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Harbinger Foresight: The Future of Work

May was conference month for the Harbinger team and I had the pleasure of attending The Change Leadership Conference, ‘Leading the Change in the 4th Industrial Revolution.’ It was incredibly interesting to hear about how quickly the pace of technology is evolving, and what that will mean for businesses and the future of work. All these topics had my head spinning thinking about not only how my role will change, but more so about the world my son will grow up in and type of work he will do when he’s older.

I now have more than ten years of experience in communications, and the field has changed so much in that amount of time. Communications in my earlier days was predominantly focused on us crafting the content, and driving the communications activities. While this hasn’t gone away, we have now also become partners to the business and leaders, providing communications guidance and counsel. I’ve also noticed a shift in how the communications function is viewed within the business – we’ve gone from having to fight our way to the table, to being invited and asked to contribute. In fact, you will rarely see a business transformation take place without a lead communications partner or team to support them through this.

External communications including public relations (PR) continues to be a key component of developing brand awareness, and we are now seeing greater value in leveraging PR for this purpose. Communications professionals will always be strong spokespeople, but using the business subject matter experts (at all levels of the organization) is something that resonates well with the public and is definitely here to stay. We are also seeing the lines blur even further between marketing and communications, especially within the social media space.

Another significant shift in communications has been the increased focus on employee engagement. I truly believe that engaged employees significantly contribute to growth and profitability, and that employees that are not engaged can greatly impact business results. Employee engagement is something I am personally passionate about and I love working with companies to drive this forward.

In terms of what’s to come in this field, the conference spoke a lot about artificial intelligence (AI), privacy and the value of emotional intelligence. AI is here and is already touching the communications world in many ways. Let’s talk about voice recognition or speech to text. Alexa and Google Home is everywhere, and as communications professionals we will really need to begin thinking about how this technology can be used to share messages and engage with people. How will we use these new behaviours to communicate more effectively? For example, I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but my son literally tells me to ask Google if we need an answer…it makes me wonder how he will use these devices in the future and whether or not he will consider them to be invasive. There’s obviously a huge the privacy factor of having these devices in your home but that’s for another blog.

Finally, with the increase in sophistication of speech to text, how will this impact writing and grammar in the future? Writing is something I adore and as you can expect, and it’s a skill I hope my son will be able to develop as he gets older.

Communications professionals also LOVE data. Automation and AI will enable us to have comprehensive data and information to develop content and plan campaigns that will have be more effective and influential.

We’re already seeing this with internal communications tools like Poppulo that are able to drill down into specifics to find out what titles, images, subject lines and text prompt employees to read and engage with content.

This information is then used to guide us in determining what the communications will look like and how it will be delivered. Things get interesting once we look beyond communications. There were many speakers that resonated with me during the conference, but the session ‘Future of Work’ delivered by Armughan Ahmad, President, Digital at KPMG, struck a cord.

Education is important and we are seeing an insurgence of individuals complete their Masters of Business Administration (MBA) or receiving other accreditation’s like the Certified Public Accountant (CPA). In fact, many roles today won’t even consider you if you don’t have these credentials and having them has become as common as an undergraduate degree. What was fascinating is how many companies are now considering fit and emotional intelligence to be of more importance than these credentials. Ahmad had mentioned that the large consulting firms themselves are also changing their approach in what they are looking for.

Ahmad also spoke about the gig economy where many have left the organized corporate life for leisure jobs or contract roles where people can work at their own time and be their own boss like Uber. Ride hailing companies and task-oriented service platforms are leading the way, but the gig economy also includes creative occupations like communications. He predicted that by 2026, 50 per cent of workers will be within the gig economy which is just crazy to me! If this is going to change so much in just six years, what is this going to look like in 15 or 20 when my son will be in the work force? What type of roles will there be and what will he be studying in school? Will he even go to post-secondary school? Additionally, how is this going to impact the economy and the way businesses operate today?

Businesses are transforming what they do all the time, and you are seeing vertical markets disappear. I mean Amazon has a music streaming service, Prime, is dabbling in space exploration and has taken over e-commerce. There’s also Apple who reinvigorated watches, and will soon be entering the banking space with a new credit card.

One important takeaway from the conference was that the pace of change will only quicken, and the types of change businesses are going to experience are only going to continue to grow. This both excites and scares me. As a communications professional I look forward to working with companies as they navigate through these massive changes, but as mom, I’m completely petrified of what the future will look like for my son.

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on the future of work.  If you want to discuss this further, I’d love to hear from you.



Siri Maldonado Director of Marketing & Communications Toronto



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