We’d bet you a good amount that when you hear the phrase “the future of work,” the first thing that comes to mind is “technology.” Data, devices, and the digital revolution have transformed the workplace over the past few decades, and the rate of change, it seems, is exponential.
But earlier this week, when experts from The Muse, WeWork, Google, and more gathered to discuss the future of work, the talk was less about technology and more about the humans who build and interact with it.
The goal of the event, coined #Work2027 and hosted by MyLittleJob and WeWork, was to predict what work might look like ten years from now. While none of the panelists held crystal balls, they did offer insights into the trends that all employers should pay attention to.
Here are three of the major themes—all about the people.
Work2027 Theme #1: Self-Awareness Will Drive Results
We all know how hiring works today. Applicants put together a resume outlining their skills and experiences; those documents are reviewed by an ATS, a recruiter, and a hiring manager; and the best-fit candidates move on to the interview process, during which the employer decides whether to bring them on the team.
But for that process to be truly effective, candidates must know (and, more importantly, know how to communicate) their skills, and employers must know how to match those skills to the needs of the organization. And, increasingly, they need to understand who will be useful not only today, but also in an uncertain future.
Resumes and interviews tend to focus on hard skills, but it’s soft skills that will be key moving forward. Candidates will need to know how to identify and showcase those soft skills, and employers will need to understand how to evaluate them. “When we recruit, we don’t just hire someone to do this role,” mentioned Nina Temple, Global Staffing Lead at Google. Instead, they ask, “Is this someone who can do the job in five years time that doesn’t exist?”
What if technology could help? Each of the panelists touched on the idea of how data could identify soft skills within employees and match those employees with the teams that need those skills the most. “I’m fascinated with the idea of measuring career pathing, skills development, and knowing what we are good at,” said Shiva Rajaraman, Chief Product Officer at WeWork. “Five years from now, we solve that with analytics.”
Work2027 Theme #2: Machines Won’t Replace Humans; They’ll Need Them
In some cases, robots can do the job of humans—think cashiers or toll booth operators. But the panelists were quick to say that today’s evolving technology requires more human brainpower, not less. Rajaraman noted that tech will create gaps we can’t yet imagine, and human editors with special skills will be needed. “Frankly, algorithms have a lot of power, but what is the role of intermediaries?” he shared. “I think there will be a whole new class of editors in the world.”
An example he shared: The Turkish language is gender-neutral, but when a user tries to translate Turkish into English, language programs will often assign gender based on available data. Meaning: A sentence about being interested in a co-worker’s project may automatically become “the engineer is interested in his work,” because the majority of engineers are male.
Yes, tech is powerful, but left unchecked it can also be dangerous and reinforce biases based on flawed information. When it comes to paying attention to and, in some cases, adjusting this technology, the question isn’t whether we need humans. It’s, as Rajaraman pointed out, “How do we groom these people?”
Work2027 Theme #3: Personal Is the New Flexible
More and more companies have been adopting a flexible approach to work—whether it’s permitting work from home, offering unlimited vacation, or swapping cubicles for different types of workstations.
But many panelists noted that these trends tend to be one-size-fits-all. And in the future, instead of creating blanket policies, companies will be listening—and adapting to—individual employee needs. “It’s easy to say that the world is shifting from one norm to another, but we are going from one norm to many norms, and it’s personal and difficult,” said Alex Tryon, VP of Strategic Initiatives at The Muse. “Flexibility doesn’t always mean one blanket statement. It doesn’t mean work from home policies. The world of work is much more complicated and must be individualized.”
While that sounds complex, this trend will help foster engagement, suggested Jessica Lawrence Quinn, Managing Director of Civic Hall. “Because work doesn’t end with a golden retirement, cushy savings, predictable security — people want meaning right now. They are looking for immediacy in finding purpose, and a company that will facilitate that.”
In short, if the advances of the past 10 years are any indication, there’s no way to predict what technologies we’ll be using or what technical skills we’ll need to use them. But we can focus on what we do know: the humans behind that tech.