New Work – What does it mean?

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The effect of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence are perhaps the most talked‑about aspects of the new nature of work these days. With giant 3D printers making houses in less than 24 hours, algorithms dictating trade on financial markets, autonomous cars driving themselves and AI chatbots manning calls centers, where does this leave those who work in these sectors? In fact, where does it leave all of us? As AI becomes more finetuned, to the point that they can read facial expressions and determine things about that person, it is obvious that their presence will drastically change the workplace from what they are today. However, while the news may focus on the impact of machine learning and AI, there are many more issues shaping New Work.

The concept of New Work brings together two key concerns of any successful business practice, and this article addresses both concerns:

  • What is happening to the nature of work?
  • What does that mean for us?

The new nature of work

In the new nature of work, businesses are beginning to honor individuality. This is driven partly by the larger cultural shift (Western culture) of emphasis on uniqueness and standing apart from the crowd. After all, the new taste-makers and trend-setters can only wield power over millions of followers by proving they have something new to say that no one else has said yet.

New emphasis on employee uniqueness

However, businesses are also beginning to develop competitive edge by using each employee to the best of his specific abilities and by allowing some freedom over personal work habits and style. This is a massive shift from the blue-suited, wing-tipped halls of uniformity that used to be the image of a top workplace. Instead, in some of today’s most celebrated workplaces, every day is casual Friday and employees’ pets join them in the office.

New focus on fostering change

New business strategy includes and even relies on giving employees room to explore off the beaten track, instead of squeezing employees into a pre-determined mold. For example, Google famously gives every employee the option to spend twenty percent of his time on a project of choice, effectively making every employee part-time R&D. Zappos’ Second Core Value is to “Embrace and Drive Change,” and their Third encourages employees to “Create Fun and A Little Weirdness.”

It’s possible to dismiss these extraordinary companies as outliers; however, it is impossible to ignore that their new practices continue to generate massive success. Naturally, every other company wants that success for themselves, and it is changing the nature of the twenty-first century workplace.

The new nature of work is digital-driven

The shift away from one-size-fits-all toward “custom fit” work has been possible in partnership with the digital revolution. Digital transformations impact businesses at every level, as new tools allow businesses to find, with greater accuracy and precision, exactly where they can shift their strategies to uncover additional value, in everything from the supply chain to office supplies.

This tremendous change in the way we do business is changing leadership, too, as each president or CEO has to adapt his own style (and organizational culture) to meet the direction of his business.

New meaning in new work

As the culture and nature of work embrace the uniqueness of employees and exploit unique opportunities for business (as revealed through digital transformations), work is necessarily becoming more personal. Workers are more invested in work that is more tailored to their interests, and this is creating a new expectation that workers demand the opportunity to be invested.

This is a natural evolutionary step in business development. As in any evolution, after survival needs are met, individuals use their time/energy to explore beyond those basic needs. Then, those things which started out as “additional” are redefined as the new standard of basic needs. To return to a previous example, companies like Google and Zappos may seem like flukes, but in evolution, a successful fluke which thrives will become the new normal.

How to thrive in the new work: VUCA

As business pushes itself to keep up with the new, it’s taken on a motto from the American Military: VUCA. This stands for “volatility, uncertainly, complexity, ambiguity.” In a new world where a casual celebrity tweet can drop a stock price by eight percent in a day, VUCA admits, “We don’t know where we’re headed or what may happen next!”

However, embracing the new normal of VUCA is the first step for many businesses in finding their own ways to handle an increasingly unpredictable business climate. Leaders learn to adjust their expectations, from solving problems to managing uncertainty.

How to thrive in new work: robotics

Returning to the theme of machine Learning, AI and digital transformation, consider how new technologies affect the new normal. This generation’s greatest revolution in work is in learning to work side-by-side with robotics.

While such things as AI and automation are more predictable than a celebrity tweet, they are more powerful, restructuring every job, business, and industry. Businesses might appreciate that potential profits in new robotics, but business culture in general is still wary of this huge change, and that includes a large portion of the workforce.

The key here is to look to the industries already adapted to robotics. They are profiting from opportunities in automation design, construction, and maintenance. Rather that resisting the new work normal, it’s crucial to embrace what it offers and focus on the new opportunities.

If the trends in new work give you pause, remind yourself: outliers which thrive are actually early adaptors of new standards.

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