We’re all familiar with today’s commentary about how AI and robotics will change the work landscape. According to many, in just a few years’ time we all will be passengers in driverless cars, and our packages will be delivered to our doorsteps by drones — and we’ll be elbowing robots out of the way to scrape together a living.
I’m not so sure. My guess is that while many jobs will change, and some elements may be automated, they won’t disappear. Technology — whether AI, machine learning or robotics — will help us be more efficient. Technology will take over certain menial and minor tasks and allow us to concentrate on what only we as humans can do best: innovate.
Looking at a world where we coexist, rather than compete, with technology, I see three key skills that will allow us to thrive in the workplace of tomorrow.
The blurred lines we all operate within today — when does work start and end? When is personal time? – already make the way we balance our work and private lives difficult. Many of us go to sleep with our phones next to us, checking email during the night. With instant messaging and video calling, few of us are truly shutting off and powering down, and a lot of us don’t want to. But the pace of work is not going to change. Without self-management, we can enter a cycle of decline and not even realize it. Showing initiative, priding ourselves on responding quickly 24/7 can become drudgery over time and then escalate to burnout. No one has their best ideas when they’re strung out on information overload and sleep deprivation.
This need for self-management isn’t being adequately addressed. As companies, we prosper when we invest in our people and their well-being. As leaders, we should serve as role models for how to optimize our uptime by prioritizing downtime. We can foster a work culture that rewards results, not availability. For example, I have young children, so I spend time with them during the day and often work different hours; I also have started charging my phone in another room as a deterrent to checking it during the night. I encourage my team to find the schedule that works for them and to do the same. Not all roles have such flexibility, and we can’t tell people when to put their phone down or when to go to bed, but we can coach and be role models for the types of behaviors that will allow us all to do our best work over the course of our career.
Today, many of us can work from anywhere. In my own company, thousands of us work remotely or at client sites. At the same time, careers continue to be more mobile; even your best people may move on to other companies.
As leaders, how can we keep people connected and feeling like they are flourishing as part of our company? By consciously creating lasting connections with each employee, they will carry a positive image of the company wherever they go, whether to a new role within the company or on to their next destination. We have still made an impact.
Today, I see each person as an ongoing ambassador of our company brand. In a social media-fueled world, wherever employees go next, most will maintain their connections to colleagues. Our best result long-term is for our employees to flourish while they are with us and speak well of us when they move on.
The pace of change will never be slower than it is today. Being agile and willing to learn, unlearn and relearn will be paramount to success. Agility and the ability to be comfortable learning new skills and rotating experiences are partnerships between organizations and individuals. Those partnerships will pay huge dividends as the pace of change continues to quicken.
Today in my own company, 60% of our workforce is millennials and Gen Z. They’re used to moving at a fast pace, surfing the waves of technological change in their own lives. They look for employers who can do the same. As a leader responsible for employee recruiting, I want to create experiences that are enticing enough for them to stay with us as long as possible, while at the same time encouraging them to evolve along with their roles. We as leaders can do that by cheering them on as they grow, learn, re-learn and build. We can make sure our people don’t stagnate. We must not wait for them to tell us they are bored.
We’re living in a world where if our employees can’t find what they are looking for here, they will look elsewhere. How do we install company systems that match the level of career agility we want to inspire in our employees? In my workplace, project rotation is key to retention. For instance, we are looking to implement an expectation that people will no longer stay on a project in the same role for more than 12 months. Because we are a global company, we are able to encourage people to consider roles in different parts of the company and even different areas of the world, allowing them to build their skills in new environments and giving us the benefit of their expertise in new ways.
Managing our 24/7 work life, creating connections with the colleagues and companies we meet along our career paths and finding ways to embrace agility are essential skills that will serve us all well as we navigate the future of work and the modern workplace.
By Paul Phillips
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