Work Is Changing. Are We Ready?

November 7, 2019

The fourth industrial revolution can evolve the workplace

As I prepare for a presentation in Austin, TX next week, I’m focusing on a topic that I’m extremely passionate about and speak about regularly: work-life integration. It’s also why I started this blog — to focus on leadership through life, not work.

During a TEDx talk in 2016, I spoke about how my first child’s birth and a wake-up call issued by my wife served as the catalyst that drove me to shift from pursuing balance to pursuing integration.

A couple of things have really hit me as I prepare for next week’s presentation. In the last few years I have been asked to speak at industry events around the country, and I’m honored to have those opportunities.  What’s interesting to me is how the topics I’m asked to cover have changed. I have spent decades speaking on industry trends, change management, leadership and innovation. But recently, the requests centered almost entirely on work-life integration, culture and talent. I spoke last week at a wealth management executive roundtable on talent and culture, and the conversation and energy in the room was so inspiring. Leaders everywhere are trying to figure out how to capture and retain top talent in an ever-changing world.  

I realized the catalyst that changed my focus from “balance” to “integration” was bigger than my personal wake-up call. Today, you no longer need a personal catalyst — there is a societal one now. We are in the midst of a digital revolution, and automation is everywhere. Yet, even in this era of automation, people are craving human interactions and connection. The digital revolution is changing how we live, work and relate as humans, not just as employees.  We all must reframe our thinking about the relationship between work and life. If we are brave enough to do that, then we will differentiate ourselves as employers for the top talent we seek to acquire and retain.

Transform the workplace

Not too long ago I read a book called The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab. It really helped me put things into perspective. Over the last several years, I’ve felt the significant shift in the idea of “work,” and as a leader, I’ve worked to construct a different working environment for my team and me.

I’ve written about my investment in our own culture within the team I lead, which we call responsive connectivity, a concept around which I’ve built our business strategy. The heart of this strategy is the connection of communities: customers, employees, partners and society. It also includes embracing a modern workplace philosophy like flexible workspace and flexible work arrangements. Not everyone bought into this right away, but I felt the need for change at an individual level and I wanted to do something meaningful for my team to help them integrate life and work. What I found is that everyone is receptive, but it’s not that easy. The systems that support this effort haven’t caught up fully.

I knew we needed change in work and working relationships, but I was struggling to put my finger on why and exactly how to change it. I used to believe the rise of the independent worker and remote work were driving it, and I still think they contribute. So, I enabled flexible schedules and the ability to work remotely. Because I also thought progressive leaders and the pursuit of purposeful work were driving it, I engaged in facilitated sessions to understand personal needs and desires. Clearly, this is a contributor as well. But once I read this book, I realized the driver of change is much deeper and would require more visionary thinking and time.

Be open to change

The book’s main insight is that work is shifting because the world is shifting. We’re in the midst of a digital revolution.PB-US-Blog-Inline-work-is-changing

While this is not a new revelation, this book helped me package the impact in a more consumable way. First, the idea of a revolution is so much bigger. Revolutions bring about substantial change, which may not be immediate, but it’s significant. Most of today’s articles about the digital revolution are about how we need to “transform our business model and build a digital platform.” While it is true that digital disruption gives us a chance to rethink our business model, revolutions are bigger than business.

Revolutions create systemic change, affecting politics, the economy and society. And as leaders, we need to think about that impact at a different level — not just at a business or commercial level, but on a societal level. After all, we’re all humans who are part of a society, including our employees, customers, colleagues and so on. Too often, we limit our thinking and ability to evolve because we believe the business world is somehow different from the “real world.” It’s not.

We’re all part of one society called life. Society’s evolving at an unprecedented rate that we can’t ignore. What does this mean to us as individuals and leaders?

It means it will change how we live, interact and work.

Technology is restyling interactions

Our lives are noticeably different from over a decade ago when Apple launched the first iPhone. We can see the amazing change in how we live. From monitoring our heart rates and sleep patterns through our watches to backing up and parking our cars, sensors are everywhere, and they’re changing how we live and track data. We’re only beginning to tap into sensors’ opportunities.

Human interaction has also changed. We connect digitally through emails, text, FaceTime and a growing number of social media platforms.  We’re now not just interacting with humans, but also with machines and smart machines that are becoming members of our households. We use machines to turn things on and off and ask for their thoughts on our fashion styles. Toddlers aren’t always asking Mom and Dad to play their favorite songs or videos — they’re asking Alexa.

Technology is also changing how, when and where we work. We don’t need to be tethered to our desks or offices. Some leaders still struggle with this, but this is a given. As leaders, we need to hire and train for trust and not limit progress because we don’t trust our people. Our employees are adults; we need to treat them that way. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s staggering to see how many leaders are still reluctant. In the end, they’re only holding themselves back from growing as leaders.

Redesign work

As leaders, are we really pushing the boundaries of how we define work and working relationships? I don’t think so.

Work or job design is one of the biggest things I reflect on as a leader. What should work look like given the fourth industrial revolution?

As individuals, we need to ask ourselves what we need and want from our lives, and how does work fit in. Technology blurs the lines between home and work, ironically creating the opportunity to reframe our thinking and redesign work — if we’re willing to take advantage of it.

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Al Chiaradonna