Planning for the Future of Work

Rather than focus on finding jobs in the gaps left by machines, individuals and organizations would be smart to prepare themselves to adapt to a changing digital business environment.

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Digital Leadership

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Digital technologies are poised to disrupt how work is done. Consider the popular example of the impending arrival of autonomous vehicles. When self-driving vehicles are mainstream — within the next decade or two (or less) — the impact on work in the United States alone will be massive.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.5 million people in the U.S. are commercial truck drivers, 800,000 work as delivery drivers, and another 1 million people make a living as other types of transportation professionals — including bus drivers, taxi drivers, and Uber drivers. The secondary effects of self-driving cars and trucks are also significant; they would significantly reduce accidents, thereby also affecting auto-body shop workers, insurers, hospital emergency room workers, and a number of others.

Autonomous vehicles are only one maturing digital technology that will disrupt work. Add artificial intelligence, blockchain, additive manufacturing, and virtual and augmented reality to the disruptive mix, and the impact these technologies will have on work will be staggering. Many companies and executives are not planning for this future, and while some employees and leaders are considering how these technologies will affect their careers or their organizations, they may be doing it wrong.

The common approach, which focuses on identifying types of work that only humans can do, is an unproductive way to plan for the future of work. If one primarily fits human work into the gaps left by what computers cannot do, people will increasingly be squeezed out as technology becomes more advanced. As a general rule, computers have become capable of most things that we once thought outside the realm of computer expertise, such as facial recognition and language translation. This logically begs the question: How are people truly better than computers?

The Rise of Emotional Robots

We don’t know exactly how people will adapt or what the majority of jobs will look like in the future, but several pundits have attempted to identify the areas in which humans are superior to computers. Columnist and author


Digital Leadership

As organizations rely increasingly on digital technologies, how should they cultivate opportunities and address taking risks in a fast-moving digital market environment?
More in this series

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Comments (5)
Office work environments always evolved and followed what new technologies brought to the workplace. But this time technology is not only changing how we work but the public perception of who we are as professionals or office workers and for who we are working. Social medias is now forcing businesses to raise their worplace design and living quality because it is now directly linked to their brand perception. Being in the office furniture business at since 1992, I can tell office facility managers are much more concerned with their facility public image as they used to. Many actually now see the workplace design as an investment in their brand while before furniture was just considered as an expense. One great example these days is related to the popularity of standings desks and sit stand desk converters ( These products have been on the market for at least 30 years but only recently we've seen a major shift in offices for this type of product. Remember, image is everything!
Kiran Garimella
The quote from Tom Friedman about caring being only a human trait, and that "...machines cannot, do not, and never will have...", is just emotional, feel-good rhetoric that practically speaking means nothing. How would you ever know that the human smiling at you from across the table actually cares about you? Why would you conclude that the robot that's passing by and catches you as you stumble doesn't "really care"?

What humans feel inside is less important than their actions and the behaviors they demonstrate. A person's good intentions count for nothing if that person is slaughtering ethnic minorities. I'd rather trust a robot built on Asimov's three laws of robotics than a human built by evolution (or by some unspecified deities whose track record so far have been dismal).

Let's apply the Turing test to all debates about human versus machine. For more, see:
Greg Tutunjian
Luke and Adenine captured my initial response.  I would add that a proclivity to community is going to be increasingly important (to the future of work), too: Not just online community but those person-to-person connections (in all 3 dimensions) are going to be increasingly key.
It is a well known fact that future work will definitely change as technology continue to develop and advance. Workers need to continue undertake life long learning. We live in a changing world and must be ready to accept the change and move on.
Luke Chilone
It seems that 'future' work has always been anticipated (digital or otherwise) and has always been different and unpredictable - nothing really new here. Humans learn iteratively and acquire mastery iteratively - and humans also sometimes want to know how the story ends before the story ends (some we read the last chapter in a book first). I firmly believe being fully engaged, listening to signals, and having the courage to make timely course corrections will continue to produce the best possible societal and business outcomes - as boring as that sounds.