Ruminations on the Future of Work

Monday morning: Your eyes open and you look at your phone. (Some things never change.) It’s 7:32 a.m.

Fifteen years ago, if you had awakened at such a late hour, you would have rushed out the door in a frenzy. Your normally stressful one-hour commute would have been downright hellish.

Those days have long passed.

You don’t trek into the office every day — nor do many of your colleagues for that matter. In fact, many of them live a few hours away from your company’s nominal headquarters, often in low-cost or even exotic locations. They make the big trip only once in a while, usually for important meetings. Where most employees work, however, represents just the tip of the iceberg. On many levels, 2028 work life barely resembles its 2018 counterpart.

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Your collaboration tools and productivity software collectively learn your personal patterns, preferences, and idiosyncrasies. (You often think about how much you feel like Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Spike Jonze’s prescient 2013 film Her.) Based upon your location, it knows how and when to alert you — and when to let you focus. In this case, because you’re at home, it knows that you like to get your morning run in before starting your day. Of course, the application notifies you of truly urgent matters — and not simply because a colleague has used that word in the subject line of his late-night e-mail. Come to think of it, you can’t remember the last time that you received an internal email.

You finish your run and approach your computer. (Yeah, they still exist, although you are plenty productive while you’re away from your keyboard.) You view your calendar, but you didn’t actually schedule any of your appointments. Neither did your assistant — a job that went the way of the Dodo a long time ago. To call your scheduling software smart would be an understatement by today’s standards.

Your applications all seamlessly communicate with each other. For example, you and several people at different companies need to discuss a potential partnership. Rather than manually suggesting times, your scheduling software automatically finds mutually convenient times, books the appointment, and reserves the room — whether virtual, physical, or a bit of both. Your meeting is set for 10:30 a.m. No need to invite a notetaker. Software will record the meeting and send you accurate transcriptions a few minutes after it ends. You can also listen to the call in any language you like.

Your calendar dynamically blocks times of the day and week for you based upon a number of factors: when you are most productive, other tasks that you need to complete, industry events, and more. In fact, it even recommends relevant articles to you that you would otherwise have missed. For instance, before a performance review, it suggests new research on the best way to hold difficult conversations with Millennials who aren’t up to snuff.

You notice a 1:30 p.m. meeting with Gary — one of your direct reports. He sells widgets for your company. Like all salespeople, he conducts his calls via Zoom. Gary’s numbers have been dropping as of late, and you know why: Zoom’s software has noticed that he is talking to prospects far more than he is listening to them — a big no-no. What’s more, he is ignoring helpful prompts that close sales more than 70 percent of the time.

Speaking of data, it permeates almost every aspect of your job. Yes, you still need to make judgment calls, but analytics informs just about all of your decisions. Sophisticated dashboards alert you to events that warrant your immediate attention. You can’t recall the last time that you had to hunt down basic product, employee, or vendor information or ask colleagues to send you a spreadsheet.

You’ll rarely find any appointments on your calendar from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. This is a feature, not a bug. Your software knows that you aren’t terribly productive during that time. You need to recharge your batteries.

Over the course of the day, you will still use essential enterprise systems, but in a different way.

Over the course of the day, you will still use essential enterprise systems, but in a different way. Your firm’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems rely upon extensive automation. Long gone are the days of manually approving requisitions, invoices, and your employees’ vacation requests.

Sure, you’ll still need to perform searches and look a few things up, but you spend a fraction of the time that you used to. For instance, you need to find someone inside the company with a very specific set of skills, to paraphrase Liam Neeson’s famous Taken line. You wouldn’t dream of sending a mass email or even a message to a channel in your collaboration software. You simply speak into your tablet or computer. Within seconds, your company’s software recommends the top three people who can help you as well as their availability.

This does not mean that your normal workday is entirely structured. Far from it. Your applications will alert you of key events — and way beyond the simple reminders of today. Expect valuable and timely advice on how to do your job. Ditto for what behavioral economists call nudges. Many times, you’ll receive answers to questions that you didn’t even think to ask. Years ago, you marveled at these insightful suggestions. Now, you take them for granted.

Welcome to the future of work.

Written by

Keynote speaker, trainer, advisor, recovering college professor, and award-winning author of ten books. Latest: Slack For Dummies and Zoom For Dummies.

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