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The future of work?


Staff member
Feb 16, 2024
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There is lots of talk and writing about the future of work. I follow the #FutureOfWork hashtag on Mastodon. A recent report produced for Unilever — The Future of Work is Flexible — featured three ideas:

  • Embrace the ‘pixelated’ workforce.
  • The rise of the internal talent marketplace
  • Is the ‘skills passport’ the future of recruitment?

The report features several drivers of change, such as how AI can decompose [pixelate] jobs into smaller pieces for employees and contractors to compete for work. Fractional hiring then blurs the lines between full-time and contract work, which leads to an internal marketplace for work. This can lead to more precarious work but as the report notes, it can also result in ex-employees getting called back for contract work at their convenience. Re-skilling is a major theme of the report stating that many skills degrade after 2.5 years.

Another driver of change noted is aging demographics and the need for many of those in the middle to not only have child care responsibilities but also aging parents. What is never discussed, and will likely be the biggest driver of change, is the climate crisis.

Overall, the report reads like a feel-good mandate for management — easier ways to ‘plug & play’ workers. With a ‘pixelated’ workforce — using their skills passports to compete in the internal marketplace — who then can see the big picture? Who has the larger perspective to observe potential ethical violations? Is that the sole role of management? Is the future of work merely returning to industrial age Taylorism?

“It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adoption of standards and enforcing this cooperation rests with management alone.”Frederick Winslow Taylor (1911) The Principles of Scientific Management

A knowledge artisan is more than a worker with a skills passport. Knowledge artisans understand and can do the entire process of creation. They are not cogs in a ‘pixelated’ machine. Work is human, even though owners and managers are constantly driving for automation. While this report cites cases of more flexibility for some workers, it will all depend on how management implements these three ideas. If the latest round of layoffs in the information technology sector are an indicator, it won’t be favourable for workers.

Knowledge intensive workplaces demand cooperative learning in addition to collaborative work. This will require structural changes in the hierarchy and control systems. It also means changing the employment relationship where becoming a successful knowledge artisan will take a lot more than just being a good employee. A gig mindset is a change in the status quo.

Principle of Network Management — It is only through innovative and contextual methods, the self-selection of the most appropriate tools and work conditions and willing cooperation that more productive work can be assured. The duty of being transparent in our work and sharing our knowledge rests with all workers, especially management. —HJ
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