The future of work is often positioned as the next great battle between machines and humans. A future where, according to a 2013 study by the Oxford Martin School, 47% of all jobs in America and the UK are at risk because of computerization -- realizing John Maynard Keynes' 1930s prediction of 'technological unemployment.'
It is statistics like this that led Andrew Keen, in a recent article for The Sunday Times entitled 'March of the Robots' to write, "The race against the machine has begun. And we are being outrun, outgunned and outflanked by today's increasingly widespread network of digital devices and algorithms".
At the core of this dystopian vision of the future is the assumption that we only care about productivity -- as machines are more efficient and smarter than people this can only lead to one conclusion. It's an assumption that we believe is misplaced.
We are witnessing an increasing trend towards business putting people and planet alongside profit. More and more businesses are realizing the value of caring deeply about the people who work for them and the communities they serve -- businesses that at their heart are 100% Human not 100% Machines.
We're fortunate to be supporting The B Team, a group of global business leaders catalyzing a better way of doing business for people and planet. Over the last year we've been working with a community of over 30 businesses that are part of a People Innovation Network; a collective that are passionate about enabling people to thrive at work.
The insights from the People Innovation Network, many of which we've collated in our New Ways of Working report (such as the growth of purpose-driven organizations, lifelong growth opportunities for employees and the trend to welcoming well-being) have made us more optimistic than ever before that work is changing for the better.
Here are a few examples of shifts that put people at the heart of business:
Being Human Matters: In a world that is more connected that ever before people are ironically feeling increasingly isolated and craving human connection. Work can deliver positive connections and companies that treat people like a family rather than "headcount" are realizing the benefits to their bottom line. For example, Appletree Answers started an initiative called 'Dream On' where every employee has the opportunity to submit one dream. The dreams can be for the employees themselves, co-workers, family members or even complete strangers. They have ranged from giving homeless employees somewhere to live, to giving a seriously ill partner of an employee, the chance to meet an entire NFL football team after attending the game. Rich Sheridan, founder and CEO of Menlo Innovations, has an explicit goal of creating joy in every aspect of their work -- whether it is managing without fear by encouraging employees to experiment and embrace failure, bringing babies or pets to work and fostering camaraderie by everybody working in pairs.
Purpose Matters: Tim Brown, CEO and President of innovation and design firm IDEO, believes that only businesses with a clear 'reason for being,' or Purpose, will be innovative and truly sustainable in the future. Increasingly we are seeing more Purpose-driven organizations that bring people to work together to achieve something beyond maximizing productivity and financial gain. These organization are successful because they bind people in a common pursuit and help people deliver to their own personal purpose at work -- whether it is the Virgin Group's purpose of 'Changing Business for Good', IDEO's ambition to ensure 'positive and disproportionate impact in the world through design' or Google's aim 'to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.'
Shared Dignity Matters: Meaningful work gives people the dignity they deserve. Companies are starting to see the opportunity to use work as a tool to lift communities out of poverty and positively impact lives. This is being done through flexible and part time work by creating more shared jobs, as well as ensuring healthy, thriving workplaces throughout supply chains. In the UK Timpson makes a difference to the lives of hundreds of ex-offenders by providing them with meaningful work in their shoe repair and key cutting business, dramatically reducing the prospects of them reoffending. The internet has also allowed millions of people to get access to the resources and distribution channels they need to start their own businesses. Platforms like Etsy and Kickstarter have given a vast online network of entrepreneurs the opportunity to realize their business dreams. In turn, these entrepreneurs have created meaningful jobs in their communities and globally.
Equity Matters: Productivity increases, often at the expense of human beings and Mother Nature have created significant wealth for a small percentage of the population. There is a growing movement towards a fairer, more equitable world of work where employee ownership will become the norm, exorbitant bonuses will be a thing of the past and a restructured ecosystem for work will spread the wealth through shared roles, flexible hours and portfolio working. The John Lewis Partnership means that all 69,000 permanent employees are partners who own the department stores, supermarkets and online and direct service companies. At investment firm Bridgeway Capital Management, all employees are partners, no partner receives more than seven times the lowest paid partner and the company has a foundation which gives away half of the company's profits to the community and other causes around the world.
Excess no Longer Matters: the crown on the king of consumption is starting to fade. People are realizing that stuff will not bring them the happiness they are searching for, instead it is connections and experiences with other people that will. They are also becoming more and more aware of the need to take better care of our planet. Outdoor clothing company Patagonia famously urged its customers to buy less with a full-page advert in the New York Times that read "Don't buy this jacket" and also has the 'Worn Wear' program, celebrating their customers' stories of their clothes which have lasted for decades, sharing clothes repair manuals and this spring Patagonia will be sending clothing-repair experts out on tour. Retail chain Marks & Spencer has instituted 'Shwopping' to encourage shoppers to drop off one item of item clothing every time they purchase a new one -- all clothing goes to Oxfam (who resell it, recycle it or give it to someone in need) -- and encourages customers to think about what they need. These shifts will really put into question productivity at all costs.
Increased transparency in business means that consumers, like future employees, are better informed than ever before about corporations and their business practices. Companies today are more exposed, and often forced to defend their actions to change the way they do business to meet society's demands. Poor business practices that negatively impact employees or society risk a consumer backlash. As Dr. Mo Ibrahim, B Team Leader and founder of Celtel International commented, "If we're all naked, we had better look good."
Perhaps the conversation needs to shift away from machines vs people, to how machines make work better for people and for the planet. What a brilliant opportunity we have to reinvent the world of work to deliver an abundance of meaningful jobs within an environment that is 100% human.