Future of Work – Session II

unicorn

It’s a very interesting time. But isn’t it always? Like every other generation before us, we believe that we are living in the most rapidly changing time in the history of mankind. External forces have culminated in this very moment, causing a radical paradigm shift in the world of work, and well, just about everything else.  Our sense of time is frighteningly hitched to the present as the ongoing wow happens right now. Miraculously, it all fits so nicely with our vision for the future.

In the spirit of teasing out this broad assertion, we explored the changing world of work. At our first public discussion we invited leaders from creative agencies, incubators and startups to challenge preconceptions and propose a variety of future visions.

This time round we wanted to advance the conversation with a particular focus on the creative freelancer. When asked what they were doing this time last year, the perplexing looks from the crowd at Shoreditch House were ubiquitous.  They didn’t immediately recall because for one thing they had worked on so many more interesting and relevant things since then.  The world, it seems, is spinning that fast.

As our sense of time is hitched to the present, together with Jody Orsborn (The BackScratchers), Erik Rodin (Hyper Island) and Babycakes Romero – we took a take step back, and gazed into the crystal ball to see what might lay ahead.  Here are some highlights:

Burst Working

Burst working is going to become increasingly popular as we actively shift our mindset from working around the clock to that of intermittent bursts with intense focus. Productivity will prevail over presenteeism.  This sustained and intense mode of working may often be followed with unplugging in the form of some kind of digital detox.  The practice either manifests itself as a type of bi-polar work ethic or an empowering way to be filled with a continual sense of possibility.

Mechanical Minds

Fifty percent of the world’s jobs are set to be automated within the next two decades.  Ya, wow. That is pure mechanical muscle bullying its way into any and every job that can be automated – think Sainsbury’s self-checkout bots, only on steroids.

It’s thinking computers however, or mechanical minds, that should really be the cause for concern. Unlike their lesser evolved siblings, these machines actually learn.  They make decisions, they can feel. The next generation of deep learning machines are so damn smart, they can even programme themselves.  A future where this sort of intelligence is commonplace means a total re-imagining of what our workplace might look like.

Trends

Jody from The Backscratchers laid it down on how the advertising and media agencies are going through a transformation and what trends we might see emerge in this space:

  • Agencies and brands are needing to be experts at everything
    Emphasis on specialists although still need mult-taskers.  More collaborations with freelancers and taking more chances on lesser known entities.
  • A restructuring of teams to ensure the right talent is working on the right projects
    More flexible labour. Driven from the top with resistance from middle management
  • Automating everything that can be automated
    Roles will change while others become obsolete. Less tied to one company or sector = more opportunities for freelancers to make more money.

Engagement

Eric from Hyper Island touched on his father’s generation that had jobs for life versus today’s millennial who is likely to have 12-15 jobs and 4-5 Careers in their lifetime (Source: Future of Millenial Careers).   Exploring how some companies are challenging traditional workplace practices, we can look to exemplar businesses with open salaries, impeccable customer service (check Ritz Carlton’s stuffed giraffe episode), and progressive organisational models.

One of the most interesting statistics however appears around just how unengaged we humans are at work:

 

Engagement-at-work

Source: Gallup, State of the Global Workplace

Our hunter gatherer ancestors worked an average of 15 hours a week (burst working at it’s best) while the remainder of their time was spent in leisure.  Counter this with the ultra-engaged entrepreneur or freelancer of today, who may easily work a 70 or 80 hour week just so she doesn’t have to work a 9-5.

Creative Content Producers

Future-of-Work+

Last year London based photographer, Babycakes, shot to fame with his The Death of Conversation series.  Picked up by over 150+ publications (including the BBC, Huffington Post, and Washington Post) only 3 actually offered renumeration, and no these were not the ones just mentioned, but little known independents that did so on sheer principle.

The question then is in an age when publishers increasingly expect creative content for free, how will future independent producers make a living?  Let’s be clear we are not talking about banding together to create a dubious subscription service or prancing around as an Instagram influencer.   For some, what could be involved is extending their notion of work all together in order to pay the bills.  For others, it may just be exploring craftier ways to sustain a creative practice.

As the old world barriers to publishing have crumbled, and a sea of absolute fodder continues to rush in, we jump back to that first question of what you were doing this time last year, and in its place pose: How will you distinguish yourself in the next?


Photos courtesy of:
Erik Rodin and Simon Levene

Further reading:
New Ways of Working Report
The Learning Curve
Change for Growth
Will our Future of Work, Work?
Anti-Work
Have We Reached Peak Self-Employment?
Future of Work – There’s an App for That
The End of Labour: How to Protect Workers from the Rise of Robots

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