There is a lot of talk—and a lot of hand-wringing—about what the future of work will look like.
But it's not all doom and gloom for business owners—the future is in fact full of opportunity for those with their own organizations.
Influx of Contract Workers
In my experience as a futurist, I've observed that many organizations have increased their use of contract workers over the last decade.
Organizations won't replace humans, but humans will need to work side-by-side with machines on hybrid teams.
The contract workforce is a provisional group of workers who work for an organization on a non-permanent basis. (Also known as freelancers, independent professionals, temporary workers, independent contractors or consultants.)
Organizations like contract workers because they can eliminate the benefits and liability costs associated with full-time employees and they require less overhead in general. And, perhaps most critically, contract work allows companies to hire the talent they need when they need it, and from wherever they can get it.
But as a modern organization concerned about the future of work, how do you decide whether to engage contract workers, and in what capacity?
In short, you must understand what constitutes a legal contract worker and what tasks can't realistically be performed by your full-time staff.
You should also consider the drawbacks: For instance, it could be more difficult to maintain a stable culture with contract workers. You can't always dictate the rules of how and when workers do their jobs. Also, if you don't properly classify your contract workers, you could face issues with your payroll taxes.
Then, you must systematize your approach for bringing contract workers on board, so they serve as a seamless and consistent extension of your brand and full-time operations.
Rise of Flexible Scheduling
There is no doubt that today's employees want more flexibility in work scheduling than ever before. But flexwork can look very different depending on your type of business and your culture.
In the professional world, flex work started with a typical weekday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule that included a small degree of freedom to work from home on Fridays or sign off early for a personal conflict.
But, the future of work involves more pervasive flex work—including job sharing, split shifts and compressed work weeks—in large and small organizations alike. The one-size-fits-all model increasingly does not apply.
Regardless of the type of flexwork your organization offers, you need a clear and comprehensive policy that details exactly how managers can implement it and how employees can use it.
I would recommend having all flex-work policies include a three- to six-month trial period to assess how well the arrangement is working. If the trial is successful and an individual or group engages in flexwork permanently, you may still want to consider reviewing the situation at least annually.
Flexwork doesn't work equally well for everyone, so your policy should include built-in actions to take if employees either take advantage of flex work arrangements or are simply not contributing to their best ability. You should also consider how relevant overtime pay laws, as well as zoning and taxation issues, affect your policy.
Creation of Human/Machine Hybrid Teams
Although the threat of automation has many workers afraid for their jobs, the future of work reality is that machines are likely to take over parts of jobs rather than entire occupations. Machine learning today is still in its infancy, and even where robots or algorithms are performing basic tasks that were once completed by people, humans are still needed to design, build, manage, repair and redeploy on-the-job machines.
In other words, organizations won't replace humans, but humans will need to work side-by-side with machines on hybrid teams. To continue to add value to a business, workers must hone the uniquely human skills of empathy, judgment, intuition, creativity and interpersonal sensitivity.
Both you and your employees must also pay attention to the writing on the wall. Note the automation trends in your industry coming your way. In journalism, for example, there are already algorithms writing basic news pieces. What will they be able to do next? As a leader, it's your job to stay ahead of this and encourage your people to reinvent themselves and learn new skills.
Finally, consider where automation can add value to your business. Software can already assist with everything from CRM and marketing to financial management and time tracking. Crowdsource ideas from your workforce and reassess how you can save time and money by streamlining administrative tasks with the available technology.
If the future of work seems scary, remember that you control it. By taking advantage of the influx of contract workers, the rise of flexible scheduling and human/machine hybrid teams, you can be well-positioned to compete and thrive in the mid-21st century business world.
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