Much is written about the future of work and what it looks like – artificial intelligence, automation, robots, job displacement, working remotely.

Naturally, we’re obsessed with the technology that underpins and powers all of these trends but what if the future of work isn’t about the technology at all?

What if the future of work is more about how we each take FULL responsibility for ourselves – for our happiness and for our lives.

What if the future of work is about YOU and your actualisation? 

But wait, what do we mean by actualisation?

Actualisation is a fancy way of talking about potential – basically, about you fulfilling your potential. While we’re focused on the next big workplace trend as determined by technology, what if the big picture we’re missing is not the future of work but the future of us, as the human race? 

Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost our way quite spectacularly. Pictures like this illustrate quite how much…

What have we come to as a human race?

Since when did life become about sitting in a metal box, surrounded by hundreds of other metal boxes, to get us somewhere we don’t really want to be to spend a huge chunk of our lives there?

The answer: Since the rise of industrialisation and the systems (work, education, health, leisure) all designed to support this. Except things are changing. Scratch that…things have already changed.

How The World Of Work Has Already Changed…

We now have the technology to make the location of our work and what we do irrelevant; I’ve been location independent, working online from anywhere since 2006.

There are people who’ve been doing it for far longer than this. In fact, I’ve been doing it since I left university in 2001, since my management consulting job was pretty much a road warrior role which saw me rarely in the office and usually on the road or at clients’ sites.

And still we’re missing the point!

Being location independent and working online isn’t just about allowing us to find and do any work, anywhere; it enables us to find and do work we believe in, anywhere, that is based upon more than just earning an income and on something more meaningful.

But if this is the future – or it’s possible now – why isn’t everyone doing it?

Truthfully? Because it can be really hard and it isn’t usually just something you fall into. It requires you to take FULL responsibility for your career path and your own livelihood.

And when the systems – education, in particular – are set up in a way that don’t expect or demand we take full responsibility for ourselves and instead spoon-feed and funnel us into the channels ‘others’ believe are more important (science, technology) and divert us away from others (creativity, emotional literacy), it takes away our agency and lulls us into thinking there’s no need to drive our own bus.

As the world of work changes we enter a workplace where there are no longer guaranteed ‘jobs for life’ which allow you to move, almost unconsciously, from one level to the next. The current – and future – world of work looks a very different place from the world our parents and grandparents operated in, and taking full, proactive responsibility is going to set apart those who survive from those who truly thrive.

So what does it actually mean to take FULL responsibility?

Taking FULL responsibility for yourself is about knowing yourself intimately enough to know what you want (and what you don’t), what matters to you most (and what doesn’t), what works for you (and what doesn’t), and acknowledging that this may also change over time.

It’s about consciously deciding how you show up (at work and in life); to allow yourself to be fully seen, to stand out, even when it’s uncomfortable.

When you work in an office, it can be easy to sit in the corner, working away and quietly work your way through your entire career without ever really showing up or standing out.

When you work online, it can be even easier to do this from behind a computer monitor, clocking in time, ticking off your tasks, and barely showing up except from the chest up, always framed by a screen.

For what purpose do you work?

If it’s to earn an income and just make money so you can gad about doing what you really want in your own spare time, wouldn’t you prefer the way you make money to better align with your goals, your purpose, your ikigai, your beliefs, your values?

If you’re going to spend half your life working on something, surely it makes sense to work towards something you want, that means something and actually matters to you? 

How Some Companies Still Get It Very, Very Wrong…

I had a pretty terrible experience of remote work for a company recently…

I was part of a team full of sub contractors who were expected to show loyalty as if they were employees, who were called ‘family’ but weren’t trusted like family, who were let go at the drop of a hat and who were frequently reminded how ‘lucky’ we were to be working there.

– Nepotism was rife; both parents, all brothers, cousins and friends were key team members whose performance wasn’t questioned, even when it wasn’t up to scratch (which was fairly frequently in some cases).

– There was virtually no cohesive company culture, and any attempts to nurture this were met with complaints from the management team about the cost; so instead there was a culture of mistrust, a lack of loyalty and people just showing up to do a job, but not truly caring, aside from those in the ‘inner circle’.

– The lip service paid to “we value any and all feedback” was evident in the leadership team’s response to feedback which, if negative, was taken as an insult, met with heavy defence, and taken out in a passive aggressive manner on team calls, from the leadership team.

Personally, I felt ZERO sense of belonging or loyalty there; I’d show up to virtual team meetings wanting to find out more about team members, happy to share more about myself but would leave feeling like I’d overshared, shared something ‘too personal’ and not ‘professional’, and like I never really got to know anyone there.

There were some exceptions, and those are the people I stayed for; but other than that, it was the epitome of a remote-first company who’ve got it so very, very wrong.

The Very Real Challenges of Working Remotely

It’s this kind of remote working experience for many who do it, that leads to the commonly-cited…

Feelings of isolation and loneliness, even when surrounded by a virtual team of folk working towards the same goal. 

Feelings of being under-valued and unable to contribute to your full potential. Numerous times, I was told I didn’t have the ‘right’ clearance to do certain tasks, and having my skills and experience queried, that were bread and butter competencies for me.

Anxiety that you don’t have the full picture; that there are things going on behind the scenes you’re not privy to. Again, I experienced personalities in the company and agendas that were threatened just by me showing up fully, in my power.

A sense of futility when trying to connect any further/deeper. Instead I chose to get my head down, get on with the basics of the job, and stop giving feedback based on my experience, putting my real energy, loyalty and focus elsewhere.

From a company perspective, this culture also resulted in hugely and not uncommon negative outcomes…

– Unsurprisingly there was a total lack of loyalty, and staff turnover was high especially in particular areas of the company such as customer support and marketing (this was despite some great team leads in those areas).

– A CEO who had no real idea what was happening in key areas of his company; who wasn’t available to his team members (I sent a couple of emails which received a reply months and months later) and who was too busy operating in his creative genius to actually run the company.
An inability to receive and act upon any feedback given – not just by 1-2 individuals but across the board when it came to company culture, loyalty and other areas they knew they were struggling with.

– A leadership team who were not the models of leadership I’d want to follow into battle; and neither did others given the staff turnover.

It was a frustratingly disappointing experience and sadly, it’s all too common. Aside from the poster children of the remote-first world – the Buffers, the Basecamps, the Automattics of this world – my experience at a remote-first company is not a one-off.

 It’s NOT About The Technology…

While much focus and energy is often spent on the tools to improve collaboration, communication, and company culture, not enough is spent on the individuals who use these tools.

This is where the real opportunity for the future of work lies…in releasing the HUMAN potential enabled by the right technology.

We believe the world of work is about…

  • Connecting more deeply, less superficially.
  • Integrating the personal and the professional, not separating them.
  • Showing up more fully, not less.
  • Being wiling to look at, own, and take action around our own biases, prejudices and judgements of others (and ourselves).

But to do this, it requires a focus on each and every person showing up differently, more fully. But how do you do this when you work online, hiding so easily behind a screen?

It begins and ends with YOU. It’s about knowing yourself, intimately.

Intimacy is about being seen, fully, for who you are, without the need for defences, shields and protection. It requires courage, humility and vulnerability.

It can require uncomfortable amounts of self awareness, radical honesty, and looking at the dark, dusty corners of your self, to uncover the hidden gems you may not even know are there.

And the rewards? Why on earth would you put yourself through such an uncomfortable process?

Because when you do, your life becomes something you can’t wait to wake up to, your relationships thrive (yes, even the difficult ones if you choose for them to survive), and you’re no longer running from place to place, trying to find ‘home’ and a sense of belonging. You belong wherever you are in the world, anywhere, because you belong to yourself.

And then there’s your career…

Because, ultimately when you know yourself intimately, you’re no longer willing to settle for less than. So your focus becomes finding (or creating) work that lights you up. That you believe in. That matters to you. Not just for money, not just for a challenge, not just because you can or have to…but because you deeply, truly want to.

There’s a HUGE difference when you show up in the world to do the work you WANT to do versus work because you HAVE to.

This may not be something that you can do right away, but you can start right away – start keeping tabs on remote job postings, start that side project you’ve always talked about. Do it in your spare time and if you don’t currently have any time, make some.

It’s About YOU…

When you do work you care about, you connect with it. Deeply. It becomes a part of what you do and who you are – integrated, not separated. You want to show up and do the work. Fully. Not half-heartedly. 

This is key. Find or create work that truly matters to you. Location is no longer a barrier.

When you’ve found or created this, then the real fun starts!

Now you’re faced with some of the practical and emotional challenges of working online…

  • How do you create a schedule and routine that works for you? That isn’t imposed by others? That better suits your personal circadian rhythms, energy levels and health needs?
  • How do you stay connected to the folk who matter to you? Both in person and online? How do you get beyond the superficial and create deeper, more fulfilling relationships?
  • How do you stay motivated and productive? When you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck, walking past your desk or hassling you about deadlines, how do you stay on track? How do you keep yourself ‘up’ when things aren’t going your way and you’re in a creative dip?
  • How do you know what to do when you’re stuck? Who do you turn to when you need help and support? How do you keep going when all you want to do is give it all up and go back to the ‘safety’ of a ‘normal’ job?

And these are just the risks of showing up, online (or off), to do the work that matters to you. What about being seen and standing out?

Why the future of work is YOU…

How do you stand out, online, when you sit behind your computer screen and compete for remote roles with hundreds of other applicants, with nothing more than a CV or in some cases a brief email/note to apply for a job?

How do you start your own thing when there are thousands of other creators doing the same things you’re doing, and probably better than you’re doing too?

Of course there are technology solutions to many of the questions above – platforms to help you connect with others, tools to help you stay productive, focused and organised, online groups and communities to help you be more sociable and less isolated…

But underpinning all of these is…YOU.

You determine whether you use these tools. You determine which of these tools you use. You determine how you use these tools. And you determine how, when, where and whether you show up.

While many people argue that the future of work is driven by technology, we believe the future of work is driven by the people who use the technology.

If we want to realise the potential of the technology we use, we have to realise the potential in ourselves first.

Being location independent removes many of the geographical borders and physical restrictions that have previously been a barrier. When you work (and live) online the world is, quite literally, at your fingertips but most of us don’t yet know how to fully grasp this and use it to our advantage.

With the internet today, we have…

  • Endless opportunities to learn almost any skill we want.
  • The ability to reach influential people directly.
  • The ability to seek and find mentors and experts in any field we want.
  • Schools willing to pay for us to learn, and then help us find a job afterwards.
  • The knowledge and support to overcome almost any barrier we may come across.

And yet most of us aren’t doing this. Not even close. We’re still too focused on:

  • Staying comfortable, not pushing our limits, not reaching our potential, because it all feels too hard and it’s easier to stay safe in our known world than go delving round in a world of unknowns.
  • Avoiding pain and challenges, and instead choosing to numb and self soothe with food, media, alcohol and more.
  • Not admitting to ourselves or even realising that we’re not self actualised (reaching our potential) or that we’re unhappy with our lot in life.

Rather than focusing on the future of work in terms of the technology that’s going to replace us – AI, robots etc. – we have an opportunity to make the future of work about us.

Remote-first, working online, digital nomadism, borderless teams…it’s becoming abundantly clear that geographical boundaries and where you live no longer have to limit the opportunities you have.

And what opportunities they are…

Work you want to do that matters deeply, and earns you an abundant living. More open, honest relationships that connect you deeply, and expand you mind and your world and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Fundamentally, you have the opportunity to make the future of work about YOU, personally and as a collective, with each of us achieving our true potential using technology to get us there…

The future of work is about HUMAN solutions not TECHNOLOGY solutions.