When writing my new book Humanity Works: Merging People and Technology for the Workforce of the Future, I found a business world in the process of rapid transformation. I learned that one way to have a sustainable competitive advantage in a constantly evolving, virtual, global and automated environment is to master how to lead a team. Leaders who do this may well find that running their organizations at this time in history will be rewarding and full of opportunity.
But what exactly will the future look like? In order to be in a good position to take advantage of pending developments, owners may want to understand what's coming and master how to lead a team.
I asked Jeff Epstein, owner of referral software company Ambassador Software, and Nathan Klarer, founder and chief operating officer at IT talent provider Datyra, to weigh in on a few of the more pervasive trends and how leaders can go beyond them to cope successfully with the coming changes.
Flexible and Distributed Workplaces
The average employee in the 2030s probably won't be work in a single physical environment, but where and when it's most convenient and impactful.
Good leadership in the future will enable the maximum number of people to reach their individual potential in pursuit of a common goal.—Nathan Klarer, founder and chief operating officer, Datyra
“The idea of offices is already changing, with a switch to more 'WeWork-style' workplaces," says Epstein. “Shorter-term teams will be assembled to solve specific business problems, and will operate virtually."
Epstein is referring to what is known as a distributed workforce, which reaches beyond the restrictions of a traditional office environment and is often dispersed geographically over a wide area.
“Teams are becoming more multi-disciplinary as distributed workplaces allow for talent to specialize," says Klarer.
In considering how to lead a team in the future, owners may have to account for changes in workplace dynamics.
“The most fundamental change is that real-time communication is commonplace," says Epstein. "Today, with a litany of communication tools, teams have access to information—and people—immediately, and people expect to chat with team members at any time."
This means that leaders will need to open their literal and metaphorical doors and devise ways to be more accessible to team members, providing guidance and direction outside the confines of traditional business hours without losing their own sense of balance and privacy.
In advising owners on how to lead a team in the future workplace, one should not overlook the rise of machine learning and automation.
As software becomes capable of more and more, machines may take over roles on some human teams and tasks associated with professional jobs in certain industries (legal research at a law firm, for example).
Chatbots and intelligent personal assistants can help leaders and employees assess their own productivity and determine the most efficient way to use data and complete work more efficiently.
“Robots will take over many service jobs, and a personal touch may become a luxury," Epstein predicts.
Mid-21st leaders will need to take stock of the variety of tasks performed by their teams, and assess what can be automated or otherwise outsourced to a machine, and what is best reserved for human employees.
Constant Reskilling and Custom Careers
Understanding how to lead a team in the future involves a focus on skill development. In the workplace of 2035, there might not be such a thing as getting a single degree and coasting on that knowledge and expertise for one's entire career.
“More market entrants and increasing automation means skills will get obsolete faster. Smart leaders will spend more time and money investing in continuous employee training and professional development," says Klarer.
By mid-century, careers could include multiple pivots through different functional areas or even industries. As such, a focus on employee well-being and lifestyle may take center stage.
“Younger generations are much more focused on living their best lives, valuing experiences and personal growth. The workplace will become a platform to support and enrich those ideals," Epstein says.
For their part, leaders will need to have ongoing discussions with team members about short and long-term career goals, and how these can best be achieved. As an imperative for all employees, sensible integration of work and life should become a focal point of these conversations.
Owners seeking advice on how to lead a team in the mid-21st century: Take note of the rise of transformational leadership. In this leadership style, the leader identifies a strategy, creates a vision and executes the strategy with commitment from members of the team and a sense of agility.
“Good leadership in the future will enable the maximum number of people to reach their individual potential in pursuit of a common goal," says Klarer. “A leader's job is to create a structure that accomplishes this within the context of their business structure, and practically, it will mean assessing employees qualitatively and quantitatively."
"Strong future leaders will possess self-awareness, integrity, emotional intelligence, honesty and confidence," he says.
The transformational leader of the future may need to hone their communication skills in order to be appropriately inspirational and motivating. They must deliver on their promises in order to build trust, and may need to adjust their approach to suit individual team members.
Flexible and distributed workplaces, human/machine collaboration, constant reskilling and transformational leadership may become routine within the next five to 10 years. But leaders who are open to adapting their own styles and approaches to meet team members' evolving needs may be able to weather those changes gracefully.