The Workforce of 2025

“According to experts, remote work is here to stay and even when the health crisis ends, a good portion of the workforce will remain working from home”

That’s the sentiment from a recent Article that looks at the workforce of 2025. Author Lori Ioannou explores the challenges of keeping employees connected, innovating and collaborating in a world of virtual organizations. Evidence that remote work is likely to continue keeps mounting. Microsoft told employees that they can Work From Home Permanently. Dropbox recently did the same, announcing on Tuesday that they will stop asking employees to come into its offices and instead make Remote Work The Standard Practice. For employees that need to meet or work together in person, the company is setting up “Dropbox Studios” when it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, the company extended its mandatory work from home policy through June 2021.

Beyond the remote work phenomena, companies are likely to accelerate the path to automation. Ms. Ioannou describes the embrace of artificial intelligence and automation to support operations and gather employee insights. As more businesses follow this path, employee reskilling becomes increasingly important. A recent Article from the World Economic Forum (WEF) acknowledges this likely path, and explores the need for humans and machine to work together in the age of AI. Per the article, global population forecasts project 8.5 billion people by 2030 (current population is approximately 7.6 Billion). With our exponential progression expected to continue, the WEF predicts that our global workforce and the demands we put on it will change markedly in the near future.

Per the WEF, We should not expect the future of machine learning and robotic design to be about humans versus machines but rather how humans and machines can form the best teams. The article states:

A survey of a thousand companies working with AI published in Harvard Business Review stated in 2018 that, “Most activities at the human-machine interface require people to do new and different things (such as train a chatbot) and to do things differently (use that chatbot to provide better customer service). So far, however, only a small number of the companies we surveyed have begun to reimagine their business processes to optimize collaborative intelligence.”

The last sentence captures a phenomenon described by economists when they say that digital shows up everywhere but the productivity numbers. Digital to date has been an overlay – not the complete reimagination of what, why, and how we do things. Author Jens Martin Skibsted said it well: “The future will not be about creating the fastest CPU or cultivating prototypical employee skills, but it will be about designing the most compatible combinations of humans and machines, and optimizing and simplifying the interaction between the two.”

From the earlier article, author Lori Ioannou identifies other trends from a McKinsey & Co. global survey that looked at what the future of work will look like in 2025. Besides the aforementioned push towards automation and shift to remote work or hybrid remote workforces, the survey identified an increase in the use of freelancers. The article identifies what I believe will be a dominant trend: breakthroughs in hiring and talent development. Cisco is now doing what they call blind hiring, where they block the name or the university the candidate attended. Cisco says it has helped eliminate bias and allowed them to focus on a person’s work. I believe this points to a future discussion on the importance of degrees.

Perhaps counter intuitively, productivity has gone up. Per a recent Boston Consulting Group study of 12,000 employees in the U.S., Germany and India, this exemplifies a global phenomenon. They found that productivity can be maintained surprisingly well in a virtual or hybrid work setting. The article identifies a number of possible reasons for this, including: lengthy meetings and regular status updates are less essential than once imagined, long commutes are gone, and small talk with colleagues and leisurely coffees in the break room are eliminated.

It is hard to say if these trends take hold, or if the social nature of humans swings the pendulum back. What we do know is that productivity concerns are evaporating, resistance is dropping, and organizations are learning that much can be accomplished when the platform is burning.

Explore more about COVID-19 via these earlier posts.

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