How the gig economy, generational shifts and technology will change the way we work.

Often dubbed the fourth industrial revolution, we are living in a time of profound transformation impacting how we live, work, play and plan for our future.  Digital disruption is not discriminatory – it impacts every industry and every profession.  For c-suite executives and directors, it is crucial to understand how these shifts not only impact the products and services you sell and how you sell them, but how you manage the workforce and resources of the future.  There are a number of trends impacting the future of work. 

The Gig or Sharing Economy.  The idea of making extra money by driving people around in your car when you have free time or renting your home while you travel was novel a few years ago as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb were introduced.  While those ground-breaking companies still have many regulatory and business model challenges ahead, they paved the way for the millennial approach to work, creating millions of micro entrepreneurs.  Now nearly anyone can make extra money by using something they already had, a car, an apartment or house.  They are also finding new ways to work and build businesses through E Lance or by starting up service or tech driven businesses and working from a We Work (shared office) facility.  This new concept of having multiple sources of income or a “portfolio of work” as a new norm will change how future generations think about the skills they need, how they make money from multiple sources and how they manage their career and life.  Traditional companies may need to offer similar benefits to compete. 

Generational Shifts.  Speaking of career and life balance, the generations are shifting and the Millennials and Generation Z populations think about those things much differently than Generation X and Baby Boomers who preceded them. 

Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964 number about 77 million.  They are now over fifty-five and heading towards retirement.  But, Baby Boomers, unlike their parents’ generation before, have little interest in retiring and will likely live a lot longer, meaning they need to keep earning money.  Baby Boomers defined the 60+ hour work week model of career success so they want to keep working and feel relevant.  Expect to see Baby-Boomers starting businesses and leveraging the sharing economy, as well as hanging on to senior positions in professional service firms and on boards without mandatory retirement ages.   

Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1978,  dwarf in numbers to the other generations alive today.  At approximately 44 million, this small number of people are now in their forties and early fifties, trying to leverage what they have learned and accomplished in their career.  Sandwiched between Baby Boomers who don’t want to retire and Millennials who don’t play by the same rules, this generation may be stuck without a path to the top if Boomers don’t retire and with a new generation working in a completely different way on their heels.  Gen Xer’s are the last to truly understand how the world worked before the internet so there should be ample opportunity for Gen Xer’s who learn to escape the limiting rules they were taught by the Boomers.  This group is primed to ascend into leadership roles and will need to adapt to a new rule framework to succeed in leading the Millennials and Gen Z.  A few important Gen Xer’s leading us to new places include Elon Musk of Tesla and Space X, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber, and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. 

Millennials.  Millennials are those born between 1979 and 1995, and number close to 80 million.  The elder millennials are now in their mid-thirties and often married and having children.  The younger millennials are well past college.  While many are struggling to pay back overwhelming college debt realizing they didn’t develop the skills they need, as a whole, they have a different approach to work and life.  They view work as a way to make money, not as the only thing that defines them.  They are defined more by their friends and experiences.  They don’t define success by the number of hours they work, but the experiences they have and crave collaboration, feedback and a sense of shared culture.  Their social media driven lifestyle means they want to be recognized – more so than previous generations.  They don’t want to follow the rules of the past and have a level of expectations or entitlement unlike prior generations.  This shift will have to be leveraged and managed to avoid critical mistakes.  A few well known business leaders as Millennials include Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snapchat and Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb.

Gen Z.  The teenagers of today, born between 1996 and the early 2000s also number about 85 million.  This is a generation that has grown up with social media, technology and smart phones, most since they were in elementary school.  They have seen the Millennials saddled with debt and question the value of education in a changing technology driven environment.  They watch people make millions by playing video games on You Tube and the notion of career at one or two companies is something that their parents and grandparents did, not that they would do.  How they will grow into young adulthood still remains to be seen.  But technology will undoubtedly change what kind of work is available to them and their Millennial managers will instill in them a different approach to work than the 60+ hour work week and “face-time” rule framework developed by Baby Boomers and handed down to GenXer’s 

All of this means that the generational shifts combined with a sharing economy amidst new technologies will change the way companies leverage human resources and the way humans define careers and life success.   So, what are the jobs of the future?

Just like the industrial age and information age replaced jobs, the digital age of the future will also shift jobs and the skills needed.  Technology like Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things and Robotics will likely replace things currently done by humans.  For example, we may no longer need human analysts in industries ranging from banking to health care or advertising.  We may no longer need pharmacists to dispense drugs or line workers in factories.  Artificial Intelligence will gather, collect and analyze all of the data and make recommendations for things to be done more efficiently, reducing costs for corporations.  Work life and culture will evolve.  Consider what may still be needed from humans. 

  • The Experience Society.  As our society moves to a world where machines do more of the work, we will all be looking for better experiences.  While machines can do a lot, sometimes another human is needed to deliver the connection of services you want.  Expect to see the younger generations developing and working in businesses focused on human experiences. 

  • Creativity and Innovation.  Robots and AI analyze and solve many problems while delivering basic needs, but creativity and innovation in how to leverage and deliver human needs will still need human creativity.  While many argue a singularity will come where machines know us better than we do, others, at least for now, maintain that real creativity may require humanity. 

  • Sales.  Yes, sales.  As robots and technology can crunch data and predict how to sell things better through technology, humans will still be needed to make personal connections at certain levels of business and in many ways, the people who can solve problems and connect with people in delivering sales and customer support will be in greater demand.

  • Human Resources.  If there’s anything we have learned from the #metoo movement and observation of the generational shifts it’s that inappropriate human behavior is no longer going to be acceptable.  HR will be needed to train and develop leaders who can understand the new rules, work more effectively together as humans and better manage the technology that will undoubtedly take over more of what we do. So, too, will an understanding of psychology and how to help people navigate a sense of purpose and meaning in a world of machines.  As a sense of shared culture becomes more and more important, managing humans and creating those cultures will be in high demand. 

  • Oversight. In a world of robots, oversight will be more important than ever.  Anyone who has watched the Terminator knows that we don’t want Judgment Day to come when the computers turn on us.  This means human oversight of technology will become more important than ever.  This will require a blend of technical knowledge with governance and regulatory principles.  Technology follows the rules given to it, but sometimes there are unintended consequences.  Human oversight will become an essential job to ensure we don’t have a judgment day. 

  • Programming.  The skills of programming technology will only increase, although robots may be able to do a lot more of the work.  Those with technical aptitudes should adopt a constant learning approach to understanding programming languages and how to scale them quickly.  

  • Building and repairing.  Everything will still need to be fixed.  Even robots designed to fix other things will need to be fixed.

There are many other fields that will increase the need for skilled humans and some things that simply won’t be replaced in a virtual world, particularly in leadership, communication, regulation and relationship management.  Every industry will be impacted and the now is the time to begin thinking about what succession plans and pipelines you will need.  How will GenXer’s lead?  What happens when Baby Boomers are gone, Millennials are the managers and Gen Z decides to make their own rules in the virtual reality world in which they have grown up?

If you’re interested in this topic, I’m speaking at the National Association of Corporate Directors Global Summit in Washington D.C. on October 2nd on the future of work or you can reach me at