The Future of Work is Flexible

October 16, 2018

by Bob Holmie


The future of work is one of the hottest topics right now. Experts in all fields that touch the workplace – from sociology to technology – regularly give their opinions regarding the impact of the two massive waves that are changing what work means everywhere. These transformations are driven by automated technology – specifically AI – that will enable machines to do more of the work we humans do now; and by millennials’ vision of work as flexible and under their control.

In our article this week, we explore how some experts see these waves of change, and what kind of workplace will they leave us with as they arrive and sweep our old ways of doing things.

All work left to machines

The first transformation comes with technology. In a paper titled “Technology, Jobs, and the Future of Work,” written last year, McKinsey dives into the implications that robotics and AI will have in the future of work. Specifically, they write how “these technologies also raise difficult questions about the broader impact of automation on jobs, skills, wages, and the nature of work itself,” as the question of displacement inevitably comes up when trying to predict the effect of technology on work.

Displacement fears have never been realized. A couple of years ago, TechCrunch wrote in an article that “Robots in the workforce present an opportunity to stimulate job growth and create new types of work. Robots will not merely take jobs, they’ll also create them.” Quite the contrary, as TechCrunch asserted, machines have created more work opportunities than they have destroyed. “From the invention of the wheel to Gutenberg’s printing press,: TechCrunch noted, “humans have innovated and adapted to new technologies throughout history. And for just as long, there have been concerns about how new technologies would affect laborers,” and these concerns have always proven to be exaggerated and inaccurate.This assertion is much more in line with historical precedent regarding technology than the current hype surrounding how AI will make us obsolete. TechCrunch provides this example:

“In each case, these technologies led to new industries and jobs. The invention of the printing press in 1440 allowed the mass production of books, leading to jobs to manufacture books, transport them, market them and sell them. Print shops sprung up. The fall in printing costs led to newspapers. Yes, the printing press put scribes out of business, but new jobs were soon developed to take their place.”

In fact, there is no precedent in history where technology has created waves of jobless people. The McKinsey report writes it accurately: “disruption is an opportunity as well as a challenge—given the promise of digital talent platforms and new options for independent work.”

What’s happening today with AI follows this premise. It is truly transforming work but not in the apocalyptic sense that makes for catchy headlines. For perspective, machine learning, which drives AI, is being applied to make work a better place, not a human-less one. By replacing repetitive jobs as in the case of retail, augmenting what humans can do, as in the case of AI-powered augmented reality in manufacturing, and making work a better place, as in the case of AI-powered labor management, AI creates opportunities for the work of the future. Such is the case with the work we do at Legion. This type of AI, for instance, enables companies and their hourly employees to find the perfect match for their objectives, allowing both to have their cake and eat it to as companies become more productive and workers more engaged.

Work isn’t what it used to be

The second transformation of work is driven by millennials. These new wave of workers are truly revolutionizing work. For them, the hierarchies and inflexibility of the past are obsolete relics that stand on their way to finding meaning. Millennials are a generation that does not see work as separate from other activities in life that give meaning.

A few months ago, in an interview with Wired, Alanna Cotton, head of mobile computing at Samsung, brilliantly connected the future of technology to the way millennials see work. Specifically, she depicted a world in which:

“Virtual and augmented reality, Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and 5G will soon give us unimaginable freedom, even empowering doctors to help perform remote surgeries from afar,” adding that “People want flexibility in their work just like they have in their personal lives,” and referring to some of the features of their smartphones as a “truly mobile solution that allows you to work and be creative on the go — taking your career and life to the next level.”

Freedom is exactly what millennials demand. Freedom to work from anywhere. Freedom to work when they want to. Freedom to demand corporate responsibility along with any job offer. Arguably, no other generation in recent history has forced such a radical transformation in the workplace. Add to this that by now millennials are no longer in the entry positions, they are the young managers and entrepreneurs creating the type of companies that reflect their vision of the world.

The result of flexibility is also the multiplication of the hourly workforce, as millennials, empowered by technology, realize they can have more than one job and live a good life. A few months ago, an article by Entrepreneur opened with the perfect advice for employers facing this new reality “Remember the Aretha Franklin classic? Show some r-e-s-p-e-c-t to your hourly workers and they’ll respect you back.” The article goes on to point examples like employees expecting “the same rapid response time as with a text or a tweet” after an interview, or embracing the new reality and “extending perks, like insurance or 401(k),” to hourly workers.

Show some respect

Technology is here to help to show “some respect,” as in Aretha Franklin’s song. Engaging your hourly employees using technology they grew up, such as smart mobile apps to allow them to choose when and where they want to work, goes a long way to adapt your workplace to the new reality. Coupled with AI, mobile engagement can make something as trivial as a weekly schedule match their preferences without compromise to the organization, increasing motivation, retention and the quality of the service your employees provide to your customers.

Work has never been this flexible. Do not fear technology or millennials – the transformation driven by both will leave work as a much better place than ever before.

See how Legion powers the work of the future.

Photography courtesy of Christopher Michel.