The last two years have been unsettling in multiple ways and—in view of Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine—more changes could be around the corner. It seems we will need to reconsider daily routines, business practices and long-term expectations on a regular basis. What the future holds is a toss-up obviously, but long-term trends are becoming apparent. Which aspects of today’s workplace are likely to stay the same—or alternatively—change in the years ahead? Which skill sets are in demand and growing? Let’s consider the possibilities…
Remote Work Comes Out of the Shadows
As millions of employees across the globe hunkered down at home to work due to stay-at-home orders, the number of online collaboration tools exploded to meet the need. The platform Zoom was downloaded 450 million times in 2020. What was surprising was that after a period of adjustment, many employers made the pleasant discovery that with adequate preparation and the right set of conditions, online meetings could ACTUALLY work. Work could get done and—to everyone’s surprise—new levels of productivity could even be achieved. Online collaborative platforms will continue to grow, offer additional services, and become more specialized as work teams continue to convene online in the months and years to come.
Whether remote work is feasible or not depends on several factors, the main criterion being the character of work responsibilities. But remote work is undoubtedly in the future mix of acceptable arrangements. More and more employers are willing to judge employees on job performance, not whether they are physically at the office.
Tech Tools Chip Away at Routine Tasks
Technology continues to grow more sophisticated and offer an ever-broadening array of tools. However, contrary to what many have feared, instead of replacing employees, technology is more likely to take over a task—routine engineering calculations, for example—rather than the higher-level, nuanced analysis often required of professionals. Much like the time-efficient services of a highly skilled personal assistant, the best use of technology complements what we do. It is quick to learn and adapt to ways that works best for us. Even with all the strides that have been made so far with AI and machine learning, robots are still far from making complex decisions. Andrew MacAfee of MIT points out that “machines are demonstrating skills that they never had before.” This is true, but machines are still far from being human. Let’s keep it that way for a while.
Collaborate, Lead and Adapt—Skills that Are More Important Than Ever
As employees move to remote workstations, the emphasis on teamwork and “people” skills accelerates. In fact, excellent communication and interpersonal skills become non-negotiables in the years ahead. Collaboration between individuals, teams and departments is how the best companies work and will continue to work in years to come. Automation and remote workstations may increase within a company, but so too does the need for invaluable “people” skills.
The pandemic managed to shock us into reevaluating our routines. Above all, the adaptive talents of our employees are more important than ever. “Upskilling” is a very real and relevant talent. If the future is anything like the recent past, circumstances can change quickly, and job positions can change with them. The best employees are the ones that are quick to adapt—and lead if necessary—in a way Mike Walsh of MIT refers to as “cognitive flexibility.” The rapidity with which global economies were affected by the pandemic meant the most valuable employees were the ones that were creative, quick to act, and quick to develop or draw on skills essential for that unique moment.
In the future we will likely move away from fixed roles and learn to develop skill sets and mind sets and to think as groups, maximizing the combined resources of a team. As important as the individual spirit is, the team rules.