The Future of Work

Business & Career Advice with Neil Franklin

Back in the early 90s when I started my main technology staffing business, I was conducting mountains of research.

I wanted to get ahead of my competition, and really understand what was driving the companies that I wanted to sell my services to. I was not just interested in the staffing aspects, but the entire technology landscape and how it would look in the future, the steps the industry would go through to get there and more importantly, the impact on the clients I was going to pick up the phone and call.

I had come across an article by the then head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte and his quote grabbed my attention immediately: “I’ve seen the future and it works.”

If you saw my article in the February edition about Bitcoin and the associated technologies, you can see it was easy to predict the possibility, and even the eventuality of what we have today and will have in the future.

But I was concerned with the people aspects of technology and also the fact that we had progressed in the Western World at least, from analogue technology to digital and that the telecommunications industry was to be de-regulated, allowing for more than one operator of the fixed and mobile telephony services to operate in any country.

A far cry from when the UK was dependent on the good old British Telecom.

I saw a dependency coming — on a group of people who would be able to travel the globe, deliver their specific expertise, and, on a “demand” basis.

For me, the whole idea of a permanent employee and a temporary one would go out of the window and companies would simply hire people to cover the demand, and then allow those same people to freely move to the next opportunity as they wished.

The challenge of course was to be able to find these people and then deliver them, which is another story…but I had termed these people the “virtual workforce.”

I had an article published in Time magazine that took my term and changed it to “digital nomads.”

Either way, the writing was on the wall for a whole new type of worker and fast forward to today and we are seeing the rise in what is termed the “lifestyle entrepreneur” or digital nomad!

I am now going to put my visionary hat on once again (it actually never came off) and look at the next phase.

Companies will now have to start designing their jobs to fit the individual rather than simply putting out a vacancy in the hope that applicants will flock to them.

Millennials for example, don’t want to work in an office, after a stressful commute and in traditional working hours — they crave flexibility and the ability to live a totally different lifestyle as true digital nomads.

In the “good old days” as I hear some people refer to them, the focus was on getting a solid education, becoming a professional (lawyer, accountant etc.)  for example and then working until you received a good pension to sit back and enjoy life.

Today we are seeing the collapse of the High Street, the vulnerability of pension funds and probably the most volatile and uncertain economic conditions we have ever seen.

The internet has changed the world — it has slashed physical boundaries, enabled instant communication and opened up a whole new way of doing business…

…And of the way we work.

While executives of large companies such as Toys R Us were arguing in the boardrooms over future strategy, Amazon was unlocking the door to a more convenient way of shopping…and we all know the result.

If you were a freelance worker when I was first working in the recruitment world back in the 1980s, then you would depend on companies like mine to find that next opportunity, but today you can connect with companies in a heartbeat and traditional business models have not only been disrupted, some have been made obsolete.

So what does the future hold you may ask and how do I prepare my own children for the future?

Well firstly, children today are natural “technophobes” as they are growing up with technology and that will lead them into the future of Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and other sciences as far as one career path is concerned.

Or they will like my three children be drawn into music, the arts and sport.

But in any event, there is one component of life that AI and machines are not good at (at least right now) and that is what is termed “Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

Here is a definition from

“The capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Emotional intelligence is the key to both personal and professional success.”

In recruiting terms EQ was described as “soft skills” — those intangible skills that went hand-in-hand with the educational and professional qualifications that made up the Intelligence Quotient (IQ).

I do believe that in the end (whenever that may be, but not anytime soon) we will be run by machines and simply because they will have the capacity to outperform us mere humans and through machine learning, they will be able to replicate our thoughts and ultimately emotions.

We have all seen the movies and the question comes down to “when?”

We really don’t know.

It could be fifty, one hundred years or maybe more, but it is not illogical to think that it will happen.

Automation is here already, and it will start to take over repetitive human tasks and you can use your imagination here, but what machines and AI currently lack lies within the field of EQ – creativity, empathy and plain old common sense!

These skills will become invaluable in the workplace and companies will be searching intently for people with these qualities, which is why I believe there will be a shortage of talent.

Take a very important job function — sales and selling.

AI will remove the time-consuming tasks of say customer research and it will add more features to customer relationship management leaving the sales person free to do what they do best — sell!

This is where EQ will come in, as now the salesperson will need a high level of emotional skills to interact with and ultimately sell to the key decision makers within their target companies.

In the example of sales and selling, think of AI as empowering the salesperson just as it will many other job functions.

But I will come back to the way of working, and let’s stay with the selling example for the moment.

Good salespeople with high levels of EQ will be in huge demand and that is why they will call the shots. They will be able to choose the companies they wish to work for, rather than the companies choosing them and this is where we will see total shift in the way we work.

My advice to everyone is to firstly get online — start a simple blog and use it to communicate, “Who you are” to the world, as well of course as what you know.

“Who you are” relates to EQ and it may resonate with someone or a company, which is where the fun starts and you never know, you might just get asked to work for someone!

There is a saying in the recruitment world:

“You hire someone for what they know and fire them for who they are!”

The Internet is still growing…and massively, so please don’t think you have missed the boat and current predictions are looking at ninety percent of the population being online by 2030.

And here is one last thought that will create many lucrative business opportunities.

For those of you, who are nearing retirement or have retired, think of the sheer amount of knowledge and experienced you have gained and how invaluable it is to others and the world of mentoring and coaching is growing rapidly and the Internet is a great way to get that information and knowledge out there.

Automation will certainly threaten the future of work, but it will also create a whole new set of opportunities for those who are prepared to look for them!


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