When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none.  We’ve previously explored this in our ‘Future of Work’ series, and the conversation about where and also how we work continues to run as organisations and their employees navigate and negotiate ‘what’s next’.

But what is next?

Authority magazine, the makers behind content platform Medium recently interviewed &us Partner and Coaching Director Emily Dent as part of their series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together” for her views on what the future of work holds.

What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?

The future is anyone’s to predict, and a lot can happen in 15 years that will shift the world one way or another. Things are coming down the tunnel at us at warp speed, and are already impacting the employer-employee relationship, shifting market paradigms, totally changing the way people buy everything. These things are well understood, but most large organisations are still not set up to withstand the increasing earthquakes and aftereffects we’ll experience in our lifetimes.

If you want to survive as an organisation, it is mission critical that you rethink the way you are structured, the skills you need in-house, and the systems and processes you have so that you are capable of both pivoting away from disaster and quickly capitalising on opportunity. It’s why the work we do adds real value because it helps organisations build their muscles for resilience, flexibility and adaptability and flex them in their everyday working practices.

Business agility will become even more essential in the next 3 years, let alone the next 15. 

If you want to survive as an organisation, it is mission critical that you rethink the way you are structured, the skills you need in-house, and the systems and processes you have

The choice as to whether a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?

Follow your passions. Sometimes you need a degree to give you the technical skills, licenses or — equally valid — networks to do what you really love. More often than not these days you don’t.

Increasingly, apprenticeships are becoming a viable option for all sorts of jobs, so don’t be afraid to investigate what’s on offer outside a classic university education.

Finally, it’s always who you know, not what you know. Do anything you can to build yourself connections and new networks. Ask for help. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.

In spite of the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding employment that fits their talents and interests?

I think it’s about thinking laterally. We need to stop thinking about careers as ladders, and start thinking about them as adventures. Very few talents and interests are innate. It’s more likely about exposure. So try stuff, work hard to bank the learning, be patient and seek mentors. Don’t be afraid to move when you feel there’s a learning opportunity worth jumping at.

The rarest — and most needed — skills in the future workplace will be creative design, collaboration, influence and actually getting things done at speed. It’s what we look for in potential employees at &us. Our team come from an array of traditional and non-traditional backgrounds, also meaning they bring diverse perspective.

Business agility will become even more essential in the next 3 years, let alone the next 15. 

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?

I see two things happening.

Firstly, there’s a social divide between people who can work from home and those who cannot. This will be increasingly problematic as the inequalities and privilege become more apparent.

Secondly, in the knowledge economy, we’re going to see some interesting debates about the balance of community good versus individual need. It’ll be a long time until virtual environments are good enough to replace the speed, creativity, and social bond that in person collaboration sessions generate. That means people will have to place common goals above the convenience of their own homeworking. These are the kinds of grown up negotiations we’re going to have to have. We’ve helped/are helping organisations like Novartis, HP and Macmillan navigate these kinds of conversations in a way that works for their business goals, and the kinds of people they employ.

What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? Which changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?

We need to reimagine everything about how an organisation is run and structured to thrive in the post-pandemic, increasingly volatile world. We can no longer operate in 20th century models of skills, structures, processes, or behaviours.

And frankly, I think this overhaul starts with our education systems. Unfortunately, I think organisations are going to have to take the responsibility for re-tooling their workforces fast. Learning and Development (L&D) functions will have a more central role in updating the ways of working. Getting people to forge new paths together in high ambiguity. This great re-tooling is going to be costly and uncomfortable, and there’s no shortcut.

But it is achievable — we’re helping our clients do it.

Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

The future is ours to create. And given the current failure of political systems to address some fairly fundamental issues, businesses and organisations can be a vehicle for creating a brighter future.

We’re already seeing a mass movement towards businesses not just admitting their moral responsibilities, but actually putting their money behind it. Unilever and PepsiCo’s commitment to building sustainable supply chains and materials are good examples of effort at scale to invest in doing business differently.

In addition, the cost of entry to starting a business has dramatically lowered. The biggest GDP growth is going to come from small to medium sized businesses, not unicorns. So, there’s a lot of opportunity for brave souls who think differently to use their endeavours to nudge in the right direction. As we say at &us, “Let’s make progress”.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?”

1. The rise of extreme employee individualisation.

The pandemic has totally reset the social contract between employers and employees. The shifts we see now in — admittedly mostly white collar — employee expectations; individualised benefits, healthy working conditions, more transparent pay, greater appreciation for work-life balance, non-traditional career ladders, a focus on collaborative culture — are in a pendulum swing from employer to employee and are causing great friction.

The demands of employees will continue to rise, and we will see less “company benefits” and more choose your own package. Jobs will be built around individuals skills and interests, and will be project based, not static roles. Employers will have to re-imagine their ability to meet demands of employees as they change.

2. A focus on employee UX.

Consumer facing tech is often so good, and so intuitive, and many work systems are not. They’re often clunky, opaque and require a team of in-house specialists to manage them. It means people are bogged down by tech rather than being freed by it.

Tools like Slack that are more intuitive, and focussed on making work life better, flexible working easier, and freeing people up to focus less on admin and more on high value tasks — we’ll see more of this kind of solution that thinks about the employee as the consumer, how to make their work experience better, a better UX.

3. The demand for clear purpose.

Employees demand stronger purpose-led orgs where there is continual evidence that the company is putting that above profit. It’s a clear motivating factor for recruitment and retention and organisations that get this right will see accelerated growth as these motivated and committed employees focus on their mission.

We’ve recently worked with wealth management firm Novia on just this. They’ve got ambitious growth plans and have put purpose at the heart of driving that growth. They understand that uniting their team around a clear and inspiring mission will enable them to all pull in the same direction towards those goals.

4. The demographic shift.

Declining birth rates are leading to a shift to a higher percentage of older people, seeing later and later retirement. Culture and employee expectations will need to change to accommodate this. The opportunity to harness wisdom that in previous generations was lost. 

5. Mental health/wellness as a measure/metric of employee satisfaction.

With the pressure of worrying about our physical health and the health of those around us, the coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on the world’s mental health. A recent study on COVID-19 and its impact on mental health found that more than 40% of employees feel hopeless, suffer from burnout, and battle exhaustion at work due to a continual need to adjust to a new reality.

You can read the full interview here

Learn more about Emily here