The future of work: An opportunity, not an end

Employers will have to help their employees adapt to new disruptions in a changing work environment

In today’s climate of technological advancement and economic uncertainty, the workplace has to constantly evolve to keep pace.

While headlines often announce the threat of automation to human jobs, the reality is that Southeast Asian workers are optimistic about the change that such technology will bring to the way they work. According to Adobe’s The Future of Work APAC study, Southeast Asian workers were most enthusiastic about the improved efficiency that technology can bring to their jobs, out of all the countries and regions surveyed.

This comes as no surprise given that successful workplace transformations often result in workers upgrading their skills to take on more high-level work and businesses becoming more efficient and innovative. Big Four firm PwC, for example, is launching a new programme, entitled “New World, New Skills”, that will focus on the growing mismatch between people’s existing skills and the new skills demanded by the digital economy. In the next four years, PwC will invest $3 billion in upskilling its staff, as well as developing and sharing technologies to support clients and communities.

How else are new disruptions changing the future of work?

Technology will break down geographic barriers

While it’s true that working together across distance has been getting progressively easier – perhaps with people working from home more frequently – we are finally at a point in time when distributed virtual workforces are easier to manage and capable of being as productive as in-person teams.

Employers now have the option of widening their talent pool to build teams that are not limited by geography. This has the effect of bringing together a broader range of perspectives and experiences for the creation of products and services that more closely match customers’ needs, which in turn results in better customer experiences too.

The loosening of geographic ties has implications for employees’ lives as well. Just as companies won’t be limited to specific talent pools, employees won’t have to move to expensive major cities in order to work at the best companies. Furthermore, those with young families or elderly parents also have the option of more flexible work arrangements.

With a more evenly distributed workforce, cities will become less congested and urban planning and transportation infrastructure can be re-designed with sustainability in mind.

Employees will keep learning in a world of change

One area of ambiguity is how the accelerating technology cycle makes the most critical skills for the future difficult to predict. More than ever, the workforce needs to skill and reskill over the course of their careers.

According to the Adobe Asia Workforce Impact 2019 study, 18 per cent of operations jobs such as accounting and general office work are at high risk of automation over the next 10 years. Meanwhile, individuals working in the creative and marketing sectors are expected to be least impacted, with only three per cent of marketing and three per cent of creative jobs being automatable. In fact, individuals with jobs in these areas will enjoy more interesting work as technology augments their activities – that is, technology will supplement the efficiency of their jobs, enabling them to gain capacity to do higher value, more creative work.

Employers will have to pave the way to help their employees adapt to new disruptions as the culture at work changes. Keep an eye on functions that will be most impacted and plan ahead for skills enablement initiatives to migrate employees into new, in-demand areas, retaining and reskilling them for success.

To do so, provide your team with resources to gain new skills and encourage employees to attain micro-credentials to continually upgrade and equip themselves with field-specific skills in new areas. Technology can help personalise training, whether it’s an in-person seminar, a learning project, or a series of videos to fill a knowledge gap. Approaching training in a personalised and modular manner can take the drudgery out of learning something new.

Rethinking the concept of “education”

The World Economic Forum estimates that 65 per cent of children entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that don’t even exist yet. Governments and educators are faced with the challenge of designing an education system that is capable of equipping students with the necessary skills to thrive in the future workforce.

Some of the core future capabilities that workers will need for future employability are critical thinking, creativity, cultural and social intelligence, and innovation and entrepreneurship. These are the capabilities that are least likely to be replicated by technology and hence the most important to cultivate.

At the same time, educational institutions should move away from three- or four-year courses towards providing shorter, bite-size, micro-credentials courses. Breaking down courses into more manageable lengths allows busy workers to drop in and out depending on the demands of their daily schedules to continue learning over their lifetimes.

When it comes to recruitment, educational credentials will matter less than cultural fit, the candidate’s future potential and the skill sets under core future capabilities. The hiring process should be adapted to reflect these new requirements, perhaps through problem-solving tests or informal conversations with the wider team to determine cultural fit.

Generations will bring out the best in each other

Adobe’s The Future of Work APAC study reports that young people entering the workforce are already having a huge impact on the way their older colleagues work. In Southeast Asia, the most identifiable ways they are having an impact are through the extensive use of social media, increased focus on creative thinking and innovative projects, and the creation of more open-minded and diverse work environments.

Gen Z, in particular, brings critical first-hand insights into what digital natives expect from their customer experiences which older generations may not be privy to. Younger employees also have plenty to learn from older ones who are able to draw upon years of work experience.

The key to successfully blending older and younger generations in the workplace is by promoting bidirectional learning. Business leaders should open up formal and informal channels for Gen Z, millennials and baby boomers to exchange skills and ideas. For example, lunchtime sharing sessions and mentoring programmes, have proven successful in many workplaces.

Ultimately, embracing the future is all about making a goal-oriented plan while allowing plenty of room for flexibility. Change is already reshaping the way we live, interact, work and navigate our careers. The future of work is a positive one as long as everyone is prepared and ready to grow with the change.

The writer, Scott Rigby is Head of Digital Transformation at Adobe Asia Pacific.