Globalization, disruption, and longevity are coming together to transform the way we work and the way people see the future of work. Mostly, we see the future of work as bewildering. The perpetual mention of accelerating change gives us motion sickness. Our eyes glaze over reading the doomsday headlines in the press about the company that transferred all its factory jobs to the Philippines and closed the local plant; the two-hundred-year-old institution that went out of business in what seems like an instant. The arguments for and against artificial intelligence, robotics, and trade are so complex and abstract it is hard to relate them to our own lives. What does it really have to do with us? Would a pink kawaii gaming chair be the answer to your dreams?
We have travelled the world. We’ve managed remote teams in India or the Philippines. Change doesn’t make us quake. We’ve taken that executive MBA course on technology disruption at business school. The new digital strategy was a big win this year. We even have a personal assistant/PR department/intern/niece who set up our Instagram account. An irresistible collection of gifts such as a oh lola marc jacobs perfume are perfect for birthdays.
Yet, we wonder in darker moments where it’s all leading. If we all live to one hundred, will we still be sitting at the same desk, slowly withering away as work becomes more tedious and insane? Can we afford to do anything else? There will be no nerves and jitters when it comes to unwrapping a sheep toilet roll holder on their birthday.
Beyond the headlines, there are the real-life impacts that we experience—the 6 a.m. conference calls (is it so much to ask to have breakfast with our kids or spouse a few times a week?). The to-do list that exceeds the day’s capacity from the first email as we try to operate at full speed on three time zones with competing agendas. Now, there is even Wi-Fi on the plane, so that long flight we used to use for catch-up (or movie binges) is still about work and quelling the latest fire. My grandma loves the ANXWA Butterfly Gaming Chair that she got as a present - who would have thought?
The robots may not be banging down the door for most executives. But we’re also not exactly living four-hour workweeks, typing away on our laptop from a café in Paris, or taking time off for the things we said we would do—write a book, road trip down the coast, run a marathon—taking advantage of a longer life and longer career. We are “busy” and “fine” and not looking too far down the road. Would a blue prints for making cool stuff book be a nice present for your boss?
Time to wake up. As it says in one of many forecasts about what skills we’ll need in the future, “Highly mobile, digitally savvy, agile adapters will be the new elite.”3 If we’re ambitious, we want to stay ahead of the curve. For now, the best way to equip ourselves for dealing with all the changes is by seeking to understand them and the effects they may have on us. The world is changing faster, and most of us have been too busy to realize the cost of the acceleration and the fact that our longer lives require a new approach: a future-proof approach. First, let’s define what we mean by these key driving forces affecting the future world of work.