If “The Future of Work is Here” we all fail. #hr #hrtech

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If the workplace today is the future of work, we should all just quit. Immediately.

I have come to recognize the phrase “The Future of Work is Here” gives me the same visceral reaction that hearing how to “Get a Seat at the Table” or a being asked “Can you help us Gamify this?” has.

Its not as bad as “QR Codes” but its close.

For my entire career, I have heard experts pontificate and speak at conferences about how the future of work is here – usually using a prediction they made years earlier to claim it had arrived and validate it.  I would wonder how things that we had been experiencing as consumers and using in our normal lives, finally reaching companies is revolutionary at all.  And since I lived with a philosophy major in college, part of me would question if there was ever a way for us to actually reach the future – since reaching it would really make it the present and no longer the future?

As we look around at the technical advancements in AI, Predictive Analytics, Machine Learning and Robotics – can we really look around our organizations (and specifically at the HR Technology we use) and confidently say – this is the future – we have arrived!  Odds are – no,  unless you work for Space X or Tesla or some top secret company in an underground bunker developing robots – and even then, you are likely dealing with the same departmental silos, co-worker drama, technology challenges, deadlines and communication issues the rest of the world has when it comes to work.

We are solidly in “the future of work” if your future was dated in 1999.

It was in 1999, Bill Gates wrote a book called “Business @ the Speed of Thought” where he predicted the Future would be hiring people online, have mobile first philosophy, using predictive/targeting technology for advertising, social collaboration tools would come into play and social media will become key.

Unfortunately, that is pretty much the version of the future where we are still standing at many organizations today.  Mobile enablement and adoption of technology for our employees – even beyond hr technology – is often lacking, especially in the US.   From POS systems in retail and hospitality to inventory management in distribution, we are still using more kiosk than mobile for our workforce.  We are not maximizing predictive or targeting technology in hr, marketing, sales or service.  Social media is still a marketing and brand play vs a employee engagement play.

BTW – By 1999, anyone in college was having the same conversations as we were doing internships and witnessing first hand massive technology gap between businesses and consumers.  By that point, nearly every 18 year old I knew had grown up with computers, had a cell phone and been on AOL chat rooms (the precursor to social media & collaboration technology) since the free dvd came in the mail.  

Catching up with 2010’s “Future of Work” still will require a massive overhaul for most business’. 

2010 was a pivotal year for society – smartphones really became the standard and we shifted to an app focused world. Technology was easy, accessible and never outdated – if it wasn’t any of those things you simply download a different app. Video, Ratings/Feedback, Social media and Advertising became entrenched in our lives and all at the palm of your hands.

Many of the predictions made in 2010 had to do with the consumerization of technology and speed of change.  Employment branding and candidate experience are trends that come out of the late 00’s future of work conversations around advertising and competitive marketing. Companies that have adopted technology are challenged with intuitive technologies, ease of use and UI/UX design – and mobile first development plans.   From applying for a job to performance reviews, recognition strategies to engagement surveys, to ordering product and selling services – How do we get everything at work as intuitively designed as what they can download for free off the app store.  And, more importantly, how do we do it without them needing an app, work online or on a tablet, are intuitive and still keeping it in the cloud for security.

The True Future of Work is kinda scary

Why?  Because we don’t really know what it will entail – but it seems a bunch of rich start up founders are getting lasik in case the robots take over the world.  If that wasn’t weird enough – Facebook is working on using Telepathy; Google has a patent on robot personalities and other companies are replicating dead loved ones with robot clones.

We will likely see companies just using AI and ML to index emails and content created by workers to upload into a robot clone so there is no knowledge transfer loss when someone leaves and they don’t really have to hire as many replacements?  Robot job loss isn’t just going to be on manufacturing lines and retail stores.

I’m ok with us focusing on getting our own workplaces up to the standards of today and not rushing to be replaced my robot clones of our brains.  Imagine the shift in engagement and revenue if companies were all operating even at the standards set in place back in 1999’s version of the future – let alone the 2010 version of the future.

From an HR Technology perspective some of the products in the pipeline and already released around sourcing and recruiting are downright mind blowing – and what is coming in the next 18 months is simply amazing.  In recruiting we see this advancement even quicker as its more closely aligned to consumer marketing trends – an area in which the early ones are the only ones that truly benefit because there is a finite number of candidates, buyers, investors, etc in any one area…

In technology, especially HR Technology, the second an idea is streamlined –  It is no longer “the future” of anything.  

If you really want to be prepared for the future of work – catch up on what you’ve already missed. While we see the use of words like cutting edge, disruptive and future all over – we really should assess where we are vs where we should be vs where we want to be and not pay as much attention to the words being used.

Also, remember that “cutting edge” strategies are no longer such, once you see them all over SHRM conferences or listed as an analyst best practice.  

By that point, they are simply a necessary part of doing business in today’s economy.


1 Comment
  1. Nimesh S says

    Great insights Sarah! No doubt The future workplace is a long journey at present for many organizations. Technology is changing the way HRs use to recruit, engage and motivate. Importantly, still, there are the organizations who’re not ready to change with the wave. Modern age HR Software really helps organizations to collect data and analysis too, to take crucial decisions. AI or machine learning is moving at good pace in HR but don’t know how employers and employees will react?

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