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The future of work in the UK

An analysis of the future of work in the UK

The future of work post COVID-19. I have spent the past weeks examining emerging research, trends and industry insights into how the workplace is evolving, and I will be publishing a short series of summaries to consolidate and share what I have learned.

I believe that there will be significant challenges for businesses to overcome, and the current Covid situation will undoubtedly catalyse the impact of change, and the need for swift adaptation. However, for those who are agile enough, there are a multitude of opportunities to be grasped.

Due to the complexity of the topic, I am breaking my research down into 4 articles to do it justice.
Over the next few weeks, my future of work research will look at:

  • The Future Product
  • The Future Customer
  • The Future Employee
  • The Future Leader

I would like to start this blog series off by looking at the future product.

While sitting inside a proud colleague’s Tesla Model 3, and once adjusted to the uncomfortable level of neck straining acceleration the thing is capable of, the first thing I notice is a giant screen in the middle of the dashboard.  It offers an array of entertaining options for the inhabitant to customise their car; rather than there being anything so archaic as a switch, the driver has access to a multitude of colourful ‘apps’ that allow them to alter its characteristics.

“It’s constantly updating itself”, he tells me. “Depending on the driver, your car might become faster, or more efficient, over the time that you own it…there are even features that don’t have a purpose yet, but will do once the technology catches up”.

Constantly updating and bespoking to the customer.

It strikes me that this car has every bit as much in common with a mobile phone as with the traditional motorcar. Perhaps every bit as significant as its battery technology is its ability to improve and evolve every time it connects itself to the wifi.

When you bought the car of the past, that was the car you were stuck with. The Tesla offers an entirely different proposition; just as people have the ability to customise their smart phone specifically to their interests and needs, it is now possible to do the same with a car.

Cutting edge manufacturing organisations are following in the footsteps of Apple’s game changing innovation, and developing products that engage with their owners, learn from them, and improve.

The Learning Machine

A breakthrough for the discipline of ‘machine learning’, where computers study data trends, and then generalise to be able to perform now capabilities, or solve previously unseen problems, has been the two way flow of information between the product and the customer.

The increasing ability of internet enabled objects to virtually harvest vast quantities of data relating to the behaviour of their owners, has resulted in machines becoming exponentially smarter.  From the AI perspective, its a virtuous circle; as machines become smarter, they become better at gathering data and learning from it. As the applications of this philosophy are limitless, it seems likely we are just on the cusp of a ‘smart’ product revolution.

The Challenges

Research conducted by McKinsey (June 2020), indicates that automation has placed 51 million jobs at risk across Europe. Those whose roles can be automated are most likely to be affected, with Wholesale and Retail, and Manufacturing, being at the top of the list. The Covid crisis may compound the threat as employers seek efficiencies wherever they can be found, and the increasing versatility and cost-effectiveness of automation presents a very appealing option.

Adding to this is the growing consumer expectation for products to be customised, bespoke to them, and purchased with absolute minimum friction; feats only made possible by ultra-sophisticated technology that only a minority of businesses are currently capable of fully utilising.

The social impact of the inevitable future of product design, manufacture, and development will be pronounced; those most at risk are the lower paid who may also be educated to a lower level.  The evolution of smart products may further widen social and economic gaps, and lead to displacement and misery for those who are left behind.

The Opportunities…

  • Now is not the time to play it safe. There has never been a more exciting time for entrepreneurial thinkers; University ‘Innovation Hubs’ and investors are actively focused on, and willing to support, creative, high risk ideas that might provide a competitive edge.
  • Businesses that take an intelligence led approach, invest heavily in R&D, and allow innovation to be identified at every level of the organisation, will be well placed to engage with the immense competitive advantages that technological innovation in product development is presenting.
  • The recent move to working from home, if it continues, will allow greater geographical displacement of talent, and help prevent destabilising social and geographical divides from opening up.

Employers and individuals who keep up to date with product innovation, and invest wisely in their skill currency and professional development, will navigate the future world of work successfully, and undoubtedly many will create new value in ways that are impossible to predict.


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