Discussing the future of work is complicated because of its multifaceted nature. The way we work in the future will be affected by everything from policy and education to technology and the risks associated with innovation. Technology’s role in the workplace is particularly controversial, as many people are concerned about artificial intelligence (AI) and automation taking over jobs. A report from the Brookings Institution (via AP News ), for example, claimed that about 36 million Americans work in jobs with a high risk of becoming automated.
As the CEO and founder of an enterprise software company that leverages immersive technology to transform the workplace, this is something I think a lot about. Ultimately, I believe technology does lie at the heart of the future of work, but it’s not going to completely take over. Instead of using technology to replace humans, employers will focus on integrating technology and making it invisible in our day-to-day work. Technology will empower human connections, break down the barriers between people and data, and allow for more flexible workplaces.
Focusing on this technological innovation, here are five often overlooked factors that will shape how we experience work in the future:
1. Human-to-human communication will improve
Niney-five percent of organizations still use email as their primary method of communication, but this won’t always be the case. Forward-looking companies are exploring the next generation of collaborative technologies like software with built-in assistive artificial intelligence (AI), cloud-based storage and app delivery, and virtual reality.
For example, Cisco recently added AI features to its Webex conferencing tool that enhance human-to-human communication. These new capabilities — including automatic meeting startups, facial-recognition, automated mute suggestions for noisy participants and more — modernize collaboration in meetings, making communication between team members more efficient and streamlined.
This next wave of technological innovation in workplace tools will refocus us on what makes humans distinctively unique. This will make the connection between organizations and their employees more seamless than ever, enabling more effective communication, better collaboration, increased transparency and faster access to information. Instead of a huge portion of our days being focused on coordination, we will spend more time utilizing our deductive skills, our emotional intelligence and our abstract thinking.
A 2018 study found a significant flexibility gap in the modern workforce: 96% of workers need flexible work environments, but only 47% reported their employer offers the flexibility they need. Time, money and geography all stand in the way of a truly collaborative work environment.
However, this gap will shrink as asynchronous work environments, collaboration rooms with predictive technologies, improved remote security tools and long-distance communication platforms allow people to work together from different locations. For example, companies like Oktaand Atlassian are enabling better access to apps and collaboration tools across organizations and teams. Increased flexibility of this nature will give rise to more gig workers (36% of American workers are already part of the gig economy) and more people working while traveling or living abroad.
3. Soft skills will emerge as more important than ever
As the working world becomes more automated and technical, employees will need to focus on developing soft skills, which are applicable across multiple roles and can unlock exponential career and personal growth. Automation continues to eat away at the process-oriented jobs traditionally done by humans. As a result, excellent soft skills — such as communication, collaboration and leadership — will be required, not optional, and will be the tools employees rely on to navigate the workplace and their careers.
Today, employees put a heavy focus on training for hard skills (such as learning how to use specific software). This type of training is often limited to one job or role and can quickly become dated. Employees with adaptable skill sets can more easily work in any environment, empowering them to advance regardless of how technology evolves around them.
4. Workplaces will adopt continuous, democratized learning and training
When it comes to training, many employers offer one-time courses for employees at the start of a new position. While this is helpful in the short term, ad hoc training doesn’t allow for the same level of future growth as a continuous learning model. With ongoing training, employees can move horizontally and add new skills as they progress through their careers, creating a hyper-agile workforce.
By pairing a continuous learning philosophy with agile training technologies — such as mixed reality, interactive video conferencing and real-time feedback systems — employers will be able to merge the linear process of learning new skills with day-to-day work. With more flexible and realistic training tools, the trainee is free to focus entirely on developing new skills and enhancing their knowledge.
5. Career paths will become nonlinear
Today, career paths follow a linear model, with employees progressing up a traditional corporate ladder. But looking forward, companies will invest in adaptable, flexible personalities. Instead of seeking out employees with specific hard skills, employers will look for hires who are ready and able to learn. As a result, employees will be able to find more tailored, custom roles. Through AI-backed workplace matchmaking software like Pymetrics, employers and employees will be able to better align skill sets and purpose to job opportunities, resulting in careers more catered to people’s personalities and interests.
The future of work has become somewhat of a buzz term, but fundamentally, it’s about how technology will impact the experiences offered by organizations, both internally to their employees and externally to their customers. Connected, more efficient technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence will allow companies to deliver products and services with greatly improved customer experience. These same technologies will power the employee experience of the future as companies use them to align with workforce expectations through improved training and more flexibility in the workplace. While the future of work will certainly be driven by technology, people and the human experience are in the driver’s seat.