First we worked in fields, then we worked in factories, now we work everywhere.
The rise of the digital economy, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution if you prefer, has profoundly altered the landscape of work over the past 20 years. We're more connected than ever, with more knowledge at our fingertips. Old hierarchies have broken down and new opportunities have opened up – ones that a diverse, global workforce has seized upon.
The pace of change has been astonishing: from fax machines to social media in a single generation. Jobs for life have given way to job-hopping and self-employment, and automation is both feared and revered as a potent source of further radical change. So what will life be like for the digital worker of 2020? And what skills will they need to thrive?
Firstly, it's highly likely that machines will perform an increasing amount of routine tasks, from taxi driving to sifting through big data. That will likely lead to some job losses – a 2013 study by Oxford University and Deloitte researchers found that roughly 35 per cent of jobs in the United Kingdom and 47 per cent of jobs in the United States are at high risk of being automated over the next 20 years. But it will also emphasise valuable human skills like empathy, creativity and strategic decision-making.
Digital workers who can apply these attributes to the information machines present them with will be a valuable asset to any organisation. Robots and algorithms might excel at telling us what is happening, but when it comes to deciding what should be done as a result... well, that's an area where we still have the edge.
This powerful combination of human intelligence (HI) and artificial intelligence (AI) is something I've written about before, and I believe it will be an important component of many digital jobs by 2020.
The rise of AI will be accompanied by even greater levels of collaboration between remote or casual workers and in-house teams, which will allow businesses to be hyper-agile and responsive to market trends. Instead of taking on full-time staff who are only needed for specific periods, they'll be able to build a virtual workforce of talented, entrepreneurial digital workers, and get the edge on their competitors. Efficiency will go up, and costs will go down. But this radical realignment of the workforce may also require a deep shift in organisational culture, management and mindset.
All these trends are being accelerated by the crowd economy, which allows people to work when they want, where they want. These digital workers benefit from a better work-life balance – an issue that's of increasing importance to millennials, who will make up an even bigger share of the workforce by 2020.
New job categories, such as VR designer and drone traffic organiser, are also likely to emerge in the next few years, providing further sources of income for digital workers. But tapping into these new income streams will require a mindset of constant learning: those who are prepared to quickly learn new skills, and reconfigure those they already possess, will reap the benefits of the crowd economy.
Naturally there will still be questions and concerns over the role of AI in the workforce in 2020, including whether to retrain those workers who find themselves displaced by machines or introduce some form of basic income to offset job losses. Governments and policy makers may also need to work harder to ensure that the fruits of the digital economy are distributed fairly, benefiting both companies and their digital workforce.
The crowd economy is ultimately an integral part of this radical shift from knowledge work to digital work. It offers valuable opportunities for young and old alike, and those who take advantage of them today will be the ones best placed to thrive in the world of 2020. In other words don't fear the future of work – hone your skills, get creative, and embrace the change.
Join me at the CSW Summit Washington D.C., June 15th 2017, to find out more about the opportunities and challenges facing digital workers, and how the crowd economy is unlocking their talent.