We talk a lot about the future of work. It's become a very hot topic, and it means something slightly different to everyone. Maybe you think the future of work is a fully-robotic workforce. Or maybe it's flashy new technology -- new inventions that enter our lives at such a clip that we can barely keep up. Or maybe you're focused on the hottest new employee perks and figuring out how your company can offer amazing benefits.

If we continue to focus on things, I'm worried we'll f*@% up the future of work before it even gets here. Things don't matter; it's the people that matter. By keeping your people at the center of how you plan for the future of work, you can get on the right track and avoid the common mistakes that I see leaders making.

In this post, I'll give you three examples of where we're f*@%ing up and how we can do better.


1. Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Most Americans anticipate widespread job automation in the coming decades. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, about eight in ten U.S. adults (82%) said that by 2050, robots and computers would definitely or probably do much of the work currently done by humans. And, in fact, we're well on our way to that reality.

The Deloitte 2017 Global Human Capital Trends survey found that 41% of companies had fully implemented or had made significant progress in adopting cognitive and AI technologies within their workforce. But despite the progress that's been made, the U.S. public generally anticipates more negative than positive effects from widespread job automation. In that same Pew study, around three-quarters of Americans (76%) said inequality between the rich and the poor would increase if robots and computers perform most of the jobs currently being done by humans by 2050.

Like it or not, it's clear that robots are going to be an integral part of the future of work, so here's what's f*@%ed up:


Fear

In 2017, nearly six in ten Americans said that there should be limits on the number of jobs that businesses can replace with machines, even if those machines are better and cheaper. That's not reason talking, that's fear. Fear is not an effective business strategy. We need to figure out a way to work with these tools, not shut them down because we don't understand them.


Lack of Preparation

Only 17% of global executives report they are ready to manage a workforce with people, robots, and AI working side by side. If companies are headed in this direction, then their leaders need to be prepared.


Replacement

Forrester predicted that automation would replace 9% of US jobs in 2018. That's a lot of jobs to be replacing, especially if executives aren't prepared to manage a blended workforce. Outright job replacement is a f*@%ed up move.

Here's how we can do better:


1. Start with acceptance.

Statistics show that automation is already here. Let's accept it and move on, because there are so many ways that automation and AI can improve our work.


2. Get prepared.

To get prepared, make a roadmap for your company to identify how automation and AI will be incorporated into your work. Involve your full staff in this planning. This is not a problem for IT or HR to solve in a silo. This will affect everyone, so in order for your plan to be successful, everyone must be involved.


3. Augment human productivity with technology.

Rather than replacing jobs with robots, use automation and AI as part of an augmentation strategy. Use these new tools as an opportunity to redesign jobs and tasks. Have your people focus on using their essential human skills, and allow their productivity to be augmented by technology.

AI and automation can improve work for your people. That's the reason we should embrace it as part of the future of work, not just because we feel like we have to "figure this AI thing out."


2. Multimodal Communication.

Technology has already changed how we all work together. Mobility and connectivity have forever changed how people interact, and the same communication advances have seen businesses evolve as well. People now have more communication tools than ever: phone, text, email, instant messenger/chat, video conferencing, and the list goes on. Additionally, 56% of companies allow remote work, so we need tools to keep remote, co-located, and hybrid employees in good communication.

Here's what's f*@%ed up:


Too Many Tools

Think about how many different platforms you use to communicate with your coworkers. If you use too many, you're likely not communicating effectively.


No Boundaries

With an increasingly distributed global workforce, managers can no longer assume that employees will be working during the same hours. We must adopt asynchronous communication to set all employees up for success. Be sure to find ways to disconnect outside of your business hours if possible.


Uneven Adoption

When you introduce a new tool, you have to make sure to train your employees. When new technologies aren't adopted equally by all, they can fail and create uncomfortable miscommunication.

Here's how we can do better:


1. Match the tool to the task.

Think about what method of communication will facilitate the best work. Use the best medium for each conversation.


2. Make small talk.

Nineteen percent of remote workers struggle with loneliness. In your rush to adopt new communication methods for productivity's sake, don't overlook how communication also helps with team building.


3. Use video.

Ninety-three percent of people agree that video conferencing is effective at improving the connectedness of remote employees. Use video to keep people on the same page, particularly if you're managing a distributed team.

Ultimately, we need to harness new communication methods in a way that makes sense for our unique companies and employees. We should use communication technology to make our lives better, not harder.


3. Employee Perks

Hiring top talent is competitive, and employers have to consider their benefits packages to recruit and retain excellent employees. Seventy-two percent of companies offer benefits that go beyond the traditional health and financial benefits products, and 25% of job seekers say that perks are very important. And to keep up, companies have begun implementing more unusual perks like on-site baristas, mid-day surfing, and paw-ternity leave.

Here's what's f*@%ed up:


Forgetting the Basics

79% of employees would prefer new or additional benefits to a pay increase, and the two most important benefits valued over a pay increase were, unsurprisingly, healthcare insurance and vacation/paid time off. These basic needs must be met before beginning to focus on more extravagant perks.


Irrelevancy

If a benefit doesn't solve a problem or doesn't somehow improve your employees' lives, you should spend your dollars elsewhere.


Ignoring Remote Employees

Frequently, benefits are provided in-office only, and remote employees are left out. Perks need to be equal for all employees.

And here's how we can do better:


1. Communicate.

88% of employees like the idea of having choices to customize their benefits packages. Talk to employees regularly and find out what they're looking for.


2. Allow remote work.

Companies that offer remote-friendly options see 25% less turnover than those that do not.


3. No, really. Allow remote work.

69% of millennials will trade other work benefits for flexible workspace options.

By leading with empathy and human needs, we can make sure we're not f*@%ing up the future of work with pointless, flashy benefits.

In conclusion, I encourage you to think about your own roadmap. Think about the work (the what), the workforce (the who), and the workplace (the where).

1. Work: With increasing robotics, cognitive, and AI technologies, what work can be done by -- and with -- smart machines?

2. Workforce: With new talent platforms and contracts, who can do the work? How do we leverage the continuum of talent from full-time, to managed services, to freelancers, gig workers, and crowds?

3. Workplace: With new combinations of collaborative, teaming, and digital reality technologies, how are workspaces and work practices reshaping where and when work is done?

It's worth putting a roadmap in place so that you have a plan for the people. In the end, if all of this isn't serving the people at your company, then we will f*@% up the future of work before it even gets here.

Owl Labs' CEO Frank Weishaupt will deliver his keynote "We're F*@%ing Up the Future of Work Before It Even Gets Here" on May 15, 2019, at 1:30 PM EDT. Read on to learn more about how we're effing up the future of work before it even gets here, and visit remote-future.com to register for the conference to see Frank's presentation and many others. Anyone can register for free and access all the keynotes and panels of the Summit from 15th to 17th of May.

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