24 Mar 2021

The future of work is humanism

If you’ve been living under a rock, you might not have heard of automated intelligence, machine learning, robotic process automation and all those other funky terms that make us feel the sky is falling in and the world is on the precipice of huge disruption by automation technologies.

There is no denying that change is on its way and business owners are being urged to look at how they can embrace this new world. To be fair, society and communities have always looked for improvement – faster X, quicker Y, less expenses etc. This has been the norm for centuries. However, as a people and culture practitioner, I ask myself what has been at the centre of evolution and change over the all these years? Humans. Yep, us lot.

I was listening to the radio the other day, and a significant piece of research has shown that millennials now have the highest rate of “loneliness” compared with all the other generations. Hard to believe when you see how many likes and followers this generation has, but ultimately how many real friends do they have? The research shows that not as many as they would like. I appreciate that work is not about friendship necessarily, but it did make me reflect on the fact that irrespective of technology, automation, robotics etc, people will always crave human connectedness in some shape or form. I firmly believe this will hold the future of work in good stead. No matter what comes our way from a technological perspective, we will always seek connection.

So how should we as business owners, and human beings, prepare for the future of work, while embracing our need to connect with other humans? The future of work is not to replace humans so we must advocate a human-centred design approach to the big trends that are observed in the field of “work”. Specifically, the view that long-term job stability as the norm is changing. The typical 9-5 is not as attractive as it used to be and having two to three jobs in your lifetime will end. We need to encourage people to prepare for increasing disruption and adaptability. We also know there is a huge rise in independent workers or individuals who will actively search for work in non-standard employment. Lastly, there is an epidemic of illness (including depression and anxiety) which can be traced to root causes of deep social isolation and disconnection from meaningful contribution to the world.

Knowing these factors – what can you do? Personally, I think the key is to think about what it means to do the really human things. How do we innovate; how can we stay curious and experiment? How do we practise kindness and humility on a daily basis? How do we improve relationships with others and increase trust? These are things that automation and technology won’t be able to do (well for now at least!) that truly makes us human. Do what you can do to diversify your skillset. Develop skills in whatever area you want to, but make sure they are adding to your existing portfolio of skills and capabilities. Talk to people – don’t hide behind a computer. Show empathy, be inclusive and, where possible, leave your personal biases and judgements at the door. In the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi, consider this: “The greatness of humanity is not in being human, but in being humane”.