Over the last 5 months I’ve read numerous articles on what the new world of work is going to look like. More digital, more entrepreneurial, more home working, more flexible…. it goes on. All of the perspectives influenced by the current pandemic and shift that we have seen.

Often though I feel these are too narrow in focus on a particular topic maybe linked to the writers interests or expertise. I wonder if that poses a challenge in itself – are we thinking big enough or widely enough?

We’re following a pattern

If we look at the current trends that are showing up in global society in general, we are mirroring the trends of the 1910s-1920s:

  • a global pandemic
  • mass migration
  • economic instability resulting in rising unemployment
  • loss of global trade due to changing economic factors
  • exponential uptake in new technology
  • change of women’s role in society
  • increasing legislative regulation
  • shifting class structures
  • environmental transformation
  • change in global travel.

I am referencing nothing that is happening now; all this relates to 1918-1930 – and yet all of those are absolutely relevant today, just within an entirely different context. And the pace of change is happening much faster than back then – with media that is fuelling that shift, unlike in the 1920s.

If we extrapolate that out, then we aren’t thinking big enough. How people lived and worked in 1930 bore no resemblance to how society started the roaring 20s. Everything had changed dramatically.

Therefore we need to be much more revolutionary, as what we are seeing now in dispersed workforces, virtual working, environmental concerns, new ways of learning, skills shortages, economic depression, global migration challenges and the impact this has on society, is just the first step. It will change radically, and if we base our judgements on what we know now, and what we are seeing now, we will be left behind.

This pattern was evident in 1910s-1930, that was a repeat of the shift in the early 1800s – what makes us think the 21st century will be any different in its themes?

The Future Agenda

The Future Agenda https://www.futureagenda.org/ get together globally every 5 years to review the global trends impacting society. They cite over 50 aspects which will impact how we will be living our lives in 203050 including the rise of the east, challenges to capitalism, declining government influence, mega cities, deeper collaboration, everything connected, imbalanced population growth, global skills concentration, the freelance economy, privacy regulation etc. These are just some of things that will impact society.

We need to look at all of these, and understand how these can be extrapolated in different aspects of the workplace, and different interpretations of what a workplace means across all the permutations of business as we know it.

4 worlds of work

PWC in their Workforce of the Future report https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/services/people-organisation/publications/workforce-of-the-future.html probably give the most compelling interpretation of this I have seen, and one that can get us to start thinking that a 1 size fits all approach is pointless, as it doesn’t help business professionals with the challenges and diversity they will be facing. PWC cite 4 potential key worlds of work:

– The Red world: where Innovation rules

– The Blue world: where corporate is still king and capitalism rules

– The Green world: where businesses care and corporate responsibility isn’t a nice to have, it’s an imperative

– The Yellow world: where workers come first and Artisans, makers and ‘new Worker Guilds’ thrive.

To me this seems a much more likely mix, and that we won’t just see 1 trend or outcome, and that we will see multiple, the results of which won’t fully play out until 2050 onwards.

When we are looking to the future and how we should be working and innovating, we look to our own industries and our professions for ideas, and that doesn’t bring sufficient cognitive diversity. We need to look wider, be challenged and engage in a much wider conversation, as work and business is only part of this.

As business people of any industry and profession, we need to take a more generalist than specialist perspective to bring fresh ideas into our thinking. This will enable us to transform from existing in, and managing, workplaces that resemble the beliefs and structures of the 1920s much more than they do the 2020s.

Everything has a sell by date – and everything we do we have made up; we have the power to change it! As organisational leaders and business owners we have a huge amount of flexibility to decide how we want to be working and operating. We are only governed by legislation and our own imaginations. Legacy has nothing to do with it.

It’s time to decide what is no longer fit for purpose, what no longer serves us well – and ditch it for good!

#futureofwork #leadership #diversity #management #coaching

This article was orginally published in the CIPD Future of Work Hakathon.

Annabel Graham is an executive and team coach and leadership facilitator working with individuals and organisations. Find out more at www.successfultraining.co.uk and “The Being Leader” on all your favourite podcast channels.