The future of work is still human

“We weren’t trying to be happy at work” – philosopher Alain de Botton’s mother-in-law perfectly summed up a challenge unique to the current generation of employees.

It’s a conundrum that is at the centre of the future of work, encapsulating big ideas about trust, emotional intelligence, purpose and human responses to technological advancements.

These topics were at the core of Changeboard’s excellent Future Talent Conference at the Royal Geographical Society last week.

Simon Rutter @southendscribe, Future Talent Communications Manager at Takeda Pharmaceuticals in Europe and Canada, attended the #ChangeboardFT event in London on 30 March and has written a guest post for All Things IC to share his top five takeaways with us.

1. The only certainty is uncertainty

Accurate forecasting in business is now limited to a two-year window, the shortest it has ever been. Planning is becoming obsolete, and as a result, according to author Margaret Heffernan, organisations need people who can think for themselves, in real-time, unfazed by uncertainty and ambiguity.

This requires individual and corporate bravery – the ability to admit that no one really knows the answer.

If we collectively acknowledge this then we can rebuild the trust that has eroded between employees and management, and explore new ideas and solutions together. A provocative, refreshing opening address that set exactly the right tone.

2. Soft skills are really the hard skills

Hierarchical company structures no longer exist, said Dame Carolyn McCall, CEO of easyJet.

In new, flatter organisations companies need people who are unafraid to speak up, have creative minds and are prepared to fail and learn quickly. These are not innate human skills – they require investing in learning, development and coaching of employees.

These so-called ‘soft skills’ are really the hard skills, because they are about changing behaviours and mindsets, and creating the environment in which people feel empowered and supported.

The companies that understand this will have competitive advantage, and those that don’t will get left behind. My neck hurt from all the nodding.

3. Some things you can’t automate

After reeling off apocalyptic statistics about the machines taking over (e.g. up to 50% of jobs at risk in the next 20 years – and not just blue collar ones), Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson MP, gave an impassioned speech about the corrosive and constructive impacts of technology on society.

In the future (like, now), emotional intelligence and creativity will be more important than technical skills in the workplace. And these can’t be automated – they are inherently human characteristics.

That means we need resilient, agile, adaptable people for whom lifelong learning and re-skilling will be natural.

This has fundamental implications for our education system – a “big conversation” is needed about how we interact with technology. The robots are coming, and we need to get the house ready.

4. ‘We are all crazy, we are all idiots’

Alain de Botton believes a sign with these words should be hung above every company door.

His reasoning was that we need to abandon redundant notions of normality at work and admit our emotional weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

If we do this we can help to build each other’s emotional intelligence, a crucial transferable skill in the future of work.

Not only will this make us better communicators, it will help to raise the bar on the number one skill needed in the modern workplace – the ability to teach (which, according to Botton, we’re notoriously bad at).

Feedback is far too often perceived as a negative, when it should be seen as an act of emotional love to help another develop.

Humour and humanity – the best speech of the day, and there was stiff competition.

5. Your why gets you the trust

If people know why you do what you do, they will trust you and understand your reasons for wanting them to be better.

Decorated British Olympic rower Dame Katherine Grainger talked about how trust begins with yourself first, and comes through self-awareness, understanding and maturity.

Simon Rutter

Paralympic swimming team leader Lord Chris Holmes MBE built on the theme of trust, saying that he had to put himself in a vulnerable position and role model the behaviours he wanted to see in others to build trust and ultimately deliver sporting success.

This was a day fizzing with ideas and inspiration, energy and emotion.

The future of work is still very much human.

Post author: Simon Rutter.

Thank you very much Simon for sharing your thoughts about the event, sounds like a great one.

Your comments around corporate bravery resonated with me. I was working with a client a couple of weeks ago offering advice and guidance through a business change they’re currently going through.

I found myself talking about the role of senior managers and importance of them admitting: “We don’t have all the answers right now, but will let you know when we do” when communicating difficult news with employees. Bravery can take many forms, but blustering, particularly in a change situation, gets you nowhere. It’s more powerful to be honest and upfront and being open about the truth to help build and maintain trust.

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Thank you for stopping by,


First published on the All Things  IC blog 3 April 2017.

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