How and where will we work?

What is the future of work?

While the future has yet to happen, people can turn their sight forward, observing changes large and small, and make some sense of what change might mean to you, your work and your organization. Futurists are professionals who study the future, using a range of tools, methods to try to determine what is possible, probable and even plausible. Futurists, or foresight professionals, rely on a few principles that guide their exploration of the future.

Futurists don’t make predictions. They believe the future is not a single point in time but consists of a range of possibilities that have yet to happen. The future emerges over time periods or horizons. The longer the time horizon, the more time to examine and adapt to those forces of change. And, futurists strongly believe that foresight provides precious time, time to understand and prepare for change.

The future is a combination of large, uncontrollable forces, like demographics which don’t change quickly, and many smaller ones. It is the interplay of all these changes that futurists learn to watch carefully, and begin to anticipate the possible range of impacts on people and work.

People inside organizations benefit from studying the future in many ways; it can offer an early warning for external changes that may have a sudden impact on workers such as salaries, benefits, safety regulations or classifications. Studying the future can illuminate the types and timing of technological changes, and suggest how those changes may impact a particular sector or industry. Naturally, changes in work translate into changes in the workforce. Knowing in advance any potential change brought about by technology can give HR leaders necessary time to buy, build or borrow the workforce they will need in the future.

Studying the future of an aging workforce can enable leaders to invest in knowledge and tools needed to build an age-diverse culture. They can conduct age audits to understand their workforce’s age distribution, anticipate retirement waves, determine the optimal ratio of ages in an intergenerational team, or identify barriers to retaining valued, skilled workers aged 50+.

Studying the future of work is fascinating. It offers new, fresh ways to approach HR challenges, find innovative solutions and build a time buffer to craft and implement those solutions. The goal of foresight is to help the organization face the future prepared, not surprised.