The future of work.

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originalYou can’t click on a link to Forbes or The Wall Street Journal without some guru telling you that the future of work is changing.

The first way it’s changing? There is a rise in temporary and portfolio work. This is a global phenomenon. Companies want a flexible, more agile workforce. They also want one that’s cheaper. If Jack Welch‘s vision of putting workers on a barge can happen, it will happen. Wait, it already is happening.

The second way it’s changing? Businesses are talking out of both sides of their mouths. For as much as they want to reduce the cost of labor, they are also pretending to care about engagement and wellness. If a company can pay you in ego instead of cash, they will. There are tax advantages for giving you gifts, feeding you in a cafeteria and sheltering you in a company-owned home. Wait until your employer wants to stick you in a dorm with free wifi to see how much you like a boss who “cares” about you.

The final way it’s changing? If they can automate your job, they will. As much as employers want flexible workers and people attached to the cloud, what they really want are robots. And robots are actually too expensive. They want algorithms. You might think that artificial intelligence has its limitations, but the advancements are fascinating and scary.

So what does this mean for workers? Well, I am not sure. Milton Friedman proposed a permanent income for workers. (Look what it’s done for free and fair places like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Alaska!)

What does this mean for human resources? There will probably be three populations to manage: full-time employees (FTEs), temps and robots of some kind. FTEs are a shrinking pool and their processes will remain with human resources or some sort of PEO. Portfolio and temp workers cannot and should not be managed through human resources, which means they will be coordinated through finance and procurement departments. And the software and infrastructure needed to manage robots and algorithms will be coordinated through a consortium of project management teams.

(Good luck with that.)

I am also fascinated by the impact to the growing world of human resources technology. The HR tech community will look different in 2023 than it does today. I just sat through discussions on the cloud, social, mobile, big data, SaaS, social performance management, engagement, gamification, consolidation and  interoperability. Many of the products and services cannot be applied to the new workforce. When the solopreneuer and portfolio worker have issues, those issues will be managed by a cross-functional enterprise system that has nothing to do with HR for legal reasons.

So, wait, what’s the future of work and technology?

I dunno. But it makes sense that people are dreaming about being famous, playing professional sports or being on TV. If you can’t make money in the traditional workforce, you might as well try to differentiate yourself in an industry that strokes your ego and still needs human beings.

For now.

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