The future of work is here. No longer are today’s businesses wondering what the future of business will look like. We know. And depending where your company is in digital transformation, you may have a lot of work to do to prepare your employees for the future of work.
Luckily, most companies today are still in a period of high transition—moving from legacy systems to the cloud, moving employees toward a data-driven culture, and figuring out how robotic process automation (RPA), AI, machine learning, and any number of other technologies fit into their enterprise. In other words: there’s still time to right the ship if you have not yet prepared your employees for the future of work. The following are a few ideas to try in 2020 as you head toward greater digital transformation in a changing work and business environment.
Accept the Change
To prepare your employees for the future of work, you first need to accept that change is coming. There is no going back from AI and automation at this point in time. Sure, certain aspects of digital transformation may change—we may move from the cloud to the edge; we may begin to use blockchain rather than some other security measures. But by and large, the horse is out of the gate with digital work culture, and your employees will learn from you and other leaders within the company how to approach it.
Upskill When Possible
Amazon recently blew the world’s collective mind when it announced it would spend $700 million to upskill 100,000 American works by 2025. Most of us would agree Amazon is a pretty successful company. So—shouldn’t we all be doing the same thing? Yes, of course—to a degree. All of us need to start thinking of ways to provide our employees with more robust technological acumen. When the employee demonstrates strong aptitude and interest in a certain technology, it would be smart to encourage and develop that skillset. Still, as presidential candidate Andrew Yang has been discussing a lot on the campaign trail, the idea that every employee can be upskilled simply isn’t realistic. Not all people are interested in technology and science. Not everyone is an engineer, and not everyone should be. In a recent Tweet, he shared, “8 percent of US jobs are in STEM fields. 92 percent are not. If someone thinks they can train 92 percent of workers for roles presently occupied by 8 percent of workers, they have a rather fanciful view of both people and work.” Regardless of where you stand on his politics, the man has a point. One of the best ways to prepare your employees for the future of work is to acknowledge the very real limits of each employee and how they will or won’t contribute to your company’s future.
Technology isn’t just there to draw you closer to your customer, although that’s a big part of it. It’s also there to improve user—and life—experience for your employees. Be open to ways that technology can allow for a more flexible work environment, including a new concept of the “workplace” itself. Let employees know that these benefits are coming thanks to the technology you are adopting. In addition, be open to freelance workers and the changing gig economy as a way to create a more agile business model. (There is a caveat, however: keep an eye out for increasing regulation of the gig economy that could make employing gig workers somewhat tricky.)
Who do you want your company to look like in the future of work? What do you want it to stand for? How do your employees feel about it? This is the perfect time to think of a new way forward as we start a new decade and prepare your employees for the future of meaningful work.
As we as people develop larger online footprints, it’s important to consider where your company stands on personal expression and social media. People’s online and physical worlds are increasingly merging. A comment left on Facebook could easily get back to your company’s doorstep, and it may not be a comment you yourself agree with. Take time to think now about how you encourage personal expression in the digital economy, and how it could impact your company’s brand.
Shepherd Your People
Lastly, shepherd your people. Know could be both excited and nervous about the future of work in front of them. They may already have fears about how AI and automation will impact them. Above all else, remember: they’re people. They need empathy and support. Talk to them about the changes to come, and embrace their concerns as if you were the one being impacted by change. After all, technology may be changing the workplace, but most people don’t leave jobs—they leave managers. Be a leader that makes them want to stay.