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Soft skills and the future of work

Collaboration, Foresight

As organisations and business analysts turn their attention to the likely impact of artificial intelligence on the world of work, several key futures are emerging. Rather than a dystopian future where robots take everyone’s jobs, there is a definite convergence on the opportunity for human strengths and soft skills to complement those of AI and automation.

Artificial Intelligence

The onset of Artificial Intelligence will speed up the processing of administrative tasks, data gathering and the analysis of information, producing reports and research findings, enabling workers to make better decisions and test hypotheses quicker.

“Picture an organization where AI automates scheduling, resource allocation and reporting—taking administrative and time-consuming tasks off managers’ shoulders. Imagine what AI-assisted analytics, simulation and hypothesis testing can do for decision making, strategy and innovation throughout the enterprise.” Accenture, The Promise of Artificial Intelligence

Creativity and judgment work

AI will free up time for more creative thinking and judgment work, a key area in which humans are naturally superior. This, along with other soft skills such as emotional intelligence, will become an increasingly important skill area. This is the “real” work of the future.

In the future, leaders are accelerating into judgment work:

  • Experiment, analyze, and learn: Gain more business insights, focus on innovation activities, adopt new responsibilities and skill sets
  • People and relationships: More time with customers and suppliers, more collaboration, more coaching/feedback.

Accenture, Judgment Calls

“As the conventional role of the manager— coordinating and controlling other people’s work— wanes or even vanishes, managers will turn their attention to “real” work. They will become leading practitioners, not just administrators, sharing much in common with managers in creative and problem solving businesses, such as art directors at design agencies, chief surgeons at hospitals, principle investigators in science, or project managers in management consulting.”Accenture, The Promise of Artificial Intelligence

AI will supplant many aspects of the “hard” elements of leadership — that is, the parts responsible for the raw cognitive processing of facts and information. At the same time, our prediction is that AI will also lead to a greater emphasis on the “soft” elements of leadership — the personality traits, attitudes, and behaviors that allow individuals to help others achieve a common goal or shared purpose.HBR, As AI Makes More Decisions, the Nature of Leadership Will Change

Teams and networks

Judgment and creative work is best done in teams, so there will be an increasing emphasis on team building and networks. These cross-functional teams will be fast-forming and dynamic, and may have their own micro-culture. Individuals may be part of several teams at once.

“Many managers mistakenly view judgment work as only an individual discipline, failing to appreciate that it can also involve decidedly interpersonal and organizational practices. In more complex settings, judgment is typically a collective outcome of individuals’ and teams’ diverse perspectives, insights and experiences. And often, the resulting choices are better informed than decisions that an individual would have arrived at on his or her own. Collective judgment requires specific interpersonal skills; namely, social networking, people development and coaching, and collaboration.”Accenture, The Promise of Artificial Intelligence

Research shows that we spend two orders of magnitude more time with people near our desk than with those more than 50 meters away. Whatever a hierarchical organization chart says, real, day-to-day work gets done in networks. This is why the organization of the future is a “network of teams” Deloitte, The organization of the future: Arriving now

Pivotal people in demand

Pivotal people with high social and creative skills will command high rewards. Competition for these adaptable, collaborative, continually-learning, highly mobile individuals will be fierce. Incentives, rewards and working environments will be key to attracting them.

What does the workforce look like?

  • Specialism is highly prized and workers seek to develop the most sought‐after skills to command the biggest reward package.
  • Organisations are typically stripped‐down and nimble, supplemented by talent attracted by the next promising opportunity.
  • A small number of ‘pivotal people’ with outstanding management skills command high rewards.
  • Like‐minded workers gravitate towards each other, aided by technology, sparking bubbles of innovation.
  • Projects quickly flourish, evolve and resolve and specialists move rapidly from one to the next.

PWC, The Workforce of the Future

Considering the implications

What will this mean for you and your team in the future? How will your corporate culture permeate through these dynamic, distributed teams? What’s the best way of enabling this kind of work?

This is our focus for 2018 and beyond. Soft skills workshops such as our creativity training and critical thinking workshops help teams develop necessary “real work” approaches such as creative thinking and judgment.

Our team building workshops help teams build capability for collaboration.

And our facilitation services and consultancy help teams and organisations envision the most advantageous steps to take next. 

The future looks bright.

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