The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting disruptions to the way we conceptualise work has brought questions around the ‘future of work’ to the forefront for many of us. Will the women who quit their jobs to home school their kids re-enter the workforce? Is the workplace flexibility that many of us have enjoyed here to stay? Is work-life balance as a concept even relevant anymore?
I came across a new research paper on the ergonomics and human factors contributions to date to the field of research inquiry known as the ‘future of work’, so I thought it would be good to break down what the researchers found.
1. The paper lists the mega trends shaping the future landscape of work as incorporating: technological advances, including AI and automation, co-bots and collaboration and ICT developments; labour market demand, including the gig economy, insecure work and skill requirements; labour market supply, including skills shortages and demographic changes; and environmental change, including climate change and resource scarcity.
2. The impact on work of technological advancements is not limited to concerns around automation.
Indeed, the focus of the broader research literature in this field is on the more general application of new technologies and how they are changing the way we work, where we work, and how much work we do. This research tends to focus on the wellbeing issues arising from an ‘always on’ culture and the growth of flexibility and particularly distributed working, the gig economy and casualisation.
3. Jobs and workers are increasing in their variety and that workers will be expected to expand their job skills.
There is much emphasis in future of work discourses and in the education sector on the need for workers to continually update and expand their skills in order to be agile in the changing world of work, and to expect multiple careers rather than working within a single sector as was usual in the past.
4. The populations of Western countries are ageing while workforces have increasing numbers of older workers, and this has become a major trend impacting economies and the workplace.
Workforce ageing is a huge challenge for those involved in the ergonomics and human factors space to ensure work systems and products and services are fit for the older population, accounting for the changing capabilities, limitations and aspirations of older people.
5. Flexible work arrangements are here to stay.
Working from home has many apparent benefits, including potential productivity increases, enhanced wellbeing, providing better balance between work and non-work time, giving greater opportunity for women and those with care responsibilities to engage in paid work, enhancing autonomy and satisfaction with work, reduced time spent commuting, organisational resilience and the environmental and social benefits of reducing fossil fuel omissions and inner-city congestion. However, flexible working also brings potential challenges, including an increased likelihood of social isolation and work family conflict where such arrangements are not well scheduled and managed. Indeed, remote working in particular has been associated with concerns around the blurring of spatial and temporal boundaries between work and non-work. These concerns have, of course, come under increasing public attention during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can read the research paper here.