The future of work: Coming sooner than you think

Prior the pandemic, you could ask a dozen people what “the future of work” meant and get 13 different answers. Some insisted it was about distributing discrete responsibilities among two-pizza teams, while others preached about robots eliminating jobs and the need for universal basic income as compensation.

Then COVID-19 pressed the fast-forward button, and we learned about the immediate, practical future of work in a hurry. The most obvious lesson – you don’t need to be at the office to get stuff done – was already understood in tech, just never proven at scale. We’re only starting to grasp the implications of that real-world confirmation.

Writing for Computerworld, contributor Mike Elgan draws on his own long experience as a digital nomad in “Remote work 2.0 — when WFH really means ‘work from anywhere’” to make a bold prediction: Tech workers will migrate en masse from high-priced urban tech hubs to cheaper, less populous locales with lower risk of contagion.

That trend, already underway in some regions, plays right into the hands of certain US states (including Ark., Okla., and Vt.) looking to lure tech workers, not to mention entire countries, such as Croatia, Estonia, and the Czech Republic. But as Elgan notes, the HR, payroll, tax, and legal complexities of global geographic dispersal should not be underestimated. The brave new world of pervasive remote work is going to be complicated.

CIO contributor Stacy Collette focuses on a related set of considerations in “7 key questions facing the future of work,“ but with an eye toward solving near-term problems like setting up a hybrid workplace or hiring remotely. She also touches on the impact of automation, a key component of any serious examination of the future of work. The standard line is that automation of menial tasks will free up workers for more meaningful work – but that generally entails reskilling, which as many as half of workers may need, according to a World Economic Forum study cited by Collette.

Both Elgan and Collette flag cybersecurity as another sticking point in a remote-friendly world — but CSO contributor Peter Wayner really gets down to cases in “6 top security technologies to protect remote workers.” Some of what he recommends amounts to basic enterprise security hygiene, such as multi-factor authentication, identity and access management, and encryption for code and data in the cloud. But Wayner also goes out of his way to highlight two exciting trends: zero trust and SASE (secure access service edge).

Zero trust is a general framework in which every user and every system must authenticate itself continually, so if a breach occurs, attackers can’t move laterally to compromise other systems across the organization. SASE is a more recent scheme that combines SD-WAN (software-defined wide area networking) and security into a single, simplified cloud service that can be scaled easily. Together, they can go a long way to reduce the risks incurred by remote work at scale.

But there’s more to a bright future of work than technology solutions. Effective remote management, an area where software development managers tend to have extensive experience, may be most important of all. InfoWorld contributor and former CIO Isaac Sacolick has been there, and in “7 best practices for remote development teams,” he outlines some tried-and-true techniques – including continuous, transparent planning (rather than, say, periodic meetings in which you try to bring everyone up to speed). Sacolick also observes that automation can help simplify remote development, such as automated testing and change management.

It’s important to acknowledge, though, that not all jobs can be remote. Network World contributor Zeus Kerravala pinpoints the skills necessary to run the data center of the future in “How the data center workforce is evolving,” which cites an Uptime Institute study predicting a 15% rise in on-prem data center jobs over six years. Interestingly, many of the desirable skills Kerravala identifies sound familiar. Knowledge of data analytics, programming, and AI/ML will only grow in importance as the data center becomes increasingly automated and software-defined.

Rather than work on the front lines, however, the vast majority of those in tech have been lucky enough to work at home during the pandemic. We are all united in desperately wanting it to end. Soon enough, it will. And when it does, thanks to this awful yet enlightening time, we’ll have a much clearer view of the future of work than we would have had otherwise.

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