Lets talk about the Future of Work
Part of what Adobe does is advise our customers about how to transform, to be more digitally capable. Ostensibly this is a conversation about change and about making customer experiences better using technology. Additionally, it’s a conversation about people – customers, employees, managers and leaders – and how they each have to cope with accelerating shifts in everything they do – not just their sphere of work.
Customers are becoming more demanding – being served amazing, personalised and relevant experiences daily means their tolerance for poor digital interactions are low.
Managers and leaders have to anticipate their customer’s demands, and be part of the arms race of experience – all while keeping their businesses running.
Employees are realising their experiences at work may not be as polished as those they have in their non-work lives. In other words, there is a groundswell toward employee experience, as well as customer experience.
Meanwhile, just over the horizon, the next waves of AI, automation and robotics are gathering strength. Renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil would have us believe this is a unique time in history, where each of these disciplines (and many others like biotech), are approaching the ‘hockey stick’ moment, where Moore’s law results in exponential growth.
Combined with the emerging technologies are the challenges of huge urbanisation in global megacities, and their osmotic pull on talent and productivity. In parallel is the shift toward knowledge work, away from agriculture and manufacturing.
So how do we put all this together? Here are some interesting questions to consider:
1. If knowledge work is specialised, how does my manager know if I’m doing a good job?
2. And, if my manager isn’t really able to critique my specialisation, are they more of a mentor than manager? Does that imply an erosion of organisational hierarchies and a need to rethink how teams are structured?
3. With many businesses employing consultants and agencies, where does any organisation actually begin or end?
4. To what extent is it necessary or desirable to be physically present to be productive?
5. And if we don’t need to be present all the time, how do we set up our environments to support that – whether at the micro scale of office design, or the macro level of the rural/urban relationship?
6. Given such rapid change in both technology and types of work, what qualities are we looking for in employees?
7. And how do we ensure that education systems are preparing graduates for employment that may be partial, concurrent, as well as something we don’t understand today? Are the AI and robot wranglers of tomorrow getting ready?
8. What part might Universal Basic Income play in the debate, especially if the economic requirement for work changes due to automation?
9. If people have greater choice and flexibility about work, what else might they do, and what opportunities might that present for creativity?
10. How fast is all this going to happen – and is it going to happen to me?
Clearly, there are no simple or easy answers to any of these questions. Like most technologies, and the subsequent societal shifts in behaviour and attitudes, adoption will be patchy and varied. The ‘rising tide of cognition’ has already begun, and will fill in the smaller areas of our lives first, but the economic and convenience benefits are going to be compelling (think retail website chat-bots), and so will spread quickly.
Two final thoughts in a philosophical vein. Much of this argument is predicated around knowledge work. But what about the billions of people who are not knowledge workers? We need to guard against a digital divide. More positively – technology through history has generally been a net benefit for humans. My hope for the future of work is that people are freed up to be more engaged in their work, find greater satisfaction and meaning, and have opportunity to express their innate creativity to benefit themselves, their businesses and the world around them. At Adobe we aim to support these changes through technology, innovation and creativity.
Hear more from Mark Henley at this year’s Symposium. There are many great sessions at Adobe Symposium this year — so make sure you check out the latest agenda to find the best sessions for you. Register now!