On a recent Boss Show, I shared some of my deepest fears about the future of the workplace. Since reading “Future Shock” 30 or 40 years ago, I’ve been wary of the rate of change in our world. We have a limited capacity to absorb change, and if it all happens too fast it can get swept up in it and lose perspective. These are concerns I believe we should be thinking about — and talking about.
1. The replacement of people with machines. While this is all very exciting from one perspective, we have to think about how many people in our society – smart people – like to work with their hands. What types of manual labor will NOT someday be able to be performed by some sort of robot? Is Wall-E in our future?
2. The widening salary gap. Since we recorded the show another report has come out indicating the gap between the richest and poorest Americans is the largest ever recorded since the income tax was initiated in 1913. If you don’t think this is a BIG problem, you’re not paying attention.
3. Technology and its ability to separate us from one another – and from the moment. OK, so I get the argument that it also connects us, and it does. But I took a walk on the coast of Camano Island in the Puget Sound last week and a young woman was sitting on a bench overlooking the beautiful Saratoga Passage, with her eyes down on her smart phone. I don’t need to say any more than that.
4. Loss of privacy. Young people are acclimated to a world in which personal privacy is willingly given away. When people know where you are, what you eat, who you are with, and what you buy, they exercise power over you. Your employer is among those who will know more and more about your personal life in the years ahead. Are you OK with that? I’m not.
5. Over-collaboration. OK, so again, this is a balancing act. Collaboration is a good thing, over-collaboration is not. There still needs to be a place for individuals to do great things and to make decisions without having to run everything up the flagpole.
6. The cubicle. An admitted personal prejudice of mine. I would not work in one. Period. End paragraph.
7. The relentless drive towards cost reduction. By making everything cheaper we create and exacerbate all kinds of social and environmental problems. If we’re going to grow up as a species we need to learn the real cost of things – not just what those things sell for in the store.
8. Busyness. I believe someday soon we will all become so busy we will forget to breathe. There are many things that excite me and engage me about the future of the workplace. But we all need to raise our heads up and look around. Change happens, and most often for the good. But please, pay attention. We live in interesting times. To listen to our podcast discussion of these and other issues: http://kiroradio.com/listen/9961346