Work isn‚Äôt working. We all love to hate our jobs. We wallow in daily mediocrity and are¬†fed up with the stifling bureaucracy that surrounds¬†our jobs. Work is no longer interesting. It¬†no longer satisfies employees, makes Millenials more defiant, and retirement is considered as the only raison d’√™tre.

Work through passion 

We’re used to looking at work as an awful and painful effort. Even the word labour (from Latin labor) means exertion, struggle, and childbirth! But the contemporary age is trying to see work in a new light, as something that contributes to personal happiness and not just a pursuit to put bread on the table. This topic has been broached by French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, who suggested that work could take on new meaning with the development of technologies and increasing scarcity of jobs. Several studies have found that Generation Z is enthusiastic about startups. In fact, according to CNN, a whopping 55% of Gen Z’ers were eager to start their own company. Startups are considered an ideal and transform an individual’s work, something big companies can no longer offer. Young workers today are eager to bring passion back into their work.  

They deserve better 

The end of the golden age of industrialisation and the emergence of new human needs are at a crossroads today. This raises several questions. What will work look like in the future? What challenges must we overcome to go beyond the current work model?

Needless to say, the biggest challenge related to work stems from the structural problem of unemployment. The European Union unemployment rate is languishing at 10%; the 20th century’s full employment era is a distant dream today. In developed countries, politicians of all stripes are looking into this problem and are not sure whether to make the job market more secure or flexible.

In addition to these political signals, there is also disillusionment with traditional companies. The younger generation fears today’s lack of job security and often feels neglected; in 2014, the number of part-time and fixed-term contracts (49.6% of the working population in the Netherlands and 28.3% of the working population in Poland, respectively) have reached new heights worldwide. This disillusionment, theorized in Douglas Coupland’s novel Generation A, is manifested across social networks. Workforces around the world are standing up for themselves and protesting against corporate abuse, an example being the French social movement On vaut mieux que ça (We are worth more than this).  

This disillusionment has led to the rise of new approaches, which separates work and company. According to the Intuit report, 40% of workers in the United States, roughly 60 million people, will be freelancers by 2020. These new professionals will, without a doubt, depend on digital technologies: freelance marketplaces are aplenty, for example, Upwork. The possibilities today are endless; working for a company is no longer the only available option.

In Japan, the world’s first robot-run farm produces 50,000 lettuces per day

In this day and age, individuals are likely to place their aspirations at the heart of their professional lives and balance out their power relationships with companies. Companies that neglect these signals are bound to face new difficulties: they risk employee disengagement and disillusionment. Disengagement is defined as the loss of the emotional ties that individuals maintain with their companies. This consists of loss of interest, fatigue, and lack of motivation. According to Gallup, disengagement costs American companies anywhere from 450 to 550 billion dollars per year. A recent study of theirs estimates that about 87% of employees worldwide feel disengaged from their jobs. 

At the same time¬†the¬†robot revolution, the result of automation and robotization,¬†is under way.¬†The¬†global industrial robotics market¬†should attain a value of 79.58 billion dollars by 2022.¬†According to¬†various studies, 40%-60% of a job can be automated¬†‚ÄstChinese¬†TV station¬†Shanghai Dragon TV¬†replaced its meteorologist¬†with¬†artificial¬†intelligence; in¬†Japan, the world‚Äôs first robot-run farm¬†produces 50,000 lettuces per day.¬†Contrary to what¬†Josef Engelberger,¬†the father of robotics,¬†imagined,¬†this revolution will affect all jobs, from the simplest to the most complex ones. Robots already assist surgeons and are also learning to become¬†journalists.¬†¬†

More time for creativity tomorrow? 

We should stop looking at automation as a threat. We have to keep in mind that humans created robots as a way to free humankind. 

In the future, work must allow everyone to fulfil their personal ambition, and also contribute to the polis or society. This is illustrated by philosopher Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition, where she describes the vita activa and its three components: labour, work, and action. According to Arendt, vocation is the result of the capacity of humans to express their individuality, uniqueness, and talents.

The challenge lies in identifying and
honing our talents

For each one of us, the challenge lies in identifying¬†and honing¬†our talents. This is probably the¬†main¬†role that managers and HR must take on in the future,¬†guiding employees in the¬†process.¬†But this isn‚Äôt enough. Just as how Professor Xavier tries¬†to determine¬†the potential of each of his mutants in X-men,¬†one must match their own talents with those of others to¬†successfully carry out a project. Human Resources must move away from a competition-based model to a more collaboration-based model¬†for¬†employees. Initiatives such as this are already in place in the¬†corporate¬†world. In addition to Procter & Gamble‚Äôs¬†innovation platform,¬†Connect & Develop, France¬†has brought together¬†Human Resources agents¬†with¬†Lab RH,¬†which¬†claims¬†to be the ‚Äúcollective lab of HR innovation agents‚ÄĚ.¬†This¬†large panel of HR agents (some even¬†being¬†competitors)¬†encourages¬†the exchange of¬†ideas to improve the¬†HR¬†industry.¬†¬†

Finally, individuals will be led to work on themselves¬†‚Ästthe¬†robot revolution will see to that.¬†In¬†How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day,¬†author¬†Michael J. Gelb¬†explains¬†that individuals of the future must be¬†both¬†creative and creators.¬†Da¬†Vinci, the first¬†slasher¬†in history, had multiple talents:¬†he was an artist, inventor, architect, and philosopher, among¬†many¬†other things.¬†Individuals will have to get their creative juices flowing, as all repetitive and deterministic tasks will be carried out by robots. They will have to be creators,¬†as¬†data¬†proliferation will compel them to stop repeating information and encourage knowledge¬†creation.¬†¬†

This raises some burning questions: Can everyone be creative? Can everyone create something that is useful for the community? And finally, how can artificial intelligence address human shortcomings?  

The three ‚ÄúW‚Äôs‚Ä̬†¬†

How do we go from work that is beset by automation, creates disillusionment and disengagement, to collaborative and creative work? The answer lies in rethinking our vision of the three pillars of work: workforce, workflow and workspace.  

Workforce: Moving towards a sharing economy 

Human resources have¬†changed.¬†A¬†company no longer ‚Äúhas‚Ä̬†a workforce. From now on, talents will choose to contribute collectively to a project that will be part of¬†their¬†vocation. According to Philippe Honigman, who specialised in decentralising work in the Backfeed project, 40% of jobs will be non-salaried by 2020. The HR of the future will have to become casting agents, with HRD playing the role of the casting director. A dream team will be decided upon for each new project. Consequently, the challenge lies in engaging and rallying individuals and¬†overcoming the short-lived nature of a team, while compensation takes a back seat when choosing a project. Some companies have already¬†shifted¬†to this model. For example, Pixar¬†puts together¬†a new team for every film. The director selects team members according to their¬†varying¬†skills: artists, musicians, graphic designers, etc. Everything is decentralised.¬†The¬†Brain Trust¬†team, which is made up of several senior directors and co-founders, oversees development on all movies and deals with any problems that may arise.¬†

Workflow: An HR blockchain

All the previously mentioned changes have one goal in common: empowering individuals. The digital world helps better share skills and power. We are in the process of shifting from a vertical hierarchical model to a more horizontal one. As Tim O’Reilly puts it, platforms are replacing the top-down hierarchy with flat networks that are coordinated by software. For this, the blockchain opens up a fresh perspective and may be an initial response to the following question: How will we collectively interact as part of our work in the future? 

Blockchain, closely related to Bitcoin, is a storage and data transmission low-cost technology, which is decentralised and completely secure.¬†It is a database to build consensus without third¬†parties or regulatory authorities. From a Human Resources point of view, blockchain encourages thinking about the company of the future. Seeing as wage labour is coming to an end and that permanent contracts are¬†essentially¬†extinct, how can we get individuals to¬†interact¬†when we have no authority over them, whether in terms of their timing, their space, or the way they work? By letting go and giving them more authority. Several initiatives are already¬†being undertaken, especially¬†by¬†Backfeed¬†and¬†Accor, who launched a¬†‚ÄúShadow Comex‚Ä̬†in January 2016. Ten days¬†prior to¬†the real executive board¬†meeting, a group of 11 young employees gather to discuss digital technology and make some¬†suggestions.¬†¬†

These new organisations also reflect a paradigm change in the reward system. As¬†previously mentioned, employees no longer work just to¬†bring home the bacon.¬†A¬†recent¬†Unify survey¬†revealed that¬†43% of employees would choose¬†‚Äúflex work over pay raise‚ÄĚ. Several startups today¬†also¬†offer unlimited leaves. Blockchain allows for creating flexible employees who are¬†financially less dependent¬†on the company.¬†¬†

Workspace: The era of asynchronous work  

We find this¬†freedom in the spatio-temporal component of work. We have¬†fully embraced¬†the era of asynchronous work. Spatio-temporal barriers have been broken down and the¬†an employee‚Äôs¬†personal-professional¬†relationships are increasingly intertwined. Individuals will now choose when and how to work.¬†We‚Äôve come¬†a long way from the shackles of company policies. For example,¬†Github, a collaborative platform for developers, already operates without¬†set working hours. The company can no longer¬†make¬†their employees stay at¬†work¬†from 9:00 to 19:00. This new model is also the answer to a more serious problem: work doesn’t happen at work. Interruptions¬†in¬†the workplace¬†are¬†a real issue‚ÄĒemployees¬†lose¬†between 3 and 5 hours¬†of productivity¬†per day. The workspace will now be defined by¬†the merging of, synchronous or asynchronous, real or virtual,¬†group¬†contributions to pursue a common goal over a given period of time.¬†In this respect, the notion of¬†a ‚Äúthird place‚Ä̬†is interesting:¬†a third place is a¬†place where individuals go to work because they feel better there than in their cubicles¬†(caf√©s, libraries, coworking spaces, fablabs, etc.). It is a neutral place¬†that is agreed upon¬†by everyone and must be¬†taken into consideration¬†in the office layout. Maya Design,¬†a New York-based agency, has created ‚Äúneighbourhoods‚ÄĚ, or workspaces,¬†that bring together individuals from different departments in order to encourage collaboration. Finally, a workspace is no longer a place, it is the road we take to attain a common goal.¬†¬†

Changing your point of view 

Unemployment, digital revolution, collaboration, and empowerment of individuals are all factors that relentlessly push us to rebuild our view of work. The good news is that work as we know it will disappear and make way for an opportunity to successfully pursue and fulfil our calling. Instead of working to live, it is high time to reverse the trend and start living to work!