David Mattin is an internationally recognised expert on emerging technologies, social change, and foresight-led innovation. He is author of the book Trend-Driven Innovation. David has taken time out from publishing his weekly newsletter on trends, technology and our shared future ‘New World Same Humans’ to speak with Meta Explores.
Work is in flux.
New digital tools and platforms, social and demographic shifts, and the changing demands of work itself all form a part of this picture. It can be hard for leaders inside organizations to make sense of it all — let alone plot a meaningful response.
But amid all this change, there is an anchor that can lend structure to our view and allow us to discern meaningful new directions of travel.
That anchor is us.
We humans are motivated by a set of fundamental needs that don’t change over time. Think needs such as convenience, status, productivity, and many more. When some aspect of our changing world — and often that means an emerging technology — unlocks a new way to serve one of these needs, that’s when new human behaviours and mindsets emerge at new scale.
In other words, that’s when new trends emerge.
Below are three such trends of deep relevance to future of work. They range across generative AI and knowledge management, the rise of virtual simulations, and the quest for more enlightened, ethical business.
Each trend is set to to reshape the workplace behaviours, mindsets, and expectations of millions of professionals. And crucially, each is an opportunity for organizations to innovate towards both new and more effective ways of working, and organizational cultures that are more supportive and meaningful.
There is huge excitement right now around the potential of generative AI.
Large language models (LLMs), including GPT-4 and Meta’s Llama 2, display amazing competence across a wide range of linguistic tasks, from document summarization to the composition of original poetry. Across the coming years, these models will change the way millions learn, augment the creativity of writers and thinkers, and more.
This trend, though, is focused on the transformative potential of LLMs when it comes to workplace knowledge sharing, the quest for continual learning, and the employee experience.
Knowledge and productivity are human universals. Every conscientious professional wants to upgrade their skills, learn faster, and get more done. Workplace AI assistants will be hugely helpful across those domains.
But over time, and as user familiarity with them grows, I expect them to tap into and serve other human needs too. That is, the need for counsel, commradierie and even emotional support. These needs are deep and powerful, and play a huge role in the ability to do our best work.
Smart organizations will understand that AIs can never replace people when it comes to building a great internal culture. But they can play an augmenting and enhancing role.
The promise of immersive virtual spaces — of an internet you can step inside — has many dimensions. One that will be hugely impactful for the future of work? The emergence of next-generation, sophisticated representations of the physical world in virtual space.
These virtual models will allow professionals to simulate all kinds of physical processes and environments. To build, test, iterate, and play endlessly — all without risk of physical waste, damage, or injury.
From factories, to retail spaces, to fulfilment centres, virtual simulations are about to change working life for millions.
The public conversation on emerging technologies tends to operate via hype cycles. When it comes to the metaverse, there’s some scepticism around right now. And it’s true that some of the consumer-facing virtual experiences that were much discussed at the peak of the last hype cycle are yet to reach maturity.
But useful simulations — we might call them the industrial metaverse — are changing working life for many now. And they’ll be a gateway. Via the Simulated Everything trend, many will have their first experience of immersive virtual spaces at work. And these experiences will help awaken millions to the power and usefulness of those spaces and of immersive computing.
The quest for more ethical enlightened modes of business is a longstanding megatrend. Over the years, that quest has been the subject of a million and one PR and marketing campaigns. Consumers and clients have learned to tune out many of those messages.
But now, a handful of organizations are taking a new approach. One that proves they want to do more than only talk about building a better future — they want take action on it.
These organizations are issuing Public Goods: that means open-sourcing or sharing valuable innovations and knowledge that help solve big shared challenges.
No one imagines a future of work in which businesses give away the innovations or knowledge that constitute their unique competitive advantage. But in the 2020s, we all know that we must find forms of business that are compatible with a sustainable and equitable world.
Any organization can ask itself: What do we hold inside our four walls — technology, knowledge, experience — that can help address a shared challenge? How can we give others access to it?
We’ll see rising numbers of organizations address that question, as they adopt a fundmental shift towards modes of operation that don’t only drive profit, but also make the world a better place.
Remember, a trend is an emerging and meaningful shift in human behaviour or mindset. These three work trends are set to impact the working lives of millions of professionals.
For leaders, they offer opportunities: to innnovate and build new ways of working, better employee experiences, and improved organizational cultures. Trends mean little if we simply know them; the point is that they spur us into action.
And to spot further work trends set to reshape the future of work, start by asking yourself a simple question. How are emerging technologies set to impact, and unlock new ways to serve, the human needs that are at the heart of our working lives, including knowledge, productivity, and the quest for meaningful impact?
Merging physical and virtual worlds is only just the beginning. To gain further insight into emerging trends, check out our predictions on the future of work and why virtual reality will not only survive, but thrive.