What future of work do we want to leave as a legacy?

On May 27, I attended Working for What Day 2021, an encounter of representatives of the key stakeholders involved in the challenges of the future of work (workers, employers, governments, educators, etc.) and experts from different disciplines. This meeting is part of the program of Working for What Summit, a summit on the future of work that will take place in Malaga in March 2022, as part of the city’s future strategy, and with whom in Future for Work Institute we are collaborating as ‘knowledge partners.’

Throughout the day, speakers such as Albert Cañigueral, Carina Lopes, Celia Ferrero, Jordi Serrano, Roberto Rodríguez, and Sonia Díez opened our eyes to the transformations the world of work is experiencing, provoked us with their questions, and encouraged us to make decisions to move forward in this moment of transition between a world that is ceasing to exist and a new world still under construction.

In this post, I share my notes on the collective intelligence session we had during the central part of the day. Designed by Amalio Rey and orchestrated by Grupo Evento, this session pursued a double objective:

A) Create a context of collective empathy in which the different actors involved in the challenges of the future of work listen to each other. 

B) Identify consensus among key stakeholders on the future of work we all need to pursue and on the actions each of them can take in the short term to help us move in that direction.

We started the session with an exercise in which all the participants shared our opinions on how we would like the world of work to be in 2037.

Why did we use this horizon?

2037 is a number that may seem strange at first glance but choosing that year as the time horizon for this exercise was not casual. 2037 is the year in which people born in 2021 will reach their working age. Understanding the future of work as part of our legacy for generations to come, the question was: “What work environment would we like these children to find themselves in on the day they turn 16?”

In the word cloud resulting from this exercise, terms such as “inclusive,” “flexible,” “sustainable,” “digital,” and “human” stood out. However, soon we became aware of the magnitude of the challenges we need to face to achieve those desired futures of work.

The probabilities we assigned in a second exercise to the characteristics of the possible and desirable futures of work that different experts identified in their studies made this clear. We are optimistic about questions such as the probability that, in 2037, workers will get continuously trained to ensure their employability. But still, the odds we give to other expert forecasts, such as that job insecurity will have decreased so much that it will be a problem of the past, or that “the less favored groups will have the same job opportunities as other workers,” barely exceed 30%.

But these two exercises were nothing more than a “warm-up.” The core of the session consisted of four rounds of collective thinking. Participants, divided into groups, first imagined the specific characteristics of the desired and possible futures of work we should aim for as our goal for 2037. Then, we identified what the stakeholders of the world of work (employers, workers, government) should do in the next three years to accelerate the transition towards those desired futures.

At the end of the day, we consolidated the imagined futures and the actions proposed by the five groups that worked in parallel throughout the day and subjected them to a collective filtering process that produced the following results:

On the possible and desirable futures of work for 2037

Participants envisioned futures where technological advances will continue to transform the way people work, jobs will be more humane, creative, vocational, diverse, attractive, and people will work with more autonomy, responsibility, and goal oriented. More people will be able to carry out their work from anywhere and at any time, and, in turn, people will enjoy greater flexibility to reconcile their work-life with their personal and family lives. Besides, it will be easier for people to adapt to the changing needs of their employers since we will be more versatile. Training will be vocational and continuous throughout life, it will extend beyond formal training, and workers and employers will have more incentives to invest in learning. In those desirable futures, companies will find it easier to adapt quickly to the changing needs of the environment. But still, they will also pay greater attention to the ethical dimension of the decisions they make about their people. In addition, disadvantaged groups, such as young people, will have more job opportunities since we will regard employability as a common good and a priority for all social agents.

On how employers can help

Among the things employers can start doing within the next three years to help us move towards those desired futures, participants highlighted several measures that have to do with workers’ upskilling and reskilling. Companies need to assume their share of responsibility for the reskilling and upskilling (and, consequently, the employability) of their workers. Employers can promote workers’ versatility and life-long learning through various means, including helping workers gain awareness of themselves, greater cooperation with academic institutions from the early stages of education, and learning models that alternate training and employment. Participants also highlighted that employers need to keep on fostering flexible hours and teleworking and challenge the culture of presenteeism that, at the moment, seems to be re-emerging in many organizations. Two other identified lines of action were promoting a leadership style based on greater empowerment of workers and taking care of the ethical aspects of decisions that affect people. In particular, those in which algorithms intervene.

On how workers can help

Workers can also do many things that help us move toward those desirable futures. First, assuming their part of responsibility in their reskilling and upskilling, and in other matters that condition not only their employability but their company’s future. In a context in which companies need employees with new competencies, and an employment contract is no longer a guarantee of work for life, workers need to take care of their continuous training and learning and become active agents of their employability and career. To do so, people need to be aware of themselves, pay attention to changes in the environment, overcome aversion to change, and open up to new ways of working. Likewise, it is positive that workers challenge (constructively) the established norms and mindsets in their organization and help their employers (and their colleagues) detect the opportunities and threats derived from the changes in the environment.

On how governments, legislators and administrations can help

Third, participants also identified several things governments, policy-makers, and administrations can do to bring us closer to those desirable futures. Many of them aim at facilitating a faster adaptation of workers and employers to changes in the environment without reducing the legal guarantees of both actors, which includes changing rules and regulations to adapt them to the reality of the labor market and the new way many companies already operate. Governments also need to understand that we live in a globalized world, reduce bureaucracy and administrative burden, and design programs that support regulatory changes. However, what public authorities need to do above all is look more long-term, favoring dialogue with workers, employers, and academic institutions, and seeking political consensus to ensure both the labor framework and the regulation of the educational system respond to enduring principles. Other opportunities participants highlighted were the need to improve the technological infrastructure of public employment services and the activation of public employment and continuous training policies focused on the most demanded professional profiles and in sectors that are considered strategic.

Conclusion

At a time when we all want everything to go back to the way things used to be before the pandemic, this session of collective thinking has led us to understand that, when it comes to the world of work, some things are better than not return to being the same as before. And this is already a breakthrough. 

If we add to this some consensus on how we want the futures of work to be and on certain things the actors involved in the challenges of the world of work can begin to do in the short term to help us move in that direction, I think we can be very proud of the outcome.

Once we have identified the objective and the lines of action, the next step is to ensure we have the tools to get the job done. In this regard, after reviewing the outcome of the session, we realize that workers, employers, and public officers will require large doses of curiosity, an outward gaze, long-term vision, systemic perspective, co-responsibility, continuous learning, open-mindedness, self-knowledge, flexibility, humility, generosity, empathy, critical thinking, creativity, and ethics, to go that way.

Although, to make intelligent decisions looking to the future, which in the end is what it is all about, the first thing of all, as Roberto Rodríguez pointed out in his presentation, is to stop working “in automatic mode.”

An article by
Santi Garcia