  It is the shift from work that is all-consuming to a more balanced and meaningful way of working.

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