Level Up: How to Succeed in The Workplace of The Future

March 30, 2018 Alex Shootman

By Alex Shootman

When you imagine a future of robot co-workers and a workplace powered by automation and AI, have you ever wondered if your gaming experience—or your kids’ gaming experience—will come in handy? It very well might.

The standard rules of today’s video games could give us a glimpse of how successful careers will play out in tomorrow’s workplace, as this age of digital transformation marches on.

See our post "4 Keys to The Future of Work" to learn more about how to prepare for the future workplace.

Not much of a gamer yourself? I’ll clue you in on the relevant lingo. When gamers make progress—when they’ve won enough races, hit enough targets, or finished a level—they are often rewarded with “experience points.” This translates to new levels being unlocked or new tools for gameplay avatars becoming available.

As an example, I’m a big fan of Zwift, which combines indoor cycling with gaming features. Last weekend, I stayed on my bike for an extra hour just to unlock a new part of Watopia!

Zwift decides not just whether I’ve won or lost, but how well I’ve done and what reward I deserve in the context of the challenges I’ve overcome. Just as important, my talent or effort is transparent for everyone else in the game to see.

Levelling Up at Work

We’re all expecting that in the future, automation will replace some jobs and augment others. If you’re a knowledge worker, chances are you’re already looking forward to the arrival of smarter machines that understand what you need to do, when you need to do it, and help to organize your work accordingly.

Our survey of more than 2,000 knowledge workers in 2017 revealed that 86% believe automation will create space to think innovatively, and 69% believe automation will free up time to focus on primary job duties.

Many of us dream of the day when, instead of generating long reports or fielding tedious-but-necessary admin, we can pass these tasks straight to our co-worker bots. James Wallman, futurist and author of Stuffocationcalls these "cobots."

We might even hope our cobot assistants can read all those emails we’ve been cc'ed on and summarize if there’s anything mission critical—and then reply on our behalf. I’m sure there are dozens of other manual tasks we’re not even aware of that bots will do for us one day.

But I predict bots will also help us “level up”—tracking our progress, rewarding our achievements, maybe even enticing us to stay engaged in our work for just one more hour.

Imagine it: as you become more efficient, and as you approach peak performance on key tasks, your bot will be following your progress. When you hit a pre-defined performance indicator, the bot will recommend to your boss—or your boss’s bot—that you deserve to level-up. And you’ll be rewarded in line with what you’ve achieved.

Future Now

Think this sounds fanciful? The foundations are already in place.

The best modern work management tools help to define tasks, timelines, deadlines, objectives, and what resources are available, much like the starting point and governing rules of a video game.

We track our progress towards goals and sign-off tasks as “done” when they are complete.

The difference is that today we’re still driving in manual.

We manually update the system rather than our bot-co-workers doing it for us. Rather than a bot flagging performance and productivity levels, managers manually extract data to help to determine if we’ve done enough to merit a promotion.  It’s like playing a video game but keeping score on a Big Chief tablet

But the data and infrastructure of project tracking to make talent transparent is available today. We just need the smarter bots to turn up to work.  Yet before we hit START, we need to ask if the data available to help bots to “award experience points” will cover every employee attribute or just some of them?

The McNamara Fallacy and the Jobs of the Future

“If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist,” says the McNamara Fallacy. This misleading concept takes its name from Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, who was famed for his love of numbers and data-based decision-making.

So how creative have you been? How much empathy have you shown to colleagues in need of motivation? How much charm have you expended to turn a cold lead into a hot sales prospect? How innovative are you? How strategic is your thinking?

These things exist, but they’re hard to measure.

Sure, you can measure the outputs of creativity, empathy, innovation, strategic thinking, and charming persuasion. But these tend to be quality measures rather than volume measures. Take creativity: what’s better, a dash of brilliance, or a whole lot of pretty good?

It’s the human qualities that happen to be the toughest to quantify and measure, and also the most difficult to automate. Future machines, however smart, will tend to “skew towards tactical applications”, according to a forecast by McKinsey & Company.

In other words, they will skew toward things that can be  measured. This means that it’s the unmeasurable human qualities that will become the premium employability skills of the future.

It has been said that perhaps our technology has exceeded our humanity.  I don’t agree; I think Thurgood Marshall had it right when he said, 

"In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute."

And how do we recognize and value our fellow beings’ humanity, as our jobs become ever more digitized and in some ways, disconnected? We put greater effort into human connections.

We have actual face-to-face conversations with colleagues and potential collaborators we haven’t spoken to before. We look for opportunities to see issues from less familiar perspectives. We escape our comfort zones and stop hiding behind our screens.

As we work to understand those who are not like us, you and I discover our humanity—and solidify our value in a new world of work.

Looking Ahead

Whether you’re an experienced gamer or not, be prepared for a future where your progress—where it can be measured—will be supported, monitored, and reported on by your cobot sidekicks. They’ll help you level-up as you work towards defined and quantifiable objectives.

But also, be prepared to exercise your creativity, empathy, persuasion, innovation, and strategic thinking. This is where you’ll win the right job and demonstrate your human worth.

See "Fighting Forward: Three Ways to Prepare for The Future of Work" for more ways you can be ready for the future.

About the Author

Alex Shootman

As President and CEO of Workfront, Alex drives the overall strategy, vision, and execution for the company, ensuring that Workfront is a dedicated partner in helping its customers transform the work experience. Shootman brings more than 25 years of experience in all areas of revenue and profit generation for technology organizations, with significant experience leading SaaS-based companies. In his free time Alex can usually be found trying to convince his legs that they really don’t hurt on a road bike or running trail, admiring the view from a 14er in Colorado, or down on a reef in his home state of Hawaii. That is if his four kids leave him any free time.

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