Written by: Keith Keating
I have seen the future, and I want to tell you about it. For the last few years, I have been one of many researching, identifying, and sharing approaches to ready our workforce for the future. The models are sound in design and the skills are practical, human-centered, and intuitive in their approach. The date for when the future of work would arrive has been shrouded in ambiguity and simply referred to as “the future.” Estimates by futurists ranged from ten to 15 years—and as little as five—but no one could forecast the exact date. No one predicted it would happen overnight, but it has. The future is now: literally.
Future of Work
Until now, only a percentage of organizations recognized the power and value of remote workers. We advocates have believed for some time in breaking the chains that bound us to a physical workspace and asserted that work is what you do, not where you go. Overnight, though, millions of workers have been thrust into a new reality of remote work—many without the luxury of preparation, proper physical space, or necessary technology. What had previously been a glacial process of corporate transformation—both in recognizing the value of remote work and creating the infrastructure to support it—has been achieved in a matter of days. It has been neither perfect nor easy, but we are managing. Businesses that have the luxury of functioning remotely are still operational. Many are even thriving in this new environment. The outcome is clear: remote work does work. And not just for the future, but for today.
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Business models are changing overnight not only to meet the needs of customers but—where possible—of a population under siege by a pandemic. Auto manufacturers are producing ventilators and safety gear; fast-food franchises are leveraging their supply chain to deliver school lunches; and beer manufactures are producing hand sanitizer. The agility of these organizations in pivoting from their business models of just two months ago so quickly and successfully is unprecedented. If I had predicted these billion-dollar organizations would transition to 100% remote work and change their business models in an accelerated manner in a matter of days, you would not have believed me. We are seeing the future manifest before us, and it is not only possible but it is happening.
For many years, futurists have shared the goal of having agile, adaptable employees who are ready to meet any next organizational need. I’m seeing this future materialize. Our workforce can do it; they are doing it. We have long advocated against defining talent by jobs or job titles but rather by skills. Overnight, the shift has occurred. Talent is no longer delineated by job title but by business needs and those who have the skillset to meet it. The way we work has transformed. The adaptability our workforce is demonstrating at this moment is breathtaking and beautiful.
The future of work is now. No, it is not the full future we predicted, where robots and technology augment our tasks—that vision will take more time to develop. The future of work we see now is the human side, where higher-order cognitive skills like empathy, problem-solving, creativity, and a growth mindset reinforce our resiliency and ability to successfully face adversity and critical change.
Future of Learning
Futurists have long focused on the importance of creating environments to enable our workforce to develop new skills. The learning and development (L&D) industry has been ramping up to do just that. We did not, however, know that the demand would be so immediate, and so dramatic. Over the last few months, my focus of research included predictions of the ways L&D would need to evolve in the next five years to meet the needs of our learners. The underlining requisite illustrated a move away from a fixed, top-down learning model toward a shared community of practice, and included:
- From what to know to how to do
- from teacher-centered to learner-centered
- From brick and mortar to virtual
- From individual SME (subject matter expert) to collaborative expertise
- From formal credentials to informal skill inventories
- From content creation to knowledge curation
- From push to pull
- From managers as supervisors to managers as coaches
- From fixed learning to blended learning
In nature, as in learning, evolution is gradual. But the abrupt shift in our work lives compressed an evolution of five years to a matter of days. These predictions have become reality.
The pivot and transformation accelerant for L&D does not stop here. We have collectively and silently given ourselves permission to be imperfect. Speed, not perfection, is what our learners need along with performance and workflow support, not training. This is our time to execute on all of the theories, methodologies, and approaches we’ve been studying. Workplace learning is the new UI/user experience testing. This is the time to innovate and apply new technologies—and to mine existing content repositories across our organizations to facilitate workplace learning; dismantle the barriers to content access and ease-of-navigation and create environments that make learning easier and quicker.
We are learning that simply lifting and shifting instructor-led classes into web-based training is not enough. Virtual learning needs to be creative, engaging, and supportive—and let’s not forget the importance of pedagogy.
These caveats are not new. We did not know we would need to take years of theory and apply it overnight. Admittedly, some of our current attempts are clunky, but we are learning and evolving quickly–and we will get there. We’ve sustained, after all, a shock to our learning ecosystem.
Our new reality marks an experiential shift for our learners. To survive it, their learning must focus on their needs—not our nice-to-haves. The end result will be a model of lean learning. The future of learning is now.
Future of Us
Our world turned virtual overnight when we became the hosts to an invisible contagion. Separation became the key to safety yet, amid our isolation, we share a connection. We are networked, even hyper-networked, and we are experiencing this unprecedented disaster collectively, as a global community. Physical barriers are omnipresent, but virtual barriers are crumbling as we extend compassion beyond our small circles and into the world.
Our efforts are not perfect. We could do better. But given our lack of preparation time, we must forgive our clunky execution and focus on how to improve. There is no single solution for our current situation; no prior model to leverage.
In our drastically changed landscape, we see the future: remote work, organizational agility, networked generative learning, and hyper-connectivity among people. It may not have arrived exactly as we predicted, with years of gradual transformation of robots taking control of the world. Instead, we faced a stealthy and silent accelerator that divided our world physically but united us virtually. With it came fear, volatility, and uncertainty, but it is our human skills enabling us to prevail. Empathy, creativity, and problem-solving are the skills of the future, the skills of today, and the skills that make us resilient and irreplaceable.