Why Most CEOs Aren’t Ready for the Future of Work

typing-robot.jpgThere is a reason why the most successful and innovative companies keep their secrets close. The amount of ground-breaking research is growing but CEOs have limited time to immerse themselves in the learning. They have companies to run. So, when it comes to preparing for the future workplace, some leaders will leave it to gut, some will put their innovation leaders in charge and hope they get it right, some will put their head in the sand, while the best and most effective leaders will get out in front of it, readying themselves for the tsunami of change heading their way.

The Connected Human

Gartner, Inc. forecasts that 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from 2015, and will reach 20.8 billion by 2020. As this connectivity increases, communication with each other, our employees and our customers will be even more nuanced.

Some futurists predict these sensors will detect deceptive activity, taking transparency in communication to a whole new level. Authenticity is already essential to leadership effectiveness, but imagine that within the next decade, each employee, manager, shareholder, and stakeholder, will become a human lie detector? The adage, “Honesty is the best policy” will take on an entirely new meaning in the workplace.

Adding “Smartness” for organizations will force us to make decisions as leaders about how integrated we want our employees to be. We’ve already witnessed the first organization to embed sensors in their employees for “increased security” but for a while now, companies have embedded sensors in employees’ wearables to allow connectivity with the rest of their devices. This allows for projects to move across meeting rooms inside specific buildings, and throughout the various countries in which they do business.

This morphing of humans into their technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) will evolve the robotics revolution. With the increasing humanization of their looks, their capabilities, and behaviors, we’re about to see a level of connection to machinery that only lived in science fiction, up until now.

When Robots Learn Emotional Intelligence

TheHenn-na Hotel in Japan is the world’s first hotel to be staffed by 90% humanoid robots and gives rise to why there may be fear of obsolescence. The robots, called “actroids,” manufactured by robot maker Kokoro, will be responsible for greeting and checking in guests, all the while establishing eye contact and responding to body language. The giant hotel chain, Starwood, introduced its robotics staff called “Botlrs”. They navigate around hotels using elevators without any humans to help them. Hospitals are using robots to deliver trays of food and drugs, clean linens, take out the trash. Home-improvement chain Lowe’s, has a robot that shows customers where items are throughout the store. And, we all know about Amazon’s love of robots. They use 45,000 robots in its warehouses to keep up with customers’ orders – an increase of 30,000 robots since 2016. The U.S. Army is reportedly considering replacing tens of thousands of soldiers with robots.

How Will This Change the Workforce?

In A Dozen Surprises About the Future of Work, Andy Hines argues, “the burden of decision making has shifted from people to software.” Since we are already highly reliant on software and data to help us make strategic decisions, this doesn’t come as a surprise. Some theorists question whether we can leverage big data in our culture strategies. I predict the opposite.

In our research at Plasticity Labs, we examine open data like weather, and analyze its impact on employee well-being. We correlate employees’ daily happiness scores to snowfall, rain, season, etc. through ODX (Open Data Exchange) and through this analysis we’ve learned that the happiness of an employee will dip by .5 points based on one additional inch of snow. We also know that Fall is the unhappiest time (surprised us!) of year for employees and summer is the happiest (didn’t surprise us!). We can drill down into the qualitative employee sentiment to shape conversations between employer and employee.

Our customers can now boost the moods of their employees working in snowy environments or during the Autumn timeframe. September specifically, is jarring for employees as they navigate the changing routines that come with the start of a new school year. This is just one small example of how big and small data can be used to improve the employee experience. I predict this assimilation of data and tying it to workforce solutions will be widely adopted as early as 2020.

The Ageless Workforce

Another area of change will be shaped by our rapid increase in population and our shifting demographics. There will be a larger younger workforce than ever before, and we’ll see a change in how the aging population feels about work and how employers are going to respond to those needs. The number of people who are 60 and older is due to rise from roughly one-in-ten today to about two-in-nine by 2050. [i]

Not only are people living longer, they’re enjoying a higher level of self-sufficiency and quality of life. Unum, an insurance provider in the UK analyzed this trend in their research paper, Future Workplace: Key trends that will affect employee wellbeing and how to prepare for them today.[ii] The ‘ageless’ workforce will experience ‘returnment’ instead of retirement. Workplace care in 2030 will mean enhancing the longevity of workers, enabling them to embrace lifelong knowledge and skills and ensuring they have the mental and physical energy to work for as long as they want to.

For some of you reading this, you may already be working deep into the future with your whitespace and innovation teams, but for the rest of you, take this as a warning sign that that the future of work is now. From the humanization of technology and the robotics revolution, to big data and employee happiness, to the ageless workforce; we can’t avoid it any longer. The world of work is changing dramatically and rapidly. And, since time travel isn’t an option (yet) you may want to consider preparing for the future now.

[i] http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/publications/files/key_findings_wpp_2015.pdf

[ii] http://resources.unum.co.uk/downloads/future-workplace.pdf



Jennifer Moss

Jennifer Moss

Jennifer Moss, author of Unlocking Happiness at Work (KoganPage), is co-founder of Plasticity Labs, a technology startup that produces software to measure organizational culture, inform leaders of their current and ongoing social/emotional state, and improve employee happiness at work. Moss is a Harvard Business Review and Huffington Post contributor and delivers talks across the world on the subject of happiness and gratitude at work (recent appearances include SXSW, TEDXWomen and the Chatelaine's W100). She was a Finalist in the Female Entrepreneur of the Year in the 11th annual Stevie Awards for Women in Business (part of the American Business Awards).

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