In November 2021, a group of thought leaders met to discuss the future of work. After much debate, the group did not agree on a single vision of the future. However, they did agree on six key components of an optimistic future of work.
Key Component #1 — Shared economic prosperity
People around the world widely share the economic benefits of technological progress. The global economy is ten times larger because AI has massively boosted productivity. Humans can do more and achieve more by sharing this prosperity. We can pursue this vision by adopting various interventions, from introducing a global tax regime to improving insurance against unemployment.
A more equitable distribution of wealth in the future is highly attractive. Access to information and education is more dis- tributed due to smartphones and internet access. In theory, AI can level the playing field. If we no longer rely on geo- graphic- or language- or skill-based work skills as tokens to trade for wealth, in theory, we have an opportunity to distribute wealth in a more creative and equitable manner.
Key Component #2 — Realigned companies
Large companies focus on developing AI that benefits human- ity and they do so without holding excessive economic or political power. Changing corporate ownership structures and updating antitrust policies is a way to pursue this.
This opportunity exists today. Leaders in companies can make smarter purchasing decisions regarding technology and AI, which works with the human brain and behavior rather than against it. For example, companies can invest in psychologically sound performance management AI systems that understand how to impact employee behavior positively.
Key Component #3 — Flexible labor markets
Human creativity and hands-on support give people time to find new roles. People adapt to technological change and find work in newly created professions. Policies would focus on improving educational and retraining opportunities, as well as strengthening social safety nets for those who would otherwise be worse off due to automation.
In our culture, people strongly identify with their work and leaving work can be quite jarring to one’s self-image. A brighter future of work must also reframe our identity. We can increase our level of curiosity and play. We can help adults enter ongoing education mindsets so they are always retraining and learning.
Key Component #4 — Human-centric AI
Society decides against excessive automation. Business lead- ers, computer scientists, and policymakers choose to develop technologies that increase rather than decrease the demand for workers. Incentives to develop human-centric AI would strengthen and automation taxed where necessary.
Some organizations already follow this strategy. They look to technology and AI to increase productivity and decrease the demand for workers. I saw successful teams which had redundancy within their staff. In other words, there are extra humans on the team, so when vacation, illness, or life happens, there are others on the team who can pick up the work without feeling burdened.
Key Component #5 — Fulfilling jobs
New jobs are more fulfilling than those which came before. Machines handle unsafe and boring tasks, while humans move into more productive, fulfilling, and flexible jobs with greater human interaction. Policies to achieve this include strengthening labor unions and increasing worker involvement on corporate boards.
We can all make steps toward more fulfilling and flexible jobs with greater human interaction. The pandemic created a real sense of possibility at both ends of the spectrum. We consider what it would feel like to do fulfilling and flexible work. We also saw what happens when we do neither fulfilling nor flexible work. The Great Resignation of people shifting jobs highlighted this movement toward more fulfilling and more flexible jobs.
Key Component #6 — Civic empowerment and human flourishing
In a world with less need to work and basic needs met by UBI, well-being increasingly comes from meaningful unpaid activities. People can engage in exploration, self-improvement, volunteering or whatever else they find satisfying. Greater social engagement would be supported.
As an American who grew up believing in the virtues of traditional work, this last point intrigues me. I saw many people in the baby boomer generation stop paid work early in their 50s. Some have thrived; many have suffered.
Using these six tenets to guide our decisions as individuals and organizations, we can move toward a positive future. Some tenets can be accomplished on an individual level (move toward fulfilling jobs and civic empowerment). Other tenets operate at an organizational level (realigned companies and human-centric AI). The remaining tenets relate to a governmental level (shared economic prosperity and flexible labor markets).
How does this vision of the future make you feel? Excited? Scared? Happy? Worried?
In this article series, I share excerpts and stories from my book, Work Smart: Use Your Brain and Behavior to Master the Future of Work. I hope you enjoyed this post — if you enjoyed it and want to connect you can reach me here via email or connect with me on LinkedIn. Also, you can also find my book on Amazon — here is the link to buy it.