3 Concepts that Define the Future of Work

3 Concepts that Define the Future of Work
đź‘‹ Hi, I am Mark. I am a strategic futurist and innovation keynote speaker. I advise governments and enterprises on emerging technologies such as AI or the metaverse. My subscribers receive a free weekly newsletter on cutting-edge technology.

The organisation of tomorrow will look fundamentally different than today’s organisation. Those enterprises that are aware of the upcoming changes can best prepare and achieve competitive advantage in a data-driven society. Consequently, the future of work will require management and employees to take a different approach when it comes to creating and delivering a product or service. The future of work will be defined by three concepts: data, decentralisation and automation that will radically change leadership, culture, privacy and security. Let’s discuss each of these concepts.

The Future of Work is Data-driven

Big data has been around for some time now. It has often been coined the next “management revolution”, the Fourth Industrial Revolution or “the next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity”. While only a few years ago, organisations were still struggling to understand the impact of these trends on their business, big data has now emerged as the corporate standard.

Big data analytics affects all organisations, big or small, has an impact on every industry around the globe and is a key characteristic of the organisation of tomorrow. Especially in these ambiguous and uncertain times, analytics enables organisations to sense opportunities. Using large amounts of structured and unstructured data and applying it to advanced analytics enables organisations to understand their environment and seize opportunities, which enables them to remain competitive.

Data analytics can help to interpret the business environment, enable managers to act and result in sustained superior performance and competitive advantage. The introduction of descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analytics in your work means that the traditional way of decision-making, based on experience and expertise, is exchanged for data-driven decision-making. When organisations provide more people with access to knowledge, power is distributed more equally, enabling employee empowerment within an organisation. This power shift is necessary to fully benefit from big data analytics.

The future of work, therefore, will result in flatter organisations. Where those employees facing the customer or those directly involved in building a product use data to optimise their decisions. This requires a change in company culture, as real-time insights from data require real-time action from employees and management. Fewer managers and more empowered employees will radically change your culture.

As a result, I believe that future organisations will increasingly be a holacracy. A holacracy is an organisation where power is distributed across the organisation, enabling self-management and empowerment. It applies decentralised management and organisational governance, whereby authority and decision-making are distributed and delegated using self-organising teams. Within a holacracy, leadership is an enabler for empowered employees.

The Future of Work is Decentralised

Once processes and customer touchpoints have been datafied, data will become the common denominator in the organisation. Data can be easily shared with industry partners, resulting in numerous opportunities to increase efficiency within a supply chain and improve collaboration with industry partners.

Therefore, I think that blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, will be the golden standard for supply chains. The future of work will rely on a decentralised single source of the truth when exchanging value among industry partners. In a decentralised system, data becomes immutable, verifiable and traceable. This means that the provenance of either data or products will help the organisation of tomorrow become more efficient and transparent. Organisations can create value by effortlessly collaborating in real-time with a network of peer-to-peer actors.

Thanks to blockchain, the future of work will be more efficient, transparent and secure. Settlement of transactions will take hours instead of weeks, the cause of flawed products can be found in minutes instead of days, and your networks will become more secure and resilient to hackers. In addition, blockchain allows organisations to embed data governance directly within the network, bringing the code to the data. Laws and regulations can be programmed into code and stored on a blockchain so that they are enforced automatically. This will make governance easier. The ledger can act as legal evidence for data and increase the importance of data ownership, data transparency, and auditability.

With the future of work, smart contracts will increasingly remove the need for human judgement and minimising the need for trust. When multiple smart contracts are combined, together with artificial intelligence and analytics, it becomes possible to automate decision-making capabilities altogether. This will result in a completely new paradigm of organising activity and can result in new organisational designs that are completely run by computer code, so-called Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs). The future of work might very well be without employees.

The Future of Work is Automated

The organisation of tomorrow will rely heavily on artificial intelligence. Already, there have been numerous examples of great applications of AI, and slowly organisations understand that we also have to be careful with AI. Nevertheless, artificial intelligence offers organisations a chance to upgrade their processes and customer touchpoints by merging human and machine capabilities.

Artificial intelligence is a broad discipline with the objective to develop intelligent machines. AI consists of several subfields: Machine learning (ML), a subset of AI that enables machines to learn from data. Reinforcement learning, which is a subset of ML and focuses on artificial agents that use trial and error to improve itself. And deep learning, also a subset of ML that aims to mimic the human brain to detect patterns in large datasets and benefit from those patterns. Recently, we have seen a lot of progress being made with transfer learning, where AI can apply knowledge from one domain into another domain.

When it comes to the future of work, there are three domains where AI will have the most impact: the human world, the physical world and the information world. In the human world, we will predominantly see cognitive systems where AI directly collaborates with humans. The best example would be chatbots in a call centre. Chatbots will not completely take over a call centre but will assist call centre agents in their work.

AI and the physical world revolves around robots. Here, robots will assist humans in their work, or completely take over certain tasks, for example, in factories. The first dark factories – factories where it is dark as there are no longer humans working – is an extreme example of the integration of AI in the physical world. However, a more common example would be the integration of exoskeletons to augment factory workers in their work.

Finally, machine learning deals with the information world. It is all about machines using data to learn. Most of us have gotten used to it in our daily work or lives, where machine learning algorithms help us find a website or a certain product or book (so-called recommendation engines).

The future of work is the seamless integration of all three domains, where cognitive systems augment human interactions, robotics replace or directly interact with humans, and machine learning helps make sense of the flood of data coming our way. Together, these three systems will automate and augment future work, thereby changing the notion of work itself.

Privacy and the Future of Work

The common denominator in the future of work is data, and the organisation of tomorrow will be a data organisation. However, a data organisation not only comes with massive opportunities but more importantly, it also brings huge responsibilities. It enables you to offer the best product or customer service, but only if you respect your customer and the data at hand. Ethics, privacy and security should be engraved in every employee and organisations should adhere to multiple ethical guidelines:

First of all, organisations should be transparent, so that consumers know what will be done with the data that is collected, today and in the future. They should keep their communication simple and understandable, so that everyone, including digital immigrants, understands what’s being done with the data. This means simplifying the terms and conditions to make sure that it does not read like the constitution.

All data should be well-secured and encrypted. Although distributed ledger technology will enable highly secure data, non-decentralised data remains receptible for hackers. Where data is collected, hackers will be active, and any organisation should assume that they can and will be hacked. Organisations should ensure that hackers do not stand a chance, and if they do get access to the data, the data is useless. If your organisation has not yet been hacked, you are simply not important enough.

If data is your most important asset, which is the case if you are a data organisation, it should require the utmost attention. Therefore, quantum-resistant encryption should be applied to your data to protect your organisation also in the era of the quantum computer. Next, the organisation of tomorrow should give back control of consumer data whenever possible. If the consumer created the data, the consumer owns it and should control it. Finally, privacy should be part of the DNA, so that all employees understand the importance of it. The development of a quality mark, to ensure that organisations adhere to these guidelines, could be imaginable/desirable.

The organisation of tomorrow will not be able to survive very long when ignoring these ethical guidelines. The transition costs for consumers will only decrease, especially when data ownership will return to consumers. Once we have reached a decentralised society, the power will lie with the consumer and organisations will have to focus on simply developing the best product and offering the best service.

Final Thoughts

The future of work revolves around data, decentralisation and automation. Data collection can help every aspect of your business from developing new products to improving operational efficiency. Data leads to knowledge which ultimately drives decision making. As such, the organisation of tomorrow is a data business.

To turn your existing organisation into a data organisation, there is a lot of work to be done. It means that you should datafy your processes, distribute your data via the cloud or using distributed ledger technologies, analyse your data using analytics to sense and seize opportunities and automate your decision-making using AI and smart contracts. In each of these steps, you should take into account ethical guidelines to ensure that you respect your employees’ and customers’ privacy and security. When doing so, you will become a data organisation that is ready for the future of work.

Image: MJgraphics/Shutterstock

Dr Mark van Rijmenam

Dr Mark van Rijmenam

Dr. Mark van Rijmenam is a strategic futurist known as The Digital Speaker. He stands at the forefront of the digital age and lives and breathes cutting-edge technologies to inspire Fortune 500 companies and governments worldwide. As an optimistic dystopian, he has a deep understanding of AI, blockchain, the metaverse, and other emerging technologies, and he blends academic rigour with technological innovation.

His pioneering efforts include the world’s first TEDx Talk in VR in 2020. In 2023, he further pushed boundaries when he delivered a TEDx talk in Athens with his digital twin , delving into the complex interplay of AI and our perception of reality. In 2024, he launched a digital twin of himself offering interactive, on-demand conversations via text, audio or video in 29 languages, thereby bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds – another world’s first.

As a distinguished 5-time author and corporate educator, Dr Van Rijmenam is celebrated for his candid, independent, and balanced insights. He is also the founder of Futurwise , which focuses on elevating global digital awareness for a responsible and thriving digital future.