Editorial: Time for action and experimentation Deloitte Review, issue 21

​Every worker and every leader will need to prepare and make choices about how to act when faced with the new and the uncertain. How will we choose to navigate the future of work in the years and decades ahead?

Jeff Schwartz

Headlines attract clicks and sell newspapers, but they don’t always provide a nuanced view of the topic at hand. So I’ve found it to be with the future of work. Most of the media coverage I’ve seen on the subject focuses on the rise of the robots—everything from “Robots will take our jobs, how terrible!” to (slightly less prevalent) “Robots will free us from drudgery, how wonderful!” Lost in the noise is a recognition that the future of work involves a much broader set of issues. The growth of alternative workforce arrangements, including the freelance economy and crowds, is one. The evolution of talent and customer markets based on “pull” rather than “push” is another. And, yes, the accelerating use of robotics, cognitive technologies, and artificial intelligence in the workplace is still another—though one whose impact will almost certainly be more complex than many foresee.

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Given the impact, speed, and pervasiveness of these developments, it’s time to move beyond the headlines to a conversation that’s less about predicting and more about navigating the future of work. The need goes beyond understanding how jobs and work will change in the future; we should also consider what we can do to manage and, ideally, benefit from these changes today and in the coming years. Questions to ask ourselves as workers, as employers, and as a society include:

  • How can we enable people to engage in the lifelong learning that will likely be necessary to remain productive for an extended working lifetime?
  • How do we reengineer work and jobs in an era of rapidly advancing artificial intelligence?
  • How will we use new tools and technologies, such as augmented reality, to reshape the way we work?
  • As industries evolve and converge, how will jobs and work change as well?
  • How can an organization manage its culture when a growing proportion of work is done off company premises and/or by freelancers and independent contractors?
  • If every company, in some sense, is a technology company, what tech skills will workers need?

At the center of this discussion is a massive transformation agenda for every individual, business, and government at all levels. How can we adapt to create meaningful work, jobs, and careers for ourselves, our employees, and our citizens?

We must surely adapt. The future of work is itself only part of a larger set of transformations on the horizon. These include the growth of the digital enterprise, the emergence of network- and team-based organizations, the deliberate design of customer and employee experiences, and new ways of understanding and managing the risks and costs of labor in business. To deal with the scope of these changes requires a refreshed conversation that starts with understanding how these forces and opportunities interact, not as threads, but as part of a larger fabric.

It’s time to focus on aligning priorities and actions in an age of experimentation. Every worker and every leader will need to prepare and make choices about how to act when faced with the new and the uncertain. How will we choose to navigate the future of work in the years and decades ahead?