The Future of Work – there’s an ownership solution

Author: Cathy Brown, EOA Operations Director

The world is changing, and work (and all the surrounding structures like education, taxes and business ownership) have to change as well. At the moment, the world of work is in a state of tension, where demographic, technological and societal pressures are driving bottom up change in us as people, but our workplaces, ownership models and leadership structures are still operating in the old ways.

The generation now coming into the workforce will drive an even stronger requirement to recruit and then retain skilled people. Over the next few years we will see jobs and professions come into being that we have no concept of today, and we’ll see jobs go to automation that we never thought possible. The best skills we can furnish our younger generations with will be the ability to learn and to adapt and to be resilient – skills our current educational system doesn’t consider to be useful!

We need to be thinking now about how we engage and communicate with employees when our workforces are part human, part robot, part artificial intelligence. We need to find ways of restructuring and reimagining work so that our workplaces fulfil our need for social connection, cohesion and purpose. The drive towards flexibility changes the nature of workplaces too, and we are moving towards environments where people operate in a skills based way, servicing multiple organisations – the gig economy, the increase in zero hours contracts are the precursor to this. These are all changes that are upon us or approaching rapidly.

If we think further ahead, we might consider even more radical evolution – less work or no work. Much shorter working weeks. Human centred jobs, using the very skills like empathy, creativity, and innovation that we currently educate out of our young people. Climate breakdown will have a huge impact on how, where and what work looks like too.

This poses a huge challenge to businesses today. How to be a socially responsible, purpose-driven, resilient, high performing organisation, when all the pressure from the top is still driving short term,  greedy, unequal, divisive working practices and models?  The growth in alternative business models such as Employee Ownership is indicative of the move to focus on long-term, productive shared endeavour.

In the words of  a paper by Harvard University’s Richard B Freeman “those who own the businesses will own the output of the robots” and employee ownership is therefore one of the ways to make sure we “widen the “who” in ownership from the few to the many”.

The point to remember is this. Although the world of work is changing, and what we want as workers and as people is always evolving, the basic principles of what most of us want in our lives stays true. We need a clear understanding of and involvement in the direction of the organisation, and we need to feel connected to that purpose emotionally. We need to feel understood and appreciated as individuals and managed well and with respect. We want to feel that our voice and view is welcome, sought after and listened to. And we need to trust in that organisation and our leaders to provide us with the means to live.

The challenge we face, and that Employee Owned businesses are uniquely placed to excel at, is that of taking our people with us through change. Change the like of which we have never seen.  Exciting times.

You can read more about the ways in which the world of work is evolving here:

Institute for the Future – The Next Era of Human | Machine Partnerships

Oxford University – The Future of Employment

The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices

Ownership when AI robots do more of the work and earn more of the income
Richard B. Freeman, (Department of Economics, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA)