Work Is Changing—As Leaders—Are We Ready?

I’m preparing for a presentation in Boston on January 22. The topic is one that I’m extremely passionate about and one that I speak about regularly: work-life integration. In 2016, I presented a TEDx on the topic. It’s also why I started this blog—the entire focus is on leadership through life, not work.

During my original TEDx talk, I was speaking about the personal catalyst that drove me to change from pursuing balance to pursuing integration. That catalyst was the birth of my first child and my wife issuing a wake-up call.

But as I prepare for this presentation, I realize the catalyst of change from “balance” to “integration” is bigger than my personal wake-up call. Today, you no longer need a personal catalyst—now there is a societal one. Everyone (individuals, leaders and institutions) must reframe their thinking about the relationship between work and life!

Starting a workplace transformation

I’ve been reading a book called The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab. It has really helped me put things into perspective. Over the last several years, I’ve felt the idea of “work” has shifted significantly and, as a leader, I’m trying to construct a different working environment for my team and myself.

Just last year, I wrote about my investment in responsive connectivity that includes flexible workspace and flexible work arrangements. Not everyone bought into this right away, but I felt the need for change at an individual level and I wanted to do something meaningful for my team to help them integrate life and work. What I found is that everyone is receptive, but it’s not that easy. The systems that support this effort haven’t caught up fully.

I knew we needed change in work and working relationships, but I was struggling to put my finger on why and exactly how to change it. I used to believe the rise of the independent worker and remote work were driving it, which I still think is a contributor. So, I enabled flexible schedules and the ability to work remotely. I also thought progressive leaders and the pursuit of purposeful work were driving it. So, I engaged in facilitated sessions to understand personal needs and desires. Clearly, this is a contributor as well. However, once I read this book, I realized the driver of change is much deeper and would require more visionary thinking and time.

Be open to change

The main insight from this book is that work is shifting because the world is shifting. We’re in the midst of a digital revolution.

This is not a new revelation, but this book helped me package the impact in a more consumable way. First, the idea of a revolution is so much bigger. Revolutions bring about substantial change, it may not be immediate, but it’s significant. Most of the articles written today on the digital revolution are about how we need to “transform our business model and build a digital platform.” While it is true that digital disruption gives us a chance to rethink our business model, but revolutions are bigger than business.

Revolutions create systemic change. Revolutions affect politics, the economy and society. And as leaders, we need to think about that impact on a different level. Not just at a business or commercial level, but on a societal level. After all, we’re all humans who are part of a society—as are our employees, our customers and so on. Too often, we limit our thinking and ability to evolve because we believe the business world is somehow different from the “real world.” It’s not.

We’re all part of one society and the society is called life. Society is changing. It’s happening at an unprecedented rate and we can’t ignore that. So what does this mean to us as individuals and leaders?

At an individual level, it means it will change how we live, interact and work.

Technology is restyling interactions

You can already see huge change in how we live. Many of us use sensors to monitor heart rate and sleep patterns through our watch or Fitbit. We use them to help us park, backup or even stop our car. Sensors are everywhere, changing how we live and track data. We’re only beginning to tap into the opportunity of sensors.

Interaction has changed as well. It’s now commonplace to connect digitally through emails, text, FaceTime and through a growing number of social media platforms. I mean, Alexa was one of the hottest gifts this holiday season. We’re now interacting not just with humans but also with machines and smart machines. Siri was only the beginning—this is much bigger than she is. Machines are becoming another member of our household. We use them to turn things on and off. We ask for their thoughts on our “style” as they comment on our outfits, which Alexa accomplished through video capabilities.

Our lives are noticeably different from 10 years ago when Apple launched the first iPhone. The change is amazing.

Additionally, it’s changing how, when and where we work. We don’t need to be tethered to our desks or offices. Some leaders still struggle with this, but this is a given. As leaders, we need to hire and train for trust and not limit progress because we don’t trust our people. Our employees are adults; we need to treat them that way. This may sound like a no-brainer but it’s staggering to me to see how many leaders are still reluctant to do this. In the end, you’re holding only yourself back from growing as a leader.

How will you redesign work?

So let me leave you with a question: As leaders, are we really pushing the boundaries of how we define work and working relationships? I don’t think so.

One of the biggest things I am reflecting on as a leader is “work or job design.” What should work look like given the fourth industrial revolution?

As individuals, we need to ask ourselves what do we need and want from our lives, and how does work fit in. Technology blurs the lines between home and work, and ironically, that is the opportunity—if we’re willing to reframe our thinking and redesign work to take advantage of it.