A Better World of Work
What will the world look like in the fully automated future—a future where robots have replaced the human workforce? Technology has made people redundant since the beginning of the industrial revolution, but increasingly it appears that no sector is safe.
Automation is not the only force at play in the rapidly changing world of work. Careers have become more about the role we play rather than the company we happen to work at. Technology is giving many the possibility of location flexibility, and working culture is fast adapting, with monitoring of project results rather than hours spent in the office. Coworking spaces, coffee shops and working from home are becoming the norm for more and more knowledge workers. Job mobility is increasing, and freelancing is on the rise.
These significant changes—whether positive or negative—pose questions to employers and employees alike. How can employers acquire and retain the best talent, and create a work environment that appeals to the modern worker? How can employees stay employable when their potential (robot) competitor needs no coffee breaks, salary, or pension?
More fundamentally, what does 'good' work look like? How do individuals and organisations adapt to and thrive in these new conditions? Which trends should we embrace?
What is good work?
What does a good job look like? Is it just about the money? Emotional satisfaction? Providing value to customers? A positive environment? In Mauritius, a study claims that "'enriched' jobs are those jobs where the individual has prospects for achievement, advancement, growth, recognition and responsibility", where the role includes "autonomy, feedback, skill variety, task identity, and task significance". Clearly personal growth is a critical ingredient. The same study finds that job dissatisfaction among youths is caused mainly by extreme time pressures and deadlines, no opportunities for promotion, and a lack of respect from management—all symptoms of a lack of agency.
If follows that by creating a growth-oriented working culture, fostering respect in relationships, and increasing employee control, job satisfaction can be improved. And that's the motivation behind our services at DodoWorkPlay. But if we broaden our horizons to look at trends and ideas around the world we can see that growth and agency are just part of the big picture.
Progress through diversity
For Nir Hindi, CEO of The Artian, combining disciplines is the key to innovation and the future of work. By drawing out talents, making use of people's unique abilities and resources, Hindi aims to leverage diversity to integrate the arts within business and the ever-changing workspace.
Finding purpose in what we do
Perhaps one of the primary ingredients of a better world of work is purpose. As we found in our look at Ikigai, purpose is a not only a consideration that we make in our work, but is central to our identity: it's what we get out of bed for in the morning. More than ever before, companies are tapping into employees' desire to make a positive difference in the world.
Even in a tumultuous global economy, and in countries with stagnating pay, employees are increasingly looking beyond their pay cheque for motivation. Ernst & Young's "better working world" is just one example of how organisations are building purpose into their narrative. But story-telling alone is one thing—how does this translate into action? Setting aside the question of whether a given business is making the world a better place, what steps are companies taking to improve the experience of their employees?
Workplace Design for increased employee satisfaction
Workplace design is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of efforts to improve productivity and satisfaction at work. From hot-seating, movable desks, music rooms, pets in the office to plans and greenery—rooms designed to encourage creativity have a positive correlation with job satisfaction and employee happiness levels.
Researchers have found that adding plants and greenery in an office can help increase employee productivity by 15%. A Virginia Commonwealth University study found that employees who bring dogs to work produced lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And at LinkedIn's headquarters in Mountain View, California, employees can jam out in a music room that's stocked with high-end music equipment like drums, guitars, keyboards, AV equipment, microphone stands, and even stage lighting.
The answer isn't always breaking down walls, however. One study found that when employees did not have an assigned desk, they did not move around more; instead, they would find a place to work and then stay there for the rest of the day. While interaction among employees did increase, team communication dropped by 45%.
As an employee or entrepreneur, there is no doubt of the importance of creating a work environment that will nurture individual and company growth. W. Clement Stone once said "You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment that will best develop you toward your objective. Are the things around you helping you toward success - or are they holding you back?".
Bringing personality to work
Even what we wear can influence our perceptions of work. Dress codes can distinguish employees from customers, or create a perceived difference between work and leisure: according to Dr Karen Paine, fashion psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, dressing casually could cause an employee to feel less focused and alert.
Conversely, walk into a technology or creative firm, or a start-up hub such as Turbine and you will observe workers expressing their personality and creativity through what they wear. This rejection of traditional corporate culture hints at the creative and disruptive mindsets at work, and if attitudes are shifting towards freedom and personal expression, then it would be symptomatic of the transfer of control to employees which, as we have already found, is a key to increasing job satisfaction.
The health of the world of work
There are a whole host of trends emerging in a world of work which is being reinvented, pressured and stretched, primarily by the opportunities and threats of technology. Generally, those trends which promote growth, agency and purpose are positive from a satisfaction perspective—just one of many measures by which we can assess the health of the world of work.
For individuals, a better world of work means continuous learning and growth, which is perhaps the most direct route to the other ingredients for a satisfying work life: commanding more agency, and identifying the purpose in what you do.
For organisations, providing employees with growth opportunities and flexibility is key to acquiring and retaining those who are positioned to make most of an impact—those with the knowledge, skills and experience to take control of their career. Aligning roles with employees' increased demand for purpose is not only good for business, but for the world of work as a whole. These are not superficial concerns: loyalty, energy and productivity are at stake.
About the author
Elizabeth Kitange is a Social Science student at the African Leadership University in Mauritius. She aspires to work with companies in different sectors to better understand society as a consumer base for research. Elizabeth is passionate about social innovation and impact. She joined DodoWorkPlay as an intern in September 2017 where she looks after editorial and social media.