Director at EY, Member of EYQ -

Exploring the upside of disruption for businesses, societies and individuals

Andrea Potter

Published on May 11th, 2018

Viscous markets spawned companies with large, multidisciplinary workforces.

As we move into the age of superfluidity, workforces are changing again.

EYQ recently convened 22 senior business executives, technology experts and thought leaders to explore the future of labor markets under superfluid market conditions. Following are four ideas that the group raised.

1. Humans plus machines, not humans versus machines

Reflecting on a grain workers’ strike upon the introduction of a mechanized grain elevator, an editorial in The New York Times dated July 1862 stated: “The first effect of the introduction of machinery into any business is to temporarily injure the operatives; but the world knows that the universal effect of mechanical improvements is always ultimately to benefit the laborer and all parties concerned. More men will be required to work the elevators, so that in a short time the effect will be to simply change the character of the laborers’ work.

Does this defense of new technology sound familiar? We’re having the same debate today as advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics make their way up the value chain of jobs, and, in fact, it is highly likely that AI will replace some jobs and supplement others. But AI also will create new jobs, some of which we can only imagine today — just as past disruptive technologies have done.

“Some skilled work will become obsolete or less valuable, but the focus on creative value creation and problem solving will generate fragmented but continuous opportunities for many.”

– Martin Rerak, Chief Strategy Officer, Tokenly

In the present, our roundtable participants generally were optimistic about the impact of machine intelligence and robotics on the future of work . They suggested that humans and machines will coexist for a mutual benefit, rather than subscribing to the view that AI will simply replace people wholesale. The assumption of dull, repetitive tasks by machines, freeing people to be creative, was pointed out as a major upside.

But what’s also clear is that tasks and workflows will look very different tomorrow than they do today. George Bailey, Managing Director of The Center for Global Enterprise, puts it this way: “Work will be really different in the future for many job categories. Healthcare workers and doctors will have a very different job when we use machines to learn symptom patterns and provide diagnosis. Teachers will not custom design each class according to their own likes. AI will provide the optimal curriculum and teachers will facilitate.” Not that the path to superfluid labor markets will be all smooth sailing either. Bailey goes on to say that, “One issue is that some industries — medical, teaching and legal, for example — will be surprisingly slow to change their work patterns.”

While this transition to an AI-directed future could unfold to the benefit of knowledge workers and the creative class, those without these kinds of skills and attributes are at risk of being left behind. The stark fact is that today’s education, training and reskilling systems need to be reinvented to meet the requirements of a new age or the benefits of AI and other technologies could be offset by growing income inequality and social unrest.

2. Moving from employees to collectives

Technology is not the only driver of workforce change.

As market frictions are reduced, companies no longer need to rely as heavily on large, multidisciplinary workforces to do business. The greater use of contract labor is reflective of this transformation. Not only will existing companies use more freelance labor, new companies could arise that have no permanent employees at all.

Today, online labor platforms such as TaskRabbit, Upwork and connect companies with individual freelancers to perform specific tasks. Tomorrow, organizations will put out challenges that require collectives of people. When projects are completed, collectives will dissolve. These collectives also will create their own opportunities, building concepts and

“Extremely fluid ways of collaborating are already becoming the norm. Many freelancers will be part of several different collectives at the same time. It will be a combination of an individual’s portfolio, expertise, network and experience that will determine whether he or she will be part of a specific problem solving activity.”

– Arnold Beekes, CEO, The NewABC

approaching existing companies as sponsors. For these new labor models to scale, new legal, financial and marketing constructs also will emerge.

The “tribe” model will influence how prospective employees present themselves and the process through which they are recruited. Dan DeMaioNewton, Executive Director of The National Center for Social Impact, believes: “The traditional recruitment process where a candidate submits a resume through an online job board will be replaced with a portfolio-based system that identifies the actual experience of the candidate. Facebook and LinkedIn are leading this revolution by shifting the resume to a project-based model. Both systems now ask individuals to add to their portfolio the projects they’ve worked on, the results they’ve achieved, and the other team members who worked on the project.” This shift enables employers to identify at a deeper level what an individual candidate offers, as well as the quality of the tribe to which they belong.

“For the scarcest talent, the market will be more like that of professional athletes, who don't play for one team one week and another the next. And if the services of talent become traceable, could an options market develop? Can I guarantee the world’s #1 cardiac surgeon’s availability for me if I need him or her?”

– Chris Meyer, CEO, Nerve LLC

As creativity becomes the biggest consideration, the contest for top-notch talent will heat up. Following the legal profession, companies of all types could begin “locking in” the best contract workers and collectives with retainers.

“For the scarcest talent, the market will be more like that of professional athletes, who don't play for one team one week and another the next. And if the services of talent become traceable, could an options market develop? Can I guarantee the world’s #1 cardiac surgeon’s availability for me if I need him or her?”

– Chris Meyer, CEO, Nerve LLC

3. Employer-freelance matching gets a cognitive boost

As freelance labor markets grow, matching employers and employees from both skills and cultural perspectives will become ever more important. AI will facilitate the analysis more in the hiring decision process using different types of data.

“In the age of cognitive systems, big data clouds will have the opportunity to disrupt recruitment processes by enabling recruiters to directly identify candidates based on a large pool of data that includes traditional information, online social media engagement, patterns of behavior, and feelings. This new age will help employers identify candidates who are a right cultural fit as well as who have the skills and competencies to do the job.”

– Dan DeMaioNewton, Executive Director, The National Center for Social Impact

Technology may also take some of the subjectivity out of the recruitment process, thus helping increase diversity. At the same time, it will be important for AI to recognize that diversity comprises multiple dimensions — from ethnicity to gender to cognitive thinking. For example, a group of aerospace engineers may be ethnically diverse but cognitively similar. So, as the world of work moves to collectives, machines will need to learn to evaluate groups of people as well as individuals to determine a project’s suitability.

4. Tomorrow’s companies reposition themselves as learning communities

Building and leveraging a superfluid workforce will become a mission-critical task for companies.

Tomorrow’s companies will rise and fall depending on how well they adapt to emerging people models. As companies disaggregate, the current human resources continuum — attract, hire, train and retain — must collapse. Human resources leaders will need to become advisors to a company’s management about the machine-human workforce strategy, as well as coordinators of individual and collective talent. When labor can go anywhere, and we live in a world in which machines can hire other machines, companies must also reposition themselves as learning communities made up of people who are “sticky” to them because they know they will be smarter and more capable by a prolonged association.

“There are always personal, human needs that aren’t necessarily enhanced by superfluid efficiency. There is a point in every commercial process where things must slow down, and are only valuable if done at a human-governed pace.”

– Julia Kirby, Senior Editor, Harvard University Press

The successful balancing of technology and humanity will be instrumental to achieving the benefits of superfluid labor markets. At both the individual and enterprise level, the persistent need for human connection, the social reward of working in teams and the emotional aspects of decision-making are potential friction points that still must be addressed through the new paradigms. As companies automate more, they will need to carve out that which is irreducibly human. The human experience will ever be a part of markets. And whatever the tools, companies must, ultimately, serve people.

In summary

1. A satisfying future will require balancing human and machines working together.

2. In the future, collectives rather than individuals will be the basic unit of hire, with talent scarcity and competition driving retainer and option models for the top talent.

3. AI will help remove the subjectivity from hiring decisions.

4. Future talent will be attracted to organizations that make them smarter and more capable by their association.