Through these hard times and bad news, there are bright spots related to tech trends and how they will shape the future and the future of work specifically. Technology and new innovations are accelerating—and these will have positive influences on all things work, workers and workplace.
The popular saying, “May you live in interesting times,” isn’t actually the curse it is purported to be. But we definitely can’t argue with the fact that tranquil times don’t necessarily force advances, stretches or big shifts. This is a time for those.
For this article, I interviewed tech gurus Steve Koenig, VP of Research for the Consumer Technology Association (the association responsible for the annual CES show in Las Vegas) and Scott Likens, Emerging Technology Leader with PwC. Koenig says the pandemic—and the conditions it has created—”have triggered a massive wave of innovation and new business models.” He says innovation has been “turbo-charged.” Likens points out there has been an acceleration of acceptance, perhaps even more than an acceleration of innovation. “Until you experience something, you won’t accept it,” he says, and increasingly people have been open to trying new things. Indeed, going through cataclysmic times can force us to stretch and adapt—and from the greatest barriers, come the most profound innovations.
There are plenty of technological changes coming. But what will matter most in terms of the content of work, the places we’ll work, how we’ll work with others and the new skills we’ll need? Here are the experts’ perspectives.
Changes to the content of our work
Work will be less routine. AI will change the content of our work. Rather than artificial intelligence, think of AI as augmented intelligence. Koenig points out, “AI will do everything from assisting doctors with diagnoses to helping all kinds of workers in decision making.” Koenig goes on to say, “Robots will work alongside humans in the office and take on roles like reception, hospitality, cleaning and security.” In addition, personal digital assistants may help with everything from managing task lists to scheduling meetings. Likens says, “AI will do the more routine work and humans will do more of the higher-level functions. It will fundamentally change the way we create value.”
Things will be more secure. Biometrics (think: fingerprint recognition) and blockchain will enhance security and personalization. According to Koenig, this will affect things like network connections, cloud applications and personal computing preferences. Likens points out blockchain will “automate trust” through securing assets and helping us avoid deep fakes, authenticating what’s real.
Changes to our workplaces
Our spaces will serve our needs. Both Likens and Koenig reference how offices will change. Specifically, IoT (the internet of things) will connect multiple systems within an office and create more value for the user. From more efficient energy consumption to more effective space utilization, smart spaces will optimize offices for people who use them, adjusting to the preferences of the person working. Rather than having a keyboard, mouse or laptop, there may be “one device to rule them all,” says Koenig. Specifically, “The desk of the future may only have a display since our mobile devices will perform all computing functions accessing data, applications and functionality which will be in the cloud,” according to Koenig.
Changes in how we work with others
Our communication will be enhanced. Computers and robots will do natural language processing meaning they will recognize and translate our language, increasing our ability to communicate effectively across traditional barriers. “This will ensure communication on mission-critical applications such as contracts, customer engagement and international marketing,” says Koenig.
Our presence will be expanded. Virtual reality (VR) will allow us to have rich, collaborative experiences in more places, more often. Koenig calls this virtualization. “Digital tools like VR will replicate physical environments and reduce the need to be physically present in meetings,” says Koenig. Likens explains, “VR creates immersive, collaborative experiences which can enhance empathy and connectedness. It creates a safe space to take risks, interact and learn.”
Changes in the skills we’ll need
Upskilling will be required. It’s impossible to consider technology and its effects on the future of work without people asking whether their jobs will go away. People have been worried about technology replacing humans since the 1950s. Likens points out, “Jobs will change across the board and no job will be the same.” Upskilling will certainly be necessary. Koenig says, “Retraining and upskilling will be critical for retention, and both employees and employers have the opportunity and responsibility to build capabilities.” This is, of course, especially true during the pandemic. One study finds people have upwards of 200 billion extra hours to spend on training because of furlough or reduced work schedules.
“New collar” work will emerge. Likens says we’ll need new or enhanced skills in design thinking (to enhance the human-machine interface) and data science (to interpret the exponential amounts of information to which we’ll have access). Koenig points to the need for additional skills as well, “Skill requirements will become more technical.” He calls this “new collar work” distinguished from blue or white-collar work.
Human empathy will distinguish us. But will machines be able to do it all? No, we can empathize in ways machines can’t and we can work through the nuances of human communication and connection as robots never will. According to Likens, “Intelligence isn’t unique to humans and machines are logically-based systems, but emotion is unique, and it isn’t possible to train machines for empathy—at least not yet.” Koenig adds, “We’ll need an evolved set of interpersonal skills as we interact more on a remote basis.” Indeed, we will need greater skills in reading others’ cues and emotions via video as well, and we’ll need enhanced skills in communicating our points of view through remote means. Our opportunity is to broaden our capabilities to work in conjunction with machines and enhance our ability to connect with others. This, after all, is what we have to offer that is distinctly human and something that cannot be replaced.
The future is bright. “Overall, new digital tools and technology will empower human ingenuity, creativity, productivity, collaboration, leadership and more,” says Koenig.
Things are changing, and the acceleration of innovation is happening at warp-speed. It will affect everything including the content of our work, where we work, how we work with others and the skills we’ll need to survive. But we have a lot to look forward to—more efficiency, enhanced effectiveness and a great new work experience that will surely be fulfilling.