Edward D. Hess, Professor of Business Administration & Batten Executive-in-Residence – Darden School of Business, and co-author of Humility Is the New Smart

Predicting the Future of Work in 2018 raises the following questions:

  1. In what areas will technology advance dramatically in 2018?
  2. In what industries will the new technologies be adopted in 2018?
  3. How fast will the automation of jobs take place and how fast will companies actually reduce their human head count?
  4. How fast will governments create new policies/programs concerning automation and workers’ rights/protections, education/retraining and the provision for basic human life needs? and
  5. Where and how fast will workers unite in opposition to the automation of their jobs?

Technology will continue to advance much faster than the business world will adopt and much faster than the social and governmental sectors will adapt.

2018 will not see a major change in those realities.

The two big areas that will practically lead the way in 2018 are The Industrial Internet of Things and Global Politics.  Global industrial Incumbents who are ahead now in technology adoption and who are building AI-Cloud based platforms to serve an ecosystem will continue to advance and ultimately that will lead to massive global industry consolidations leading to large reductions in the number of human employees. The power of large AI-based platform organizations will be the story of the future. The impact is still 3-5 years out but, when it hits, it will be big.

The dominant Future of Work issues in 2018 will be political. How will China advance toward its goal of becoming the AI global leader and who will contest that? What happens in the mid-term elections in the United States? How will Britain’s exit from the EU impact the UK economy? And will Germany’s to be formed new government continue to exhibit the leadership needed in Europe and globally? Technology issues will become fundamental political issues across the globe – contributing to the rise of populism and authoritarian pressures. Likewise, economic, social safety-net, and education models will be stressed and governments will ultimately begin to move to regulate technology more aggressively.”

Andrew Marritt, Founder – OrganizationView

AI will continue to transform peoples’ jobs

Over the last 18 months the mobile revolution has transitioned to the AI revolution. I’m not sure we’ll feel the shift in 2018 but I’m expecting that we’ll look back at 2018 as a period of significant change.

AI generally can’t automate jobs, but it can effectively automate tasks. Algorithms are better at automating some tasks than others. Jobs will change as certain tasks are removed. The part that is remaining will probably be more rewarding but will require higher degrees of skill, especially those involving judgement and empathy.

Work that involves collecting and analysing information, or work that involves repeatable manual work is the most easy to apply AI algorithms to. Whereas earlier waves of automation impacted lower-skill work, AI can automate many tasks that historically required highly skilled work. 

Education and development – both in school and in the workforce – needs to adapt

One implication for firms and their workforces which I don’t think has been fully grasped is how this automation is disrupting the pipeline of talent.

Many of the roles we provided people, especially junior people just entering a discipline, are being automated by AI. Companies don’t have the large teams of junior HR or Finance people any more. Automation, first into shared services centres and now by automating those roles with AI has removed training grounds for future functional managers and leaders. How are we going to provide the future talent pipeline?

Education of children around the world continues to be based around acquiring and testing for knowledge. However, this is a skill which AI can do better than humans – at a simple level just consider searching for a topic on Google. I think society needs to have a discussion about what skills will be needed to augment AI. It’s probably less about ‘what’ and more about ‘how’.

AI will provide new opportunities to deliver high-touch services

Twenty something years ago the increasing availability of Microsoft Word brought the ability to create typed documents from those with a secretary to large portions of the workforce. AI is doing a similar thing now, enabling services that were previously expensive, and therefore exclusive, and making them available to all.

In the workforce companies like Saberr are providing AI-powered bots that can provide team coaching, previously only available to senior managers (they still are best augmented by human coaches but now experienced coaches can support much bigger groups). Companies would do well thinking how provision of such high-touch services can be extended to their full workforces.

Our own Workometry solution has taken the market-research task of coding qualitative text into meaningful categories and brought it to a price-point similar to a traditional quantitive survey. Our experiments have shown our AI can now out-perform humans not just on speed & cost but on quality. We’re seeing clients using this not only to replace surveys but substituting some tasks of the consulting process, enabling them to be used across all parts of the workforce not just at senior levels.

This sort of shifting of the economics of providing previously expensive, human-powered services and making them generally available via AI will accelerate in 2018. Those who are successful will not be those who just think about AI as enabling drastic cost-cutting but those who think about how to apply AI to provide high-touch services to their customers and workforces.

Rob McCargow, Programme Leader – Artificial Intelligence | Technology & Investments – PwC

2018 will likely see a proliferation in companies applying AI to use cases across the board. The area that I believe requires the most scrutiny is the adoption of this technology in the human resources and workforce management arena.

With new AI start-ups arriving on the scene on a weekly basis, companies are spoilt for choice in starting to unlock the benefits that advancements in AI are starting to offer. AI-augmented recruitment stands out as a key growth area with a range of offerings in the market from CV selection, to advanced assessment through video analysis, and improved ‘candidate journeys’ supported by conversational agents.

Marching in lockstep with this plethora of opportunity, is an abundance of risk. Whilst AI can be marshalled to both drive efficiencies and make HR processes more fair, if not governed and implemented responsibly, it can lead to an amplification of bias and discrimination.

As these technologies become more pervasive in the workplace, expect to see increased demand from candidates and employees seeking clear and transparent policies setting out how their data is used in order to make decisions.

As the AI-powered augmentation and automation of tasks begins to scale, we will see employees becoming increasingly concerned about their futures and this could result in a drag on creativity and productivity; it will become an organisational priority for companies to clearly articulate their approach to reskilling, lifelong learning, and redeployment.

Could 2018 be the year that we start to see companies who embrace a more purpose-led strategy in an era of technological disruption start to win the war for the best talent?

Jane McConnell, Advisor – Analyst – Speaker – Organization in the Digital Age

Openness is starting to get real in organizations, and I believe it will increase in 2018 – both internally and externally. Openness is at the heart of an inclusive organization. It is essential for building a sense of common purpose.

Openness starts with reachability. By reachability, I mean that people can reach each other and be reached, directly and individually. People can communicate and interact with others beyond their physical work location. Initiatives from one place can spread across the organization and when there is a problem to solve, a challenge to confront, everyone can contribute ideas. Reachability is dependent on technologies but becomes potentially transformative when open work practices exist.

I believe that openness will be a key driver in 2018 and will stimulate new work practices that are currently emerging. Examples are working out loud, working in communities that include people outside the organization itself, and open and participatory management. These are not new. But sadly, they are not yet widespread throughout organizations. They tend to be practiced in pockets here and there. For example, 35% of organizations say they have work cultures based on “open information”; another 35% say their cultures reflect “closed information” environments. (data Q4 2016.)

We tend to forget that in many organizations, not everyone is reachable, and that we still have a digital divide in these cases. The openness I see evolving is dependent on the reachability factor, and, from what I see around me, is improving every day. The deskless workers are getting equipped, primarily through new policies that let them use their own devices. Work practices such as working out loud are spreading.

I wrote a longer article about this for the Global Peter Drucker Forum blog – “The Inclusive Organization and the Reachability Factor”

You can see a 10-question reachability-openness index I published recently here.

Paul Miller, CEO and Founder – Digital Workplace Group and co-author of The Digital Renaissance of Work

 1. A new digital work ethic will continue to thrive

We accept that “jobs for life” have gone, but this is just one early-stage change in a widespread reformatting of work. From safe employment to independent work (i.e. freelancing, self-employment, portfolio work and the gig economy), there may be fewer and fewer jobs and yet there is no shortage of work.

And not only is work being redesigned (particular by the younger generations) but what it means is also shifting in a remarkable way: from work as suffering, duty and obligation to work as passion, fulfilment and meaning. This remodelling of work represents a new work ethic based on value and access, departing from what some previously called the “Protestant work ethic”. 

2. Humans and AI will have a far more nuanced relationship

The clichés about software replacing humans wholescale in work is far too black and white. We are both creating and destroying jobs and work at an unprecedented rate and, while we tend to focus on what will be lost, we consistently fail to see what will be gained.

Most people I know do work that 30 years ago or less didn’t even exist as a job – and certainly not in the form it does now. Our relationship with AI will be similar to the one we have today, but it will have become accepted as part of our daily experience. The route-finding app Waze is part of driving now, just as Google Maps became (for me with my poor sense of direction at least!) just part of my walking life.

3. We will underestimate the power of this digital renaissance of work

We are underestimating considerably the extent, impact and meaning of the digital renaissance on work. Yes, we talk about artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, implants, bio-engineering and so on, but if the scale of innovation is even 50% accurate, our role as homo sapiens will be radically different from 2030 onwards, if not sooner.

The analogy made with AI is akin to a hyper-intelligent alien species arriving on our planet. Perhaps this is why the film “Arrival” was such a popular success in 2016. How will we respond and evolve as the scale of this change becomes clear? Step one is to recognize the task before us.

Karen Rivoire – Chief People Officer – augmenting human capability with intelligent, autonomous systems

People want to be seen and heard. 2018 will be the year where people make more informed choices thanks to increased consciousness and intelligent systems. We have seen throughout 2017 in society and in some work places that abuse of power and divisive independence are not the answers. In 2018 great companies will encourage more activism and source work from different talent pools because we need everyone to solve the wicked problems we are facing. In 1998 when my middle son was born, and revolutionary open source software was adopted, I did not think for one second that 19 years on my son ran the risk of not earning more than us*. Don’t get me wrong I am not just talking about money I am talking about progress and fulfilment, we cannot just blame technology for this increased inequality. We need to embrace technology in the workplace and HR needs to step up again and help ensure that the data we use and the algorithms we develop are bias free and in line with simple ethics. We need a full spectrum of HR skills to re-establish a fairer system that augments human capability and does not work just for a selected few. In 2018 I hope we will measure success using “anding” metrics like wellbeing and innovation. Technology can humanise organisations but for that we need to make the right choices now on the metrics and be more imaginative* on how technology like AI and AR can be for good. In 2017 we saw what happened when people speak up, we can start reducing the amount of harassment that goes on in dysfunctional organisations, we can also ensure that we align employee experience and company purpose rather than the purpose washing that happened in 2017. This gives me great hope for 2018 a year of choice, collaboration and the celebration of difference all of which will be augmented by intelligent, autonomous systems.

*Data from Raj Chetty -Stanford economist children born in 1940 had a 92% chance of earning more than their parents, that chance has fallen to 50%; referenced in Tim O Reilly’s WTF BOOK

* As Tim O Reilly so brilliantly explains in his book WTF it is “up to us”!

Céline SchillingerCeline, Charter Member – Change Agents Worldwide

Change maker in the enterprise, take a look back at early 2017. You were hopeful for a fresh start, an acceleration, more people to join the change movement, a work culture that evolves to really support innovation and diversity, a recognition of your efforts as being important to the organization. Did the hopes you had twelve months ago materialize? The answer is probably a mix of yes and no.

Yes, there is a growing appetite for people-centric organizations, for “soft” skills, for knowledge that helps understand how to tap into collective intelligence and thrive in complexity. There is a growing number of individual workers who connect on internal social networks and explore those themes. Communities in the workplace contribute to changing relationships, information flows and collective identity — the level where real change takes place in a living system, as Myron Rogers says.

Despite all this, your organization has probably not changed so much. Especially for large companies, 12 months is pretty short. Changing work and org culture remains tedious, frustrating at times. So much gets in the way! Short-term priorities, project-managed everything, control mindset, lack of critical thinking at all levels and engrained patterns of domination are just a few. The change that individuals experience just doesn’t seem to become systemic. Disturbingly, it is sometimes the very same people who advocate for change that strengthen the status quo.

So, what’s up for 2018? More of the same?

I believe that courage can make the difference. Courage is not (just) some foreign virtue possessed by a few heroes. Assertiveness and force are not courage. Changing our workplace culture definitely requires courage. Fueled by new ideas, books and experiences such as the first Courage Camp organized in the USA in 2017, a trend is emerging around the courage value, trying to understand where it comes from and how to grow it. Let’s experiment this further in the year to come, for a larger, concrete impact on the way organizations work.

Every new year offers the exhilarating possibility of a fresh beginning. 2018 can be significantly better, not just a mere sequel to 2017, if more of us become more courageous.

Sophie Wade, Workforce innovation specialist, Author of ‘Embracing Progress

In general, my predictions for 2018 emphasize decentralized work and management. Employers are focusing their efforts to develop healthier, more logical, updated working habits as well as recognizing the reality of the technologically-enabled, distributed world we live in.

Skills Focus: There is heightened awareness now of the widening gap between workers’ existing skills and those of current and future jobs as new roles and associated requirements emerge and evolve over time. I expect there to be a major shift in 2018, recognizing skills rather than specific types of positions or titles as the predominant focus for employers. Skills will become easier to specify while their applications morph for existing and emerging jobs. Employers will be focused on identifying individuals to hire who have the applicable skills to accomplish work requirements in the short-term, as well as being able to apply those talents for likely projected needs in the medium-term.

Soft Skills: I predict training in soft skills will become more prevalent as part of the holistic well-being offering to increase employees’ emotional intelligence and self-awareness in particular. With coaching support, employees will be better able to develop healthier work and lifestyles, benefiting the individuals and their employers alike. Other aspects of personal and career development will also become more closely aligned with the overall well-being of an employee.

Education Ledger: As Bitcoin fever shines a light on blockchain—its underlying technology—other blockchain platforms are achieving broader adoption as greater understanding brings acceptance. I foresee at least one education-related ledger gaining significant ground permitting independently verifiable records of people’s education achievements, certificates and confirmation of ongoing attainment of skills. Its establishment will further endorse the increasingly decentralized and self-directed career landscape.

Expanded Workforce: I anticipate extensive acknowledgement of the blended workforce expanding to include drones and robots as legitimate ‘members’ and appropriate parameters for their participation being classified and codified. This inclusion will advance efforts to modify operational practices. Projects will be broken down more rigorously into tasks, so each can be allocated to the appropriate workforce member.

Distributed Accountability: To enable market-ready responsiveness, responsibility is being pushed further down and out across organizations. Relevant processes and project management tools will be more widely-adopted to track tasks, milestones, and performance with visibility for all team members, wherever they may be. I forecast use of these tools will reach their tipping point. The weighting will finally move away from email, boosted by younger workers’ preferences for cloud-based applications that organize as well as facilitate communication and collaboration.

Video Avatars: The demand for video connectivity is rising significantly—specifically to improve understanding and interactions between distributed workers. Its bandwidth needs will finally exceed the limitations of existing networks with accompanying poor experiences. Viable solutions will arise such as three dimensional facially-familiar avatars (digital representations) which will become adaptable to mimic participants actual expressions and support improved interactions (think “Ready Player One”). With the emerging new virtual reality devices penetrating business sectors, including bringing more compelling instruction experiences, people will become more comfortable with these new digitally-rendered options—so long as the video-like experience is substantially improved!

Integrated Lives: Last of all, conceptually and philosophically, the perceived separation of work and life will end in 2018. More corporate employees and independent contractors are working more flexibly from less distinct and defined locations. Employers, individual leaders, and managers will adapt to treat team members and other employees with the same consideration as their non-workplace friends and family. This will bring long overdue significant change to workplace practices and policies.

Overall, I foresee more progressive, thoughtful treatment of workers being emphasized as leadership becomes less hierarchical, more distributed, and personally responsible.

Jeff Wellstead, Partner – The Pioneers

HR professionals have mostly by now attended conferences discussing HR Tech, Employee Experience, Employee Engagement, People Analytics or other hot topics of the day. They are beyond becoming interested in these things as they are seeing and hearing about real companies embracing these concepts and new technologies in earnest.  Therefore – 2018 becomes the year where the Early Adopters are seeing Mainstream Adopters acquire new tech – likely around Recruitment (using recruitment marketing, AI and video tooling to improve candidate experience, funnel process time to hire metrics, and quality and accuracy hiring metrics.

On-boarding will be improved – with more emphasis on rapidly advancing post-offer candidates into a rapid orientation to their new company – hopefully making them more productive more quickly in their new role.

On-line training, in-house video and micro-class training as well as MOOC eco-system training will be more rapidly adopted and aggregated on an HR portal (mini-LMS vs. more traditional and bulky LMS tools), and be woven into performance and career progression discussions in a more aligned and engaging manner.  Employees will be encouraged to own more of this process, and be enabled through pre-planned personal budgets to seek, learn and develop themselves professionally, technically and personally – sometimes outside of their current area of professional focus as all learning leads to stronger levels of gratitude and personal success attributed to their company’s desire for supporting growth.

Wellness – stress relief, life management, financial management, health improvement and mindfulness (think meditation, seeking awareness of self and adopting a more spiritual, not religious) approach to your life, work and relationships will continue becoming a thing we all need to address in 2018 and beyond.  If done well, companies can take credit for supporting a holistic approach to improving the lives of their employees.  If done poorly – well, the opposite.

Building a sense of purpose in company mission, engaging employees in the overall vision and striving to create meaningful work – either the work and its outcomes or the way in which the work gets accomplished will be a massive priority for organisations this year.  It’s central to who we are as human beings – and it’s been missing for far too long.  Defining this well, building powerful cultural stories behind this and making it real for everyone is an essential to improving commitment to the group’s success.

Employee Experience Design – retooling and re-thinking all of the policies, ways of working, reward and recognition schemes, promotion and career management, and moments that matter (to our people – not to the shareholders), should and will become a defining and differentiating approach that will help you crush your Glassdoor ratings – or fall well to the back of the queue.  Creating a holistically designed approach – which borrows heavily from Customer Experience Design and human experience optimisation seems like a no-brainer.  But all too often we’ve taken the expedient formula that says, “I hired you – be grateful for your job.  I’m paying you well – be grateful for your money. Now do these things the way I want you to, how, when and for whom I want you to – and do it consistently, faster, better and more inexpensively than yesterday – and we won’t have a problem.”  But none of us are having this Master/Slave relationship anymore, because we don’t have to.  We simply will migrate to companies that ‘get us,’ care about our side of the equation – and our moments that matter.  When I sense that you ‘get me,’ I’m going to stick with you for a long time. I’ll do more for you, in less time, and help others to do so as well.  This is what real Employee Value Proposition is all about – and it rewards companies handsomely.

Analytics – we’ll be getting tucked into this more and more over the coming year.  So much being experimented here, and turns out it isn’t that impossible to understand.  In fact, there is a significant ramp up to knowing where I need to get data from, what shape that data needs to be in, and how I’m going to crunch it to make sure meaningful stuff comes out of the ‘machine,’ that I really need to get a move on and dig into this.  I see analytics job roles popping up regularly on the job boards over the past 3 months – and there are plenty of competitive products out there – as well as outsourced, use on demand models popping up – we’re all running out of excuses to keep this issue at bay.

Agile working – get into it.  Mimic what your software development teams have been using all these years – to whatever degree your group feels comfortable.  Check out this Spotify video on their organisational design approach – and start to lead from the front on this stuff.  It gets complex work done faster, in a more informed and cross-functional manner, and pushes you to iterate results and outputs every two weeks – not every six months.  The trick here is inclusion of your best performers, Marketing, IT, Finance, Operations – get all the necessary folks involved, get a cheap online project management tool in place, get people trained up as Scrum Masters (team leaders in Agile), and get busy!

You will start looking at your company as a Lean Start-up enterprise – and suddenly realise that your company has created quite a mess for itself bureaucratically.  All that bad, slow and painfully irritating stuff needs to go – and you and your HR team need to streamline how decisions are made – how key talent and skills are brought to bear, and how innovation and product evolution becomes competitive.

Finally, my great hope here in 2018 is that HR wakes up to the fact that they are the forward thinking thought leaders who are the internal mechanics driving competitive edge.  They are in charge of the mastery, capability, innovative spirit and sense of purposeful comradeship that underpins everything their organisation stands for.  Automate, delegate our outsource your administration, compliance and governance where possible – and take your place as the Master Mechanics and Talent Catalysts that will help your company win, compete and stand tall in their markets.

Rita Zonius, Director – The Enterprise Social Engineer

Three themes will emerge during the coming year around enterprise social use. Let’s call them enterprise social epiphanies.

First, organisations will look to get more out of the social technologies they already have in play. Second, those organisations previously hesitant to explore social will start to think more deeply about its true role in their workplace. And finally, vendors will start to have business-focused conversations about enterprise social.

The discussions I’ve had with people around the world in the past few months highlight for me we’re at a tipping point with social in the workplace, with organisations either becoming overwhelmed at the challenge of making enterprise social work and doing nothing, or rolling up their sleeves and building a plan on how they’ll use social in thoughtful ways.

Use cases go beyond communications and collaboration

Organisations encouraging the use of social to get real work done – that get themselves into a virtuous social business cycle – will fare better than those framing enterprise social solely as a one-dimensional communications channel.

Why? Because the teams responsible for enterprise social initiatives in their workplaces are beginning to understand they need to encourage their businesses to embrace use cases beyond communications and collaboration to embed social in productive ways in the long run.

Part of the driving force is that cost-constrained organisations don’t have the luxury of bringing in more people, so they’re forced to think more creatively about using the tools they already have to deal with workload and the frantic pace of work. Approached with the business in mind, this is a big opportunity and not a threat.

Vendor conversations shift from functionality to business goals

It’s very difficult to paint a picture of the possibilities for enterprise social if the conversations vendors have with customers are bogged down in what buttons A, B or C will do in a tool if I click them. This will start to shift in 2018.

Vendors selling social technologies are realising they need to change the conversation they’re having with existing and new customers from one focused on product functionality to a discussion about what it is users are trying to achieve from a business perspective.

Newbies think more deeply about purpose of social

If you’re an organisation new to social, you’re probably quite anxious about the promises vendors make to you in terms of what their technology can deliver. So, I think in the coming year, organisations kicking the tyres on social products will be super mindful about ensuring they have real clarity about the purpose of social in their organisations before they start choosing tools. This includes thinking deeply about sponsorship of social initiatives at the top of their organisations, governance and resourcing.

As for those companies, vendors and individuals who made mistakes or didn’t benefit from thinking about enterprise social more deeply in the past year? All’s not lost.

Those who strayed into the wilderness can get back on track with a new year’s resolution to put in place a strategy that’s focused on making the most of enterprise social as a serious business tool to get serious work done. It’s about turning those enterprise social epiphanies into real business impact in 2018.