Hope or Hype? The Future of Work
So I read a great post by Ted Bauer and it was The Problem with the Future of Work. Found here: http://thecontextofthings.com/2016/02/25/the-problem-with-future-of-work-discussions/?utm_content=buffer67e91&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
A really good piece I thought – there is a lot of utopian guff about the future of work and I admit, I add to it.
I was challenged by the post – it even got me a little annoyed because Ted had burst some of my bubbles a bit. He’s entitled to do that though and I think it’s good people help me keep a sense check on a wildly optimistic view of the future. And that happened recently to me too. Someone very senior on a panel said “of course Perry’s right about the things he talks about with self-organising teams being successful but he’s wildly optimistic about it becoming a norm and taking over our workplaces.” I didn’t disagree – it was an opinion and I respected it. I couldn’t counteract it as I didn’t have evidence – in fact there is no evidence to prove or disprove that this will or won’t be the norm. There is evidence of the likelihood of this not being a norm but that’s now – not in the future.
We don’t know what the future will bring or indeed when that will arrive. Today is the future of yesterday. We didn’t know exactly what our day would bring. It’s happening now and so the data couldn’t have predicted everything that did happen even if it got some of it right.
When will the future of work arrive? Well, I guess sooner or later. I rarely stick a stake in the ground but I think that in 10 years time, there will be a lot we talk about now as the future, that has become a norm. So the future will have arrived. And there’ll be another future of work people will talk about. And so it repeats.
Anyway, I have an ideological view of the future. I don’t buy the dystopian version at all – though I like the caution and consideration I get about the future of work when I get sceptics and deniers all coming at me with their rational sense of reasoning and the like.
I have even described myself as a hopeless romantic about the future of work. Except that’s doing me a massive disservice. I am not hopeless at all I am hopeful. Full of hope and to some, that’s a problem. It’s the let-down, the come-down the absolute earth-shattering reality of things they want to protect me from. Well I’m 48 years old, and still full of hope. I don’t think I’m about to run out of it any time soon and so thanks for your concern.
I need hope. I live for hope. And I think hope lives within me. I am romantic about the future of work because I believe in better. Not the Sky strapline per se, but I believe that there is ALWAYS better to be had. Better is quite a broad term I accept that, but I think you get my drift. Better at, better for, better than before.
So the future of work will be better. I believe we’re headed towards a series of shifts that in those 10 years I mentioned we’ll have better work. Do I think work is better than 10 years ago? From a personal perspective, totally. From a wider perspective? I think mostly so. We’re safer at work; we’re rewarded in a wider range of ways. We’re able to be more flexible. We’re able to develop. We’re able to create better lives for ourselves. Pretty much anyway. The 10 years ago me would loved what I have now, but then. I didn’t even know I needed some of the things I now need from a fulfilling working life.
What was my prediction 10 years ago for my working future? It was to have more opportunity; influence; be more learned; be more adaptable. I didn’t have a future “role” I wanted. I had hope then and I still have it now. My future hope was I would have all these things and I have them – that’s the kind of better i believed in and have realised.
So I think I did alright in predicting my future so I now find myself having a go at predicting a wider future of work based on insight; belief; and yes, hope.
So I don’t share Ted’s view that none of the things we’re talking about the future of work resolving will shift or even disappear. With a whole lot of hope turned into action and doing, we’re going to get there. To a better future.
In the past, many employers weren’t good at their duty of care for their people – some were – a lot weren’t. So people incurred injuries and poor conditions and some people unfortunately died through their work. We’ve now seen most working conditions safer and more humane. Legislation and societal pressures changed those dynamics and those similar forces can and will change some of what work needs for that future (even the version many of us utopian “thought leaders” share so avidly).
Sharing economy – hopeful. Distribution of assets, wealth and opportunity. OK, not perfect and not about to upend other economic models overnight but it’s giving rise to a lot of different opportunities and to some, is a future for them.
Self-organised teams – hopeful. Distribution of power, meaningful working and choice. Again, not for everyone and not solely going to destroy the hierarchy overnight but I hear more and more examples of this being more than one or two random outlier companies but enough to get more people adapting and taking on some or all of the traits of self-organised teams.
Flexible working – hopeful. Distribution of the “workforce” to anywhere there’s an internet connection and at variable times. Well this one we all recognise despite the fact there are still masses who squeeze themselves onto trains and into cars stuck in traffic jams.
I could go on. So the future of work I predict / narrate / provoke thoughts about is something I believe in, am hopeful for and genuinely feel is coming. It’s not just MY future of work this time unlike 10 years ago; for I now believe that MY work exists to help make work better for everyone. Yes you read that right – I do what I do so it’s better for me AND all of you.
And that’s why I believe we will see some upending of bureaucracy, leadership, and structures. Why we will see some eradication of toxic behaviours, fear-based controlism and archaic procedures.
There would have been men in the 1880s who would have said “the future of democracy will always be down to us – the menfolk”. And then through the Suffragette movement, women were given the vote in the UK.
So this future hope / change thing can happen. OK that’s one isolated example amongst many that have never happened but to live without hope? To shoot down others hopes as wildly optimistic based on YOUR judgement and lens on the world? To decry the trends and be hip by being anti-trendy isn’t being that helpful at all in my view.
Where’s the evidence that this future will happen? Well there isn’t any because it hasn’t happened yet. There are indicators and some evidence based examples we can use to scenario plan, model and create. So we have to rely on some data; some feelings; some beliefs and yes, some hope.
I think hope comes with baggage – sure. I remember the venerable Dean Royles saying to me about his love of Sheffield United FC that it’s the losing and the ups and downs he can take – it’s the hope that makes it so hard. As a Northampton Town fan I can empathise. Yet here I sit writing this out having realised a hope of mine – that my team would win the league.
So the baggage is more/all about your view on the world. My hope comes with letdowns sure. But in all honesty, most of what I hope will happen does – in some shape or form.
Entrepreneurs are hopeful. They hope their venture will turn into a success. Inventors are hopeful. Explorers are hopeful. Where would the world be without these hopeful souls?
The future of work is about hope. When all the component parts of it are revered and maligned, proven or denied it’s about hope. Whether there’s hype to be found or otherwise, there’s hope.
Please don’t deny your hope, and especially not that of others through closed minds, cold hearts or stern words.
We may believe we have to stick with the forged shackles of now (and the past) as the best we’re ever going to get.
Yet a better future lies in the sustainable resource that is hope. I believe in that hype.