Technology is transforming the way we work and the work we do.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, 5G and the internet of things are making it possible to automate a greater range of tasks. Digitally-enabled business models are reshaping the relationship between businesses and workers, most notably through the rise of the gig economy. And while the COVID-19 pandemic forced communities into lockdown, connectivity tools have made it possible for hundreds of millions to work remotely.
The workforce in Europe and the U.S. is undergoing a transformation of its own. On average, we are living and working longer. The share of the working population aged 50 and over in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries is expected to increase from 37% to 45% by 2050.
COVID-19 has accelerated change, with mixed consequences for workers. For example, while remote work has opened up new opportunities for flexible work it has also led many to burnout and prompted a wave of turnover in the job market.
And long-brewing trends, especially climate change, are bringing further disruption, redirecting demand for labor to new industries and infrastructure.
A number of recent global efforts to define good work and its role in our economic development offer a common set of values from which to start. In 2015, the member states of the United Nations adopted a Sustainable Development Goal to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all” as an essential pillar of a peaceful and prosperous future. The International Labour Organisation has also called for a human-centered agenda for the future of work based on investing in people’s capabilities, institutions of work and decent and sustainable work.
Even before the pandemic, it was clear that the way we work now is not working for all of us. As we shape the work of the future, dignity for all workers must be at the heart of our vision. That means ensuring workers operate in safe working conditions and have fair pay, and that equity, inclusivity and purpose are enshrined in the workplace, everywhere.
The Future of Work Initiative
What actions should leaders take to achieve a more positive future of work? Verizon and Xynteo teamed up with Europe Delivers to explore this question.
In 2020, we engaged with thought leaders and practitioners from across Europe and the United States and identified five opportunities for transformation: corporate purpose; education and lifelong learning; lost potential; technology and ethics; and worker prosperity. The insights from our initial phase can be found here.
Throughout 2021, we brought together working groups of business leaders, policy shapers and learning experts from the U.S. and Europe to examine the future of work through a systems lens. These working groups formulated actionable recommendations for leaders in business and beyond to accelerate a positive future of work.
We also spoke to 18 organizations that are already providing solutions, and captured their lessons about what it will take for future of work innovations to scale. And we interviewed 27 workers in U.S., UK, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Sweden to test our emerging recommendations and understand their perspectives on the future of work.
The contributions of each working group participant and interviewee have been invaluable in the development of this work. However, their generous engagement does not imply any personal or organizational endorsement of the solutions and recommendations presented in this playbook.
A playbook for business leaders and beyond
Building a work future in which all can thrive will require commitment by many stakeholders. Businesses, both large and small, will play a key role: they employ the majority of the world’s workforce, and provide skilling and other support throughout workers’ careers. They can also pilot and scale new solutions.
This playbook presents nine strategic plays, each accompanied by a set of actions that businesses can take within their own organizations and in partnership with others.
We have oriented these plays around three design principles that have emerged as key to a future of work in which all can thrive.
The worker of the future will be on the move – across borders, industries, and gigs. Some of this mobility will be welcomed as flexibility, whereas in other cases it will be driven by industries or economies in transition. It may become more common to see workers blurring the line between full employment and independent working.
The solutions that facilitate worker mobility must also make work more inclusive and accessible, including to people without four-year college degrees, people balancing employment with caregiving responsibilities, and people from disadvantaged communities.
As worker mobility increases, large and small employers, communities and learning institutions will make up an increasingly dynamic and interconnected ecosystem of work. This entire work ecosystem will benefit from companies that invest in human capital, create opportunities that reduce inequality, and co-create curricula to build talent fit for the 21st century.
Greater collaboration between employers, regulators and educators can de-risk investments in the future of work. At the same time, updated policy approaches, accountability mechanisms and public-private partnerships can ensure that such investments are recognized and incentivized by governments, shareholders, customers and employees.
If the Industrial Era saw us educating, employing and compensating workers as if they were part of a machine, the Information Age must see us re-focusing on work that is fundamentally human. The rise of artificial intelligence and automation clears space for us to consider the work that humans do best, and the conditions under which we do our best work.
We should develop new measures of worker productivity that account for learning, health and responsibilities outside of the workplace, and equip workers to develop and use technology that meets human needs. Technology is already enabling greater worker autonomy and participation in companies’ decision-making. Purposeful leadership on the frontlines will play a critical role.
We hope this playbook inspires collaboration and action, and look forward to hearing from you about the best practices and solutions you believe will be most impactful towards achieving a future in which all can thrive.
The future of work is the future of us.