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How to design the future of work and education now

We need a work future in which people are engaged, productive, and feel a sense of both meaning and belonging. For that, organisations need to design human work systems and environments made for efficiency, tech-human synergy, and human flourishing

Published: Sep 28, 2022 05:19:25 PM IST
Updated: Sep 28, 2022 05:46:11 PM IST

How to design the future of work and education nowWe need a work future in which people are engaged, productive, and feel a sense of both meaning and belonging, whether people are employees or “gig” workers, work-from-office, work-from-home, or work-near-home.

The best way to predict the future is to design it.
- Buckminster Fuller


Future of Work (FoW)

What will the Future of Work be? How will we educate for it? Can we predict what’ll happen and when? A good first step might be to start with today—is today’s work really working? Do we need a change?

According to Gallup, employees who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the global economy $7.8 trillion in lost productivity. How many workers is that? A shocking 80 percent.

Are these disengaged workers happy? Apparently, not. According to CNBC, 40 percent of employees are considering quitting their jobs soon. And the US Department of Labor shares that it costs about 1/3rd of a new recruit's salary to replace an employee.

So, in short, no, it’s not entirely working, and we do need a change.

Will we work better in future?

Only if we design a better way. The industrial age management found itself amid the information age, without rethinking why we do what we do—military-style hierarchies, work cultures that separate work and life, and processes that can’t be re-engineered, because they were never engineered in the first place. They just grew. But given the figures above, they’re constraining our productivity and will surely need a re-think as we enter the creative age.

We need a work future in which people are engaged, productive, and feel a sense of both meaning and belonging, whether people are employees or “gig” workers, work-from-office, work-from-home, or work-near-home.

Employment status, work location, and how much flexibility to offer aren’t the only questions on the table today. Who will work—technology (“tech”) or human—is also at hand. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), bots, and robots are not the future. They’re today.

Much of the Covid-19 and radiology diagnostics—that we’ve needed during these hectic healthcare years since 2019—have been done by bots, powered by AI and ML. Bots can also do creative work, like writing music, and we have software that can write itself. Many of the news articles you enjoy have been written by bots. That said, we still apparently like to see human newscasters reading those bot-written reports. Is social media destined to be human-only? Not really. Lu from Magalu is an AI-enabled virtual influencer with over 31 million followers, with whom she interacts and forms relationships.

Although some once feared 45 percent of our jobs would be taken by technology (see YouTube video Humans Need Not Apply), it is now clear that tasks, not jobs, will migrate to tech. ATMs, for example, were expected to replace tellers, but we have more of them now than ever before. They just do higher-order things than counting cash.

Also read: It's time to prioritize humane workplaces — even if it means less productivity

So, we expect jobs to become more human-focused and include tasks bots are not as good at, like needs-seeking, problem-framing, and solution-design. Future skills will be needed to run today’s businesses and create tomorrow’s. And to think creatively and critically. The majority of future skills, however, can be classified as intra- and inter-personal skills, leveraging intelligent tech.

In short, dissatisfied workers, younger workers who demand meaning and flexibility, and advanced technologies are pushing employers to operate more human-centred workplaces.

So, what can you do?

To design tomorrow’s work and organisation, Design Thinking (DT) offers a proven, human-centred approach. It teaches us to find pain points/needs/desires, design radical solutions, and prototype/experiment so we “fail early to succeed sooner” (ref. David Kelly, founder of IDEO). It teaches us to seek desirability first, then work on technological feasibility and business viability.

1.    Desirable FoW - Trust your employees and equip them to experiment with their productivity, designing their work environments and processes. Further, redesign jobs into tasks-for-tech and tasks-for-humans and work with your workers to design structures and systems that support their flexible processes.
2.    Tech-Feasible FoW - Hug a bot. Put bots on your organisation chart and treat them like any other worker. Help workers understand that these “foreign” workers are not here to replace them, but to make humans more productive—which naturally will lead to higher wages. Help workers learn to understand and leverage their bot colleagues and synergise with them for maximum productivity.
3.    Viable FoW - Map your workforce today, the one you’ll need tomorrow, and road plan how you’ll get there. There’s at least one tech tool that does just that. Share the transition plan with everyone and ask people what newly-redefined work they want to do. Give them diagnostics and learning experiences to raise awareness and help them choose. Provide vision, skills, motivators, resources, and an action plan. Else, you’ll get confusion, anxiety, resistance, frustration, and false starts (in that order).

Of course, you’ll need to provide employees with education, helping them build tomorrow’s skills via integrated, lifelong work and learning, delivered with technology and people-connection, which brings us to…

Also read: A global look at the connections between happiness, income, and meaning


Future of Education (FoE)

In the industrial age, we used to train for a job, do the job, then retire and give back to society—much like Alan Loy McGinnis’ “learn, earn, and return.” The threshold between earning and returning (retirement age) was set at 65 in England because the average life expectancy was 66. It was a year to get your affairs “in order”—never intended to become 30 years of golf and bridge.

We’re now moving towards lifelong, integrated learning, earning, and returning. For some, learning gives meaning to work, but don’t forget to share why your work is more broadly important and help workers choose work that’s meaningful for them.

So, what can you do?

1.    Desirable FoE – No one wants to take 10 years to pay back student loans (in the US, some doctors are taking 35 years to pay back). Companies like Starbucks and Accenture (some locations) battle labour shortages and costs by hiring workers without degrees, providing on-the-job training, and offering full scholarships for an online degree while working part-time. You can also help workers learn the future skills you’ll need in your upcoming workforce, as well as, how to transition from today’s job to tomorrow’s. Companies like P&G connect experts worldwide (30,000 in their case) through digital infrastructures. Mentorship is also a common desire and can be facilitated with a “100 Coffees” program or networking dinners with external experts (for those pesky questions you don’t want to share with company colleagues).
2.    Tech-Feasible FoE - Integrate work and learning with online microlearning plus community. Measure your learning and development return-on-investment with 360-degree feedback before and after key learnings. Integrate digital learning with face-to-face experiences and problem-solving workshops. Use AI to teach. After all, Jill Watson (IBM’s AI) was tops in teaching and higher in empathy than her teaching-assistant peers at Georgia Institute of Technology.
3.    Viable FoE – Integrated corporate education and innovation centres are a value-creating new business model, whereby corporates fund participants to learn, solve business problems, and innovate. Businesses that provide funding keep the value created, and there’s no particular need to charge participants for the learning and working they do. Since innovation is rooted in learning, your innovation centre could be converted into a learning centre as well.

Also read: Think different — sometimes. Teams succeed when they balance creativity and focus

When will you do it?

I hesitate to predict when you’ll do these things. I was so excited to finish my doctoral thesis on managing virtual teams in 1996. With global telecommunication systems and information technology, I thought everyone would rush out with entrepreneurial spirit hiring the best talent in the world at the best price, to co-create virtually. Corporations, however, didn’t want to do any such thing, and it took a global pandemic to push us into the future.

I urge you to do it now since the pace of technology adoption is increasing. It took a century for the landline telephone to achieve household saturation. Compare that with 20 years for the mobile phone. Adopting the above technologies and shifting work to them will force us to rethink human work, whether we want to or not.

In summation

The future of work is (or should be) both extensively “techno-fied” and intensely human, designed for efficiency, tech-human synergy, and human flourishing. Since work will be more human, HR leaders will need to learn DT and use it to design human work systems and environments. Since workers will pass over some of what they do to technology, they’ll need to learn future skills, including DT. The time freed up by their tech colleagues can be employed in growing the business by seeking new needs and designing new offerings. They’ll also need an entrepreneurial mindset and intrapreneurship skills along the way.

So go ahead and predict the future, create a better one—by design.

Dr CJ Meadows - Director - i2e, The Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center, S P Jain School of Global Management. To learn more about Design Thinking, see the author’s new book The Design Thinking Workbook: Essential Skills for Creativity and Business Growth, available on Amazon. For a free multimedia intro, with videos, exercises, and community, see Design Thinking Intro, available on Gnowbe.com. For questions, you can connect with the author at drcjmeadows.com.

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