Article | Technology Gets Personal

The Future of Work

There’s no arguing with the premise that, for businesses, the rise of technology has been an across-the-board boon. Productivity has never been higher, processes have never been more efficient, and the ability to identify and solve a customer’s problems has never been easier. But for all the benefits, technology’s blizzard of new capabilities is generating a “perfect storm” of radical change when it comes to managing the modern workforce.

The business world needs to be ready for new types of workers, who may or may not show up to an office, have a specific title, or fit within a specific org chart. Here are three emerging types of workers to be prepared for:

The forager
The biggest category of new modern-day workers is composed of “contingent workers”—freelancers, contractors, part-timers and temps who set their own hours and work for multiple employers. Contingent workers already comprise up to 30 percent of the U.S. workforce, and they are expected grow. 

These workers control their career destiny. They choose the exact work they want to do, and have a say in their compensation, schedule, and deliverables. They capitalize on social media networks to find work, build relationships, and maintain their livelihood. Potential employers need to cede some traditional control to find and build relationships with the best of these foragers. 

The no-holds-barred entrepreneur
The drive to create, innovate, and explore is an extremely compelling motivation for many people. The DIY desire is found among many workers, but is particularly acute among Millennials. One recent global survey of 12,000 people aged 18 to 30 found that more than two-thirds aspire to entrepreneurial opportunities. 

As technology continues to accelerate the rate of change, every business needs to think about harnessing this energy to reinvent itself again and again just to keep pace.

The personal “brand” manager 
For all the entrepreneurial energy out there, there still isn’t enough labor supply to meet demand. Many of even the most innovative companies face a critical shortage of high-value, high-skill workers—those whose jobs involve creativity, wisdom, judgment, and empathy. 

Overcoming this talent shortage is complicated by the fact that many full-time employees are searching for their own opportunities in their spare time. Workers are increasingly promoting their own “brands” online as experts, leaders, movers, and shakers whose added value transcends their current job. 

Inevitably, competition for the most talented workers will rise sharply. Does this mean the answer is to throw more money at them? No. While salaries will rise, skilled workers will likely be more interested in ameliorating their own skills and capabilities to continue to maximize personal opportunities. Business leaders who want to secure the loyalty of these high-talent workers will have to rely more on intrinsic motivations such as autonomy, challenge, mastery, recognition, and camaraderie. 

The business leader’s challenge: uniting them all
There’s one key business need that technology can never touch: the shared sense of purpose that enables companies not only to thrive, but also to survive the existential threats brought on by globalization and disruptive new technologies. Managers of companies with a common mission are better able to think holistically about the problems they solve and the customers they serve. We call this “culture.” 

There’s a lot we don’t know about the future of technology and its impact on the workplace, but this much is given: the most important task for any business leader going forward will be to cultivate, strengthen, and enliven the company culture. 

The central question CEOs will have to ask themselves and their employees every day: Who are “we” and why should we do what we do?